Review of Nana Akua Goes to School

Nana Akua Goes to School
by Tricia Elam Walker; illus. by April Harrison
Primary    Schwartz & Wade/Random    40 pp.    g
6/20    978-0-525-58113-0    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-525-58114-7    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-58115-4    $10.99

Although her grandmother, Nana Akua, is her “favorite person in the whole universe,” young Zura is not excited about the upcoming Grandparents Day at school. She thinks about others’ reactions when people notice the marks on her grandmother’s face — a tradition from her Akan culture of Ghana — and worries that her classmates will laugh or be mean. But Nana Akua has an idea. When she comes to school with Zura, they bring Zura’s quilt, covered in Adinkra symbols. Nana Akua uses them to explain the importance of the tradition that she wears on her face — and she invites the class and grandparents to paint Adinkra symbols on their faces, too. Walker’s text is appropriately detailed and uses simple language to express the deepest concerns and observations of a child. The closeness of Zura’s family and the camaraderie within her diverse classroom are aspirational and touching. Harrison’s mixed-media collages use texture, line, and both neutral and bright colors to create memorable characters and moments that invite readers to linger over each spread. Here is a story that is both highly specific in the culture represented and universal in its expressions of emotion and heritage. Adinkra symbols, with their names, pronunciations, and meanings, adorn the end pages, and a glossary and a short list of print and online resources extend the exploration.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Autumn Allen
Autumn Allen

Autumn Allen is an educator, writer, critic and independent scholar of children's and young adult literature. She holds an MA-MFA in children's literature and writing for children from Simmons University, and a master's degree in education from Harvard University. She is the 2020-2021 Writer in Residence at the Boston Public Library.

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