Tag Archives: Africa

Perfect Pairing – of Two Books Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

Imagine my surprise when I was shelving a picture book that I reviewed a few weeks ago and discovered that the illustrator had illustrated another picture book I had reviewed last year. Could this be the reason for a perfect pairing, perhaps?

Neema’s Reason to Smile

Author: Patricia Newman

Illustrator: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/Date: Lightswitch Learning, a Sussman Education company/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: school, Africa, poverty, dreams, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every day, Neema balances a heavy basket of fruit on her head and traces the dusty path to town that unwinds like a cheetah’s tail. She wants to go to school, but Mama cannot afford the uniform and supplies. Neema saves her money and dreams big dreams, until one day hope skips down the street wearing a red skirt and white shirt.

Read my review.


Nimesh the Adventurer

Author: Ranjit Singh

Illustrator: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2019

Ages: 4-6

Themes: imagination, adventure, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Nimesh is walking home from school. Except…there happens to be a shark in the corridor. And a dragon in the library! And why would crossing the road lead to the North Pole? A fun-filled story about a little boy with a BIG imagination, Nimesh the Adventurer will surely make even the dullest journey a dazzling adventure.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they feature the work of one illustrator, Mehrdokht Amini. In Neema’s Reason to Smile, Amini’s vibrant and colorful illustrations made me feel like I was journeying with Neema to the village and school. In Nimesh the Adventurer, Amini’s brightly-detailed illustrations render this picture book truly stunning, as they show how one child’s imagination can transform everyday scenes into the sites of true adventures. In both cases, Amini features main characters of color, and her illustrations transported this reader to another time and place.





PPBF – Neema’s Reason to Smile

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.

Brief Synopsis:

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!

PPBF – The Water Princess

This past Tuesday was International Day of the Girl.   To help celebrate, two Perfect Picture Book Friday bloggers, Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal and Vivian Kirkfield at Picture Books Help Kids Soar, highlighted two wonderful books about Mighty Girls. These reviews, and my recent purchase of an autographed copy of today’s book, spurred me to feature it as a Perfect Picture Book.

9780399172588_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Water Princess: Based on the Childhood Experience of Georgie Badiel

Written By: Susan Verde

Illustrated By: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)/ 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Africa, drinking water, women’s work

Opening: “I am Princess Gie Gie. My kingdom…the African sky, so wide and so close.”

Brief Synopsis: Inspired by the childhood of model Georgie Badiel in Burkina Faso, The Water Princess follows Princess Gie Gie as she trudges on a long journey to obtain clean drinking water.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about access to water and water-related issues, including how a school, classroom or family can help provide clean water for communities that lack it. 
  • Describe your typical day; describe Gie Gie’s day. Compare and contrast your day with Gie Gie’s day: what does she do that you don’t? what is the same?
  • Discuss why you think Gie Gie is a princess.

Why I Like this Book:

The Water Princess is a gentle rendering of a very difficult subject: the lack of clean, drinking water in too many parts of the world, and the disproportionate burden this places on girls and women. And while adults and even many children know the reality of water scarcity in other parts of the world, as we awaken with Gie Gie and walk step by step to the well, we learn much more than the mere facts of the problem; we learn the personal costs as well.

Peter Reynolds’ earth-toned illustrations help draw us into Gie Gie’s arid world. He depicts her with corn-rowed hair, bracelets and earrings. She appears every bit like the princesses we think of when we hear that term. And like these princesses, we learn she has a kingdom and rules animals and nature in her realm. But, she cannot “make the water come closer”, or the “water run clearer.” As she rises before day break to start the journey to the distant well she is, alas, “too sleepy to put on my crown.” Instead, a pot rests on her braids. As it rests on the braids of too many girls and women today. Thankfully, the story ends with Princess Gie Gie’s dream: that someday clean drinking water will be near.

A Note about Craft:

By telling the story in first person, Ms. Verde draws the reader immediately into the story. We experience Gie Gie’s world as she walks through it, step by step.  We learn of her likes and dislikes, her powers, and that which she yearns to control. This first-person perspective brings immediacy as well as helps build empathy for the girl-child who would rather don crown than pot, would rather dance and play with friends than draw water, who dreams of “flowing, cool, crystal-clear water” nearby. “Someday…”

The collaborative team uses an Afterward to great effect as they ask readers to “imagine” life without water, share the true story of Georgie Badiel and the summers spent in her grandmother’s village hauling water, the scope of the problem, and links to the Ryan Wells Foundation  and the Georgie Badiel Foundation, both of which build and help maintain wells.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!