In two days, South Africa will observe Heritage Day, an annual reminder of the diversity of our people beyond our 11 official languages and ethnic groups. On this public holiday, people are encouraged to take pride in their roots and celebrate their ethnocultural heritage.
In Wanda, a picture book for ages 4-8 by Sihle Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali, an 8-year-old schoolgirl learns all about her own hair-itage from Makhulu, her grandmother. Through vibrant illustrations by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne, Wanda’s journey from shame to confidence and triumph is captured beautifully.
The book opens with Wanda running late for the bus without any time to style her big cloud of afro hair into a more “presentable” form for school. Not only that, her ride there is plagued by relentless teasing from her peers. She wishes she could be as confident as the beautiful women that stroll down the street but the boys’ constant laughter makes it impossible.
After a bad day where she is mocked and her hair fails her teacher’s inspection, Wanda goes home with a heavy heart. Fortunately, Makhulu is there to welcome her and restore her confidence by showing her photos of famous women who look like her with their cloud-like afro hair twisted, coiled, cut and braided into gorgeous styles.
After looking at icons such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Diana Ross, Angelique Kidjo and Miriam Makeba, Makhulu gently styles Wanda’s hair for the next school day and reminds her that she is a queen and her hair is her crown. From that day on, Wanda is able to ignore the teasing and walk with her crown held high just like the beautiful women who stroll down the street.
Being mocked by peers for looking different or clashing with school authorities due to one’s appearance is a situation that many children can identify with. This Skipping Stones Honor Award-winning book is a great way to discuss such issues while reminding children of how special and unique they are.
Below is a video of Sihle Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali reading Wanda for The Eric Carle Museum:
*Review copy of Wanda was kindly provided by the publisher.
Written by Sihle Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali
Illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne
Jacana Media, 2019
Page count: 32
Lebohang Masango is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology, an award-winning children’s author and poet. Her debut, Mpumi’s Magic Beads is translated in all 11 official South African languages and has been awarded a South African Literature Award, among others. Her other titles include Grow to be Great: Awesome African Achievers, co-authored with Dr Judy Dlamini, and Mpumi and Jabu’s Magical Day, co-authored with Professor Claudine Storbeck. She tweets at @lebohangwrites.
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