In 2013, Portia Dery became the first Ghanaian writer to win the Golden Baobab prize for her picture book manuscript Grandma’s List, which went on to win a Children’s Africana Book Award (best books for young children category) in 2018. Initially published in English by African Bureau Stories, this picture book is due to be released by Jacana Media in isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans under the title Gogo’s List in October.
Fatima is the young girl on the front cover of the book. She is eight-and-a-half and does not want to be treated as a child. In fact, she is determined to save the day, and her grandma’s to-do list gives her the perfect opportunity to show what she is capable of. But before she’s even completed one errand, disaster strikes – or does it? – as Fatima loses the all-important list. After initial concern, Fatima continues regardless, claiming she has memorised everything she needs to do. To return home empty-handed would be proof that she is still a child who cannot even carry out simple tasks.
It soon becomes apparent that Fatima, or Fati as she is sometimes referred to in the text, may not have memorised the to-do list correctly. We learn that she pours cornflour into the baking flour bowl, and that she requests Uncle Dan to let out the hens and not the goats. Fatima is convinced that she has completed all the errands successfully, however, and is very proud of herself. It is fun to be in the know as a reader, when the lead character is not!
There is much to enjoy in Grandma’s List: the determined, dynamic protagonist, the humorous storyline, the multi-generational family sitting down to dinner together – and, especially, the strong message of forgiveness and acceptance. Fatima’s family may initially be disgusted and dismayed at the meal they have been served (made with the ingredients Fatima has incorrectly bought), but they soon see the funny side. Fatima’s mother is gentle in her questioning of her daughter, and Grandma acknowledges that some of the adults are also to blame for the mistakes that have been made. Fatima is treated with love and kindness, not criticism and punishment. It’s a refreshing approach.
The illustrations are vibrant and colourful, and the characters are portrayed with warmth and humour. Fatima is a whirlwind of activity with her brightly patterned dress and swinging cornrow braids. And I do like Uncle Dan; he only appears twice and never looks up from his mobile phone! The settings definitely transported me elsewhere – to a place of sun-baked earth and shuttered buildings, where bowls of mangoes are balanced on heads and sachet strips hang in the local grocery store. I am sure that readers from Ghana (and other African countries) would recognise many familiar elements. And for those, like me, who have not been to Africa, what a wonderful introduction!
Grandma’s List is a warm-hearted, entertaining story with a positive message of forgiveness and understanding.
Grandma’s List by Portia Dery, illustrated by Toby Newsome (African Bureau Stories, 2018)
Portia Dery is a writer, editor and community development officer. She is also the founder and director of The African Youth Writers Organisation, which designs and runs literacy clinics in Northern Ghana.
Toby Newsome is an award-winning illustrator based in Cape Town, South Africa. As well as picture book illustration, he has worked for many leading publishers and advertising agencies around the world.
This is an edited version of a post originally published on Planet Picture Book in March 2019.
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com
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