a joyous book about Africa and the lives that are lived there

by Muriel Feelings, pictures by Tom Feelings - Penguin Putnam, 2001
ages 4 to 10 years / diversity, s.o.s.e.

Essentially an alphabet book, Jambo Means Hello assigns a Swahili word to each letter of the English alphabet. And along with the words goes a short paragraph explaining something about culture, traditions and everyday life in Africa. There’s an easy-to-read pronunciation guide under each Swahili word too. 

But the stars of this book for me are the illustrations. There’s a short explanation about how the illustrations were created at the back of the book – and it uses the word luminous to describe them. I’d agree. They are simple monotone illustrations, but there is great depth and something close to movement in them. 

Each image shows an aspect of African life from village dancing at a wedding (arusi) to the busyness of a market where payment (lipo) is being made. Each is alive and joyful but not overly simplistic. There’s no attempt to westernise here – relationship are shown revolving around work rather then vacations, a sense of community pervades and there is a well-balanced mix of joy and seriousness shown in the faces of the people.

It’s fun to get your tongue around the Swahili words and it’s fun to use the words every so often. (There’s a map in the front of the book showing where in Africa Swahili is spoken).  

This is not a narrative – but it still manages to provide thought-provoking moments and, best of all, it can be read in snatches without losing the flow. It opens up conversations about Africa and lives that are lived there and by extension it opens up conversations about our own lives.

You can buy Jambo Means Hello via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia