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S is for South Africa
Naidoo, Beverley ; Das, Prodeepta (illus.) S is for South Africa. London, England: Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2010. $18.82, ISBN 9781847800183 / 1847800181.

Note: "A photographic introduction to South Africa, featuring brief descriptions of people, places, customs, and other aspects of life in South Africa, arranged alphabetically."

S Is for South Africa is a nonfiction picture book organized alphabetically to convey information about this southern African nation. Typical entries briefly describe geographical features, such as Table Mountain; food, such as bunny chow; arts, such as Ndebele house-painting or the imbira, a musical instrument; national hero Nelson Mandela, and, of course, animals. Each letter introduces one of these South African characteristics with loosely rhyming text and accompanied by color photographs to illustrate that trait. While there is no separate glossary, occasional unfamiliar words are defined on the page where they occur. An author's note provides a bit more background information about the country and its history, along with two maps-one showing South Africa's location on the continent of Africa and the other an enlarged view of the country itself. A striking endpaper photograph displays a double-page mirror image of zebras in the wild. The outer edges of each page inside are embellished with borders in traditional designs, and a portion of the national emblem appears beside the Author's Note.

The overall theme of the book seems to be celebration of the transformation this nation has been undertaking since 1990 and the transition to the new democratically elected government in 1994. Yebo! Yes, we can! embodies the spirit of willingness-indeed, eagerness-to change from a system of separation and oppression of other races by the white minority to an inclusive, multi-racial society. The author conveys this theme through the text, which recognizes the Apartheid Museum, lives of children in poverty, the nation's housing shortage, hair braiding, and the 11 official languages of South Africa. Photographs reinforce the upbeat message with depictions of multi-ethnic people of all ages, a roadside produce seller, a woman stringing beaded jewelry, and the diversity of traditional village homes and modern cities.

Naidoo, an award-winning author who grew up in South Africa, became involved in the struggle against Apartheid as a student during the 1960s, was arrested and jailed for her political activities, and eventually exiled in Great Britain. There she earned a doctorate in 1991, married a fellow South African exile, and raised her children. Her first book, Journey to Jo'burg (1985), written to portray the injustices of Apartheid to the outside world, was banned in South Africa until 1991. A sequel to that book, Chain of Fire (1989); another novel, No Turning Back (1995); and a collection of short stories, Out of Bounds (2003) are also set in South Africa. Three other novels for young readers- The Other Side of Truth (2000), for which she won the Carnegie Medal; its sequel, Web of Lies (2004); and Burn My Heart (2007)-are rooted in other African countries and England, while Call of the Deep (2008) includes two magical stories from the British Isles. A collection of African trickster tales, The Great Tug of War (2001), and Aesop's Fables (2011)-with African settings-are retellings of traditional stories. With her daughter Maya, Naidoo co-authored Baba's Gift (2004), a picture book about two children spending a day at the seaside with their grandmother.

S Is for South Africa would make a good companion for Kathryn Cave's One Child, One Seed: A South African Counting Book (2003), a photo-essay that uses the life cycle of a pumpkin seed to show numbers from one to ten, along with the daily lives of a rural farm family.

Copyright 2011 Africa Access

Rating: R Grade: P / E Type: Book

Reviewed by: Barbara A. Lehman (The Ohio State University, Mansfield)

Subject: South Africa / Culture / History / CABA Winner / Urban setting / City and town life