African Proverbs for All Ages
This book, an Oprah selection, appears to be for children, but it speaks to all ages. Cole brings together ubiquitous African proverbs under common general themes, such as friendship, patience, community and family, travel and knowledge, humility, hope and self-confidence. Each of the 16 themes presents four proverbs from varying cultures, and each theme is illustrated by a single drawing.
The beauty of this publication lies both in its intellectual intent as a stimulus to learn about and appreciate basic human cultural values in African societies and in its lively illustrations. Many have “hidden” details that may attract the attention of young readers. The map at the end of the book allows teachers and curious readers to locate the areas from which the proverbs come.
Daily human life, the environment and wildlife dominate the themes of the illustrations. This is both a plus and a minus for the publication. They are beautifully drawn, but they do not reflect life in urban Africa where 50% of the population lives. There are no skyscrapers, no universities, no trains, planes or even cars in the illustrations. Proverbs “live” in these communities too.
LaTeef’s pictures give a lively and happy flavor to the proverbs as well as reminding readers of the diverse history of the continent. The Muslim history and presence in Africa are depicted in the Jenne-like structure as well as in scenes of imams teaching. These inform readers of this often-omitted cultural fact. She also addresses diversity by depicting white and black children walking hand-in-hand and a young white tourist, I-phone in hand, visiting an historical site.
Overall, this is a highly recommended book. Its next version could shed some light on the urban communities of this massive continent.
Reviewed by Marylee S. Crofts, PhD
Published in Africa Access Review (September 20, 2021)
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