The theme of the children’s picture book Splash lives up to its title. It is the story of a young girl, Anna Hibiscus day at the beach. In the first half of the book, Anna attempts to convince her various family members to come into the cool ocean water with her to splash in the effervescent waves.
Anna makes appeals to sub-groups of her family–e.g. cousins, parents, aunts and uncles. However, they are engaged in their own activities from braiding hair, to playing soccer. Thus, in the second half of the book, Anna realizes that she can enjoy the water on her own, (after repeated rejection). Anna has such a good time and laughs so loud, that the sub-groups are independently influenced to join her in the water fun.
Anna’s family is modern, westernized, and urban. They presumably live in the West African city of Lagos, Nigeria. The author uses the general description of ”Africa” for the location, which may contribute to a distorted homogeneous image of “Africa” (a continent with thousands of cultures, dozens of countries and several environments). One of the uncles is named “Tunde”–a typical Yoruba name (meaning ‘returned’ or ‘reincarnated’). Furthermore, the city of Lagos, while multicultural, is in a Yoruba region of Nigeria and the beaches there are popular, especially among English speakers.
Readers will find the names of the cousins an interesting facet of the story. These names include “Benz, Wonderful, Common Sense and Chocolate.” Names are emphasized throughout the book and most certainly provide a true-to-life cultural reality of millions of modern urban Africans.
Legions of English-speaking Africans (like African-Americans), name their children after coveted ideas and objects that are not commonly thought of as personal names. Hundreds of African cultures have historically greatly valued names, for they may describe or even determine one’s character or destiny. Thus, the name “Benz” could easily relate to the Yoruba name (suffix) ”Ola” which means ”wealth.” This creative process of neo-African naming might be labeled creolization among academics, although more critical experts would say it is a result of colonialism.
If one is not familiar with the other books of the Anna Hibiscus series, one might question or be confused about the mother who looks Caucasian or albino. Either case gives valuable cultural insight to (partially) Yoruba families. In this case, her mother is originally Canadian. This feature of modern urban Africans marrying outside of their culture, nation and/or race is becoming as widespread as playing in the ocean.
The illustrator did a spectacular job in creating vibrant and clear images. Not only are the illustrations attractive, they are quite descriptive in subtle yet important ways. Readers can gather clues into cuisine, with items such as fish and corn visible. There are flags of various nations that the children use on their sandcastles. These types of visual details reinforce the universality of certain parts of African life–a theme that runs through the book.
The length of the story may put it slightly out of range for a read-aloud or story-time line up. However, if groups of children are all over the age of 5 or 6, and/or this is the only book of the day that is read, it’s a fantastic choice. Kids of all ages will love the plot, the cadence, as well as the captivating illustrations. They will effortlessly identify with the child wisdom of living in the moment and enjoying one’s surroundings in a communal way. The pan-cultural concept of having fun at the beach creates an easy point of connection for any reader. Highly Recommended
Reviewed by: Jaye Winmilawe, Independent Scholar
Published in Africa Access Review (February 17, 2014)
Copyright 2014 Africa Access