What are the features of a good book about Africa?

Africa Access, is the best sources for reviews of children, youth, and young adult books on Africa. It co-hosts the Children Africana Book Awards, which has established a wonderful list of high quality books.

Using this list, rate your book from 1-10, with 10 being the highest. Say why.

Here is a printable version of this table.

X Your Comments
Is Africa characterized as a continent without any countries?  The country is named or it is clear which country it is through the illustrations and other features.
North Africa is framed as part of the middle east North Africa is part of Africa.
Villages, savannahs, rural life Cities, urban scapes, modern scapes
General features (unnamed savannahs or villages) Specific features (e.g. a recognizable building or landscape feature in a specific city or place.
People are portrayed as needing help. Problems are resolved by someone external to that community, or  by a  white “savior.” People are autonomous and in control of their lives; Africans are described as making decisions, trying to improve themselves and their community, and assuming leadership roles.  Problems are resolved by someone belonging to that community. 
Typical Groups Atypical groups (Koi San, Maasai)
Are the characters represented as flat, similar to each other? Do characters express a range of emotions?

Are the characters portrayed as individuals, with interesting & complex identities?

Animals are the center of the story, needing to be saved from humans; or humans are not present and Africa is represented through the stereotype as a place of wildlife devoid of humans. Animals, if present, are portrayed with humans in complex relationships.

If animals are central characters (such as in folktales), they are shown to have complex personalities and further information is given in the book about the social and cultural dimension of the folktale.

Are the customs – speech, clothing, food habits, religious practices, and values – judged according to the norms of western culture? For example, are arranged marriages, the strong family unit, and assuming one’s traditional role represented negatively? Are the customs represented according to the norms of insiders of the culture written about?


Dangerous, atypical, or extraordinary scenes Every day scenes (families, school, street, markets, workplaces, roads, buildings, etc.)
Atypical jobs (Massai herders, healers, chiefs) Typical jobs (farmer, bus driver, teacher, nurse, street vendor, lawyer, sales person, etc.)
Desperate scenes of social ills (poverty, disease, conflict etc.) Scenes of people having fun; scenes of people resolving problems
Education is portrayed as a problem. Children are in school
Girls and women need saving. Girls and women are empowered.
Inaccurate, biased views of a current topic Historical and cultural accuracy. Further research is usually needed for you to ascertain historical and cultural accuracy. Check out the Review Database on Africa Access’ website to get additional information about accuracy.
Slavery and colonialism emphasized without complex, humanized stories of Africans who Humanized stories of resistance
Colonialism portrayed as balanced or two-sided.  Colonialism portrayed accurately in all of the ways that it disrupted and destroyed people’s societies, cultures, and livelihoods. The story shows that Africans resisted colonialism in various ways. The voices and perspectives of Africans are at the center.
Trans-atlantic and trans-Indianoceanic slave trades These histories are portrayed accurately from the perspectives of those who were enslaved. The enslavers’ actions are not erased or ignored. Attention is given to first person narratives and stories and the legacies & knowledge they carried with them.
Abject poverty  Working class, middle class families, farming families.
Irrational violence of conflict  Conflict is contextualized historically and leading factors are well explained.
Governments are portrayed as corrupt. Both successes and failures of governments are shown, and systems of governance are contextualized historically.
No additional information or links provided about a topic. Additional information about a topic provided for further research.
Africa devoid of technology Technology is represented through people’s innovation; technology is represented accurately in the ways it is used daily by millions (e.g. cell phones, internet, etc.)
Images & Illustrations
Non-African author and/or illustrator African author or illustrator or non-African author or illustrator with deep connection to, and knowledge of, the place they write about.
Stereotypical images and drawings of people Careful drawings of people that show a range of complex emotions, without any stereotypical features.
Uses words such as slave, tribe, underdeveloped, civilized/uncivilized, traditional, timeless, lost Enslaved, ethnic group; avoid the use of ‘developing’ and civilized altogether.

Compiled by Elsa Wiehe, adapted from existing resources from Africa Access & Dr. Barbara Brown, Boston University.