Before school lets out for the summer in my neck of the woods, I wanted to share a picture book from last year that features an annual ritual in many classrooms. It also brought back a pleasant memory of bringing a cousin to visit my elder daughter’s preschool. The teacher expected to greet a toddler. Instead, our cousin Adele is actually my husband’s first cousin and godmother, as well as a former teacher. Despite the confusion, my daughter, the teacher, and Cousin Adele thoroughly enjoyed the day! Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this Perfect Picture Book, too!
Title: Nana Akua Goes to School
Written By: Tricia Elam Walker
Illustrated By: April Harrison
Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2020
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: grandparents, difference, immigrant, school, embarrassment
It’s Circle Time, Zura’s favorite time of the day. She scoots to a spot next to Theodore and crisscrosses her legs on the rainbow-shaped rug.
“Ready set?” Mr. Dawson says, looking at the children over his glasses.
“You bet!” they respond, and quiet right down.
“Next Monday is a very important day,” Mr. Dawson continues. “Each of you will bring your grandparents to school so they can share what makes them special.”
Brief Synopsis: Zura, whose grandmother hails from West Africa, is worried about what her classmates will think of the tribal markings on Nana Akua’s face.
Links to Resources:
- Think of one or more things that make your grandmother, grandfather, or other older adult special. Draw a picture of that and give it to them;
- Ask an older adult to name something that’s the same as or different than when they were children. Which do you think is better? Why?
- Learn more about your family history;
- Check out the Adinkra symbols and their meanings on the endpapers and practice creating them.
Why I Like this Book:
In Nana Akua Goes to School, Walker explores a very kid-friendly problem: being embarrassed by a relative and concerned that classmates or friends will make fun of something that’s different about them. Many picture books explore the issue of being different and how to deal with taunts or bullying because of it. But here the difference is one step removed – no one is making fun of Zura or bullying her. Rather, Zura is worried that her classmates will see the Adinkra symbols etched into Nana’s face and be scared of her or laugh, just as a child in the park and a waitress at a restaurant have done on other occasions.
With the help of her wise Nana and a favorite quilt that incorporates Adrinka symbols, Zura and Nana Akau face Zura’s classmates who, instead of being scared or laughing, find the symbols fascinating.
Nana Akua Goes to School is a wonderful book to explore difference and what makes each person unique, to remind readers to embrace their cultural heritage, and to not worry about what others may think. I love that readers also learn about the Adrinka customs and symbolism, including their meanings and pronunciations shown on the endpapers. Harrison’s detailed and colorful illustrations bring this loving pair to life.
A Note about Craft:
Walker has written a picture book about embracing differences, and she also includes a difference, the Adrinka face symbols, of which most readers will have little knowledge or understanding. I love, too, that wise Nana Akua compares the face etchings to tattoos, which may be more familiar to readers.
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!