The No. 1 Car Spotter is set in an unnamed African village and follows a few months in the life of a young boy called Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, better known as No. 1.
In No. 1’s village no-one owns a car, but a road passes nearby and No. 1 and his grandpa spend so much of their time car-spotting that they can tell what car is approaching the village just by the sound its engine makes.
One day the village cart breaks, and so No. 1’s family is unable to take their goods to market. If the family cannot sell their palm oil, yams and mangoes there will be no money for pencils and shoes for school or kerosene for lamps.
As with the other tales from No. 1’s life in this book, ingenuity and community spirit combined with a good dose of humour come together in the solving of the problem of the broken cart. And whilst the precise nature of the situations No. 1 finds himself in may not be familiar to many young readers of The No. 1 Car Spotter (for example, what to do with wheelbarrows donated by an NGO), it is a testament to Atinuke’s storytelling skill that we are all drawn in and convincingly transported to No. 1’s village where it is simply a delight to be part of his extended family, full of love and care and laughter for the duration of our reading.
Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus and Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus are the 3rd and 4th books in a short series following the life of a young girl and her family who live in urban Africa (once again the precise location and country remain unnamed).
Good Luck Anna Hibiscus follows Anna and her family as they prepare for Anna’s impending trip to visit her grandmother in Canada for Christmas, whilst Have Fun Anna Hibiscus is all about Anna’s month in that snowy country, her first time abroad.
As with The No. 1 Car Spotter the short stories in each of these books have real heart at the centre of them. They are packed with unsentimental but fierce love, thoughtfulness and kindness, always mixed up with plenty to giggle about. All three books show us how lives and people can be different and yet fundamentally the same all around the world. For example the food Anna loves may not be known to many of the 6/7/8 year old readers in the UK and US (“Bean curd cooked in banana leaves… goat meat in a banana and onion stew“) but the enjoyment shared by all as they sit down to a family feast together crosses all national and cultural boundaries.
As a parent I loved these books because they have such heart and soul; at the end of reading each aloud I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. They “teach” in that very best of ways a good book can – they opened our eyes to different ways of living, different ways of viewing the world all without preaching, judgement and without feeding stereotypes (for example it turns out that Anna Hibiscus is mixed race, and the Africa in both books is a modern one, where people text and send emails). Each of the three nominated books is brilliantly written with a magical mixture of humour, local colour, pace and drama.
As kids my children loved these books because “they are funny”, “they are about families like mine” (we’re a white family in suburban Britain so that tells you something about the universality in Atinuke’s storytelling), “they are interesting” (we’ve looked at maps, recipes and lots of cars as a result of these books)
M, J and I all want to read more about No. 1 and Anna Hibiscus, a telling testament to these wonderful, prize-worthy books (fortunately there are more books in both series, already available at least in the UK). Do go and find/reserve copies today; the books are great read-alouds if you’re looking for something to read to several siblings of different ages and sexes together, and they’ll also be greatly enjoyed by curious, young, independent readers.
The only criticism I’ve seen in some reviews of Atinuke’s books is that they are set in a generalised “Africa”, and this might feed into the misconception addressed in the great picture book Africa is not a country. I personally did not find the vague setting of these stories a problem as all three of these stories seemed to me more about what unites people than what separates us, and in that spirit it didn’t seem important to know whether No. 1’s family lived in Sudan or South Africa, or whether Anna Hibiscus’s family home was in Lusaka or Luanda.
If I’m honest I do, however, have two problems with these books. (1) My copies came from the library but now I want my own copies for the family, and (2) Which book of the 3 would I propose win the Cybil in this category? Each is wonderful. Each has made me so glad we’ve read it in our family. Perhaps there’s a compete works of Anituke that could solve this problem?
These book were originally published in the UK before being released in the US so they are widely available over here.