If you enjoyed The Wooden Ox, try some of these other books about African life. This is only a sampling of our family’s favorites. For more books about Africa, many published outside North America, see my Goodreads page or ask your librarian to help you.
Ashanti to Zulu; African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (1976). New York, Dial.
Beautiful, if somewhat idealized, illustrations represent twenty-six African cultures with brief paragraphs of text.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain; a Nandi Tale by Verna Aardmea, illustrated by Beatiz Vidal (1981). New York, Dial.
This cumulative rhyme in the tradition of “The House that Jack Built” tells how a Kenyan herdsman caused the rains to begin.
Authentic details of Tanzanian life such as the braiding of hair and wearing of school uniforms make this story of the first day of school a little different for American children.
Fire on the Mountain by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (1994). New York, Simon and Schuster.
This story of a clever young shepherd boy and his sister outwitting a dishonest rich man is a retelling of a traditional tale. The illustrations give an authentic glimpse of the rich culture of Ethiopia where the author grew up.
The Fortune Tellers by Lloyd Alexander, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (1992) New York, Dutton.
A fortune-teller’s predictions come true in amusing ways in this delightful story with illustrations rich in detail of Cameroonian life.
Jambo Means Hello; a Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, illustrated by Tom Feelings (1974). New York, Dial.
Soft black ink and white tempra illustrations accompany a Swahili word and cultural information for every letter of the alphabet.
Mandela; from the Life of the South African Statesman written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (1996). New York, Philomel.
This richly illustrated summary of former South African president Nelson Mandela’s life emphasizes his rural beginnings and exposes children to the realities of a racist society.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (1987). New York, Lothrop, Lee and Shepherd.
Two sisters with different temperaments travel to the capital, each hoping to be chosen as the king’s wife. Spectacular illustrations show the well-known ruins of Great Zimbabwe as the site of the king’s city.
Only a Pigeon by Jane Kurtz and Christopher Kurtz, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (1997). New York, Simon and Schuster.
Ondu-ahlem trains his pigeons in this tale of a modern Ethiopian street child effectively illustrated with watercolors.
We All Went on Safari; a Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Julia Cairns (2003). Cambridge, MA, Barefoot.
Spend a day with a Maasai clan in their bright red wraps as they count African animals. Additional pages give information about the animals and the Maasai culture of Tanzania.
When Africa Was Home by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (1991). New York, Orchard.
My own daughters strongly identified with this book about a family missing Africa when they have returned to the United States.
For young adults:
AK by Peter Dickinson (1993). Laurel Leaf.
Readers of The Wooden Ox will appreciate this adventure story about a former child soldier in a fictional African country. Dickinson does not simplify the painful realities of African politics.
A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth Wein. (2002). New York, Viking.
This gripping sequel to The Winter Prince puts a twist on the traditional tale of King Arthur and shows sixth century Ethiopia as more culturally advanced than Europe of the same period. See also The Sunbird by the same author.
A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (1996). New York, Orchard.
Eleven-year-old Nhamo risks her life traveling alone from Mozambique to Zimbabwe. Nancy Farmer plays with African spirituality in this adventure story.
The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis (2004). Allston, MN, Fitzhenry and Whiteside.
Binti’s father runs a brisk business selling coffins until real life catches up with him, and Binti becomes just another AIDS orphan. Ellis traces a typical scenario for one of Africa’s 12 million orphans. Proceeds go to UNICEF.
Jock of the Bushveld by Percy Fitzpatrick (2002). Johannesburg, South Africa, Donker.
Look for a modern edition of this classic dog story set amidst the Transvaal gold rush. It is a great adventure, but earlier editions are marred by the racist sentiments of the period. Don’t settle for the watered down picture book ‘retelling’.
Memories of Sun, edited by Jane Kurtz. (2004). New York, Greenwillow.
This collection of short stories and poems by authors from both continents describes life in various African countries and some of the experiences and impressions of Americans in Africa and Africans in America.
The Rugendo Rhinos Series by Shel Arensen. (2003) Includes The Poison Arrow Tree, The Carjackers, The Secret Oath, and Poachers Beware! Grand Rapids, Kregel.
Missionary kids in Kenya and their African friends have adventures and stop crime. Readers of this fun series will be begging their parents to move to Africa. Unfortunately it is out-of-print in the US, but if you live in Africa, look for the Kenyan version (more African characters) from Word Alive Publications in Nairobi.
For mature readers:
The Covenant by James Michener (1980). New York, Mandarin.
Published before the events that led to the first democratic elections in 1994, the history of South Africa is otherwise effectively told in the stories of individuals down through the generations.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (1951). New York, Scribners.
Both faith and suffering are described in this classic story of the separation of the races in twentieth-century South African.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998). New York, Harper Perennial.
The author is unsympathetic to missionaries, but otherwise portrays with love and deep insight the turbulent years surrounding the independence of the former Belgian Congo.