Afiya is a young girl with “fine black skin” and “big brown eyes.” Every day the world she sees and experiences leaves a beautiful imprint on her white summer dress: bunches of red roses one day, and butterflies, stalks and petals the next. The images remain—even after washing—until morning when, magically, the dress is again a blank canvas.
In A Story About Afiya, a picture book for ages 4–8, the late, great Jamaican poet James Berry evokes the beauty, colors and movement of nature. Afiya is free to roam, explore and enjoy the wonders around her but, as in life, the memories are but fleetingly captured. Every day brings new adventures and new discoveries as summer gently gives way to autumn. Berry’s poem is lyrical and fluid, with lovely images such as the “yellow fringed black faces” of sunflowers and the “ruffled waves” of the ocean.
Each double spread features one short stanza visually brought to life by Brazilian artist Anna Cunha’s enchanting illustrations. Rather than simply imprinting Afiya’s dress with flowers or fishes, Cunha’s art draws the girl and dress into the wider landscape. A kaleidoscope of butterflies gathers around Afiya, appearing at once to attach to the white fabric but stay separate from it. A flock of pigeons creates a fluttering trail from the dress into the air. Every page conveys the pure joy and wonder of childhood.
Beautifully evocative, A Story About Afiya is a book of memories that every child will treasure.
A Story About Afiya
Written by James Berry
Illustrated by Anna Cunha
Published by Lantana Publishing, 2020
Awards: Northern Lights Book Awards Picture Book of the Year 2020; USBBY Outstanding International Book 2021; New York Times, 25 Best Children’s Books of 2020
You can buy a copy of A Story About Afiya here or find it in a library.*
*Book purchases made via our affiliate link may earn GLLI a small commission at no cost to you.
This is a lightly edited version of the review originally posted on my blog Planet Picture Book on September 14, 2020.
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 @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com