Sometimes life seems full of little annoyances; forgot to charge the phone, battery in the car key fob runs out, the microwave is on the fritz. It is easy to let the little things get us down and to forget the wonders that we enjoy every day. A sure cure for our “first world” woes is to read about people who live with much less every day. I have recently read three books set in Africa that show what life is like for children in some of the world’s poorest countries. Despite the lack of basic comforts—sufficient food, clean water, indoor plumbing—they bravely push on, clinging to hope for a better life. All three books are well written and would be great to share with older children who might need their own healthy dose of perspective.
AUMA’S LONG RUN
By Eucabeth A. Odhiambo
Auma lives in a small village in Kenya. Her father works in Nairobi and makes enough money that she and her siblings can attend school. Then one day her father comes home feeling ill. When, after weeks he only gets worse, Auma is afraid that he has the “new” sickness that has taken the life of so many in her village. This is a sobering, but inspiring, look at the fate of many children in Africa who have been left to fend for themselves because of the AIDS epidemic.
THE RED PENCIL
By Andrea Pinkney
Amira lives in a farm town in Darfur and helps her mother care for their farm animals and her younger siblings. One day, the Janjaweed come burn her town and kill her father. She must flee with her family to a refugee camp. Although the camp is crowded and the food and living conditions are horrible, Amira gets her first chance to learn to read and write. This story is written in crystalline free verse which allows Pinkney to show the reader only brief flashes of disturbing images, and linger on descriptions of life on Amira's farm and in the camp. The story is illustrated with black and white drawings, done in a child-like hand, that show how Amira sees her world as she draws with her cherished red pencil.
A LONG WALK TO WATER
By Linda Sue Park
This historical novel based on a true story follows the lives of two children from Sudan. In alternating chapters the reader watches Salva, who in 1985 flees civil war to become one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan, and Nya, who in 2009 spends eight hours a day walking to and from a pond to get water for her family. Salva ends up spending a decade in various refugee camps and sees terrible war atrocities. Nya sees her little sister get sick from contaminated water during the dry season when the pond becomes muddy. Both of their stories come together in a wonderful and hopeful ending.