I was fortunate to win today’s Perfect Picture Book in a giveaway late last year from Pragmatic Mom. It was reviewed for Children’s Multicultural Book Day this past January by my friend, Vivian Kirkfield, so I wanted to wait until just the right time to review it, too. Because so many kids are returning to school this month, I think today is the perfect time. I hope you agree!
Title: Neema’s Reason to Smile
Written By: Patricia Newman
Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini
Publisher/Date: Lightswitch Learning, a Sussman Education company/2018
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: school, Africa, poverty, dreams
Mama and I climb the hill to our favorite rock overlooking the savanna. We dream of the future while elephant take mud baths in the fading light.
Young Neema dreams of attending school to better her life, and, with her Mama, works hard to fill the Dream Basket to collect money for school fees.
Links to Resources:
- Create your own Dream Basket, by following the instructions in the book. What will you do with the money you collect? Buy something for yourself, a family member or friend? Donate to a favorite cause?
- Neema walks to and from school each day. How do you get to school? Describe in words or pictures your route to school;
- Describe in words or pictures something that makes you smile;
- Learn about the real school on which Neema’s school is based, the Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya, and see how you might support its work through the reason2smile organization.
Why I Like this Book:
As children in much of the world head back to school this month, I think this is a perfect book to explore how much education means to so many in this world. Set in an unnamed African village, Neema’s Reason to Smile follows young Neema as she dreams of attending school. But attending school in her region costs money, for school fees, supplies, and a uniform. So Neema helps by selling fruit that she carries on her head to the village, and Mama sews to add, slowly, to the Dream Basket of coins.
Just as Neema worries that they’ll never earn enough to pay for school, they learn that maybe the Basket holds enough after all (I won’t spoil the ending by sharing any details).
Newman peppers the story with references to local characters and comparisons to animals found in the savannah, like the lion, gazelle, egret, and zebra.
Amini’s vibrant and colorful illustrations made me feel like I was journeying with Neema to the village and school.
Whether you read this at home with your school-aged child or in a classroom setting, I think kids and adults will enjoy learning about how one girl dreams of a better future and how she works hard to achieve that goal. Included are Discussion Questions, Activities, a Group Activity, Author’s Note and Glossary to further your knowledge.
A Note about Craft:
In an Author’s Note, Newman informs readers that the idea for Neema’s Reason to Smile arose from a phone call with a librarian in New York City who wanted to share the story of a real school in Kenya, on which Neema’s school is based. After many telephone calls with the school’s founders and teachers and after viewing many videos of the school and students, Newman wrote this fictional story which highlights the desire for learning exhibited by the real students and their perseverance to attend school. Creating a fictional main character and story while remaining true to the experiences of actual students enables Newman to draw a more complete picture of the school, I think, and better incorporate universal themes into the story.
Visit Newman’s website to see more of her books that “empower young readers to act”.
Amini was born in Iran but currently lives in England. Visit her website to see more of her work.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
A great book for sharing how important education is to those who don’t take it for granted. Other perspectives are so important.
My favorite kind of story. This would pair well with “The Way to School,” by Rosemary McCarney. It addresses a companion topic about the challenges some kids face in just getting to school — by ziplines, camels, dog sled, dugout canoes, draw bridges etc. Will check out this important story for kids — they need to know how much other kids want to go to school and the challenges they face in securing an education.
Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll look for The Way to School at my local library.
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