Handa’s Hen – Eileen Browne

More in the Series – Handa
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 2 points
Good story: 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

Remember Handa? This is the sequel, and it is just as delightful as the first. Handa is a young girl living in Kenya, and in this book she loses her hen and her friend Akeyo helps her to find it. This is coupled with a counting trope (first they find two fluttery butterflies, then three stripy mice, four little lizards and so forth).

ALL the characters in this book are female! Handa and her friend Akeyo, Handa’s grandmother, hell even the hen! This is really only notable because it pretty much never happens. So, yep, it passes the Bechdel. Not only that, but these two young AFRICAN girls show intelligence and ingenuity! YAY!

(Waits for the MRAs to start in – just don’t, okay? I’m not interested in engaging with you if you can’t see why this is relevant. 😛 )

The illustrations are gorgeous, and there is even a note in the front telling readers what the exact species of each of the animals they find before they find Mondi, the hen, and her ten new little chicks.

This book is great. It normalises Kenyan rural life, a big deal is not made about this or the fact that the characters are girls. The animals are all indigenous to Kenya, so its accurate.

Good stuff. More of this, please.

What do you think? What other books do you know of where all the characters are female and it’s not a big deal?

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Handa’s Surprise – Eileen Browne

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story: 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 2 points.

FINALLY! A book with a protagonist who isn’t a white kid or an Anglicised animal!

Handa’s Surprise is about a little girl who takes a basket of fruit to her friend Akeyo. On the way the fruit gets stolen by a variety of animals, and eventually replaced with a pile of tangerines. Akeyo is pleasantly surprised because she loves tangerines, and in a play on the title, Handa is also surprised!

The book is set in Kenya, the animals are African animals, even the fruit is reminiscent of home for me. Guavas and mangos are stolen by ostriches and zebras. The blurb in the 1001 Books book is all about the ‘exotic’ animals and fruit, but for me it feels not exotic but comfortable and familiar. I grew up, not in Kenya, but in South Africa, and the fruits in Handa’s basket are the fruits I used to eat in my childhood garden. This thrill of familiarity must be minor compared to children who almost never see characters like themselves in books.

The best part is that despite the 1001 blurb, there’s nothing exotic or token about the story. It doesn’t feel like “a story about a black African kid”, it feels like a story about a little girl taking a surprise to her friend. It just happens to be a surprise made of the kind of fruit that grows in Kenya, and is filched by the animals indigenous to that place.

And on top of all that, it passes the Bechdel  with flying colours. In fact, the only named characters are girls, and the only dialogue is between them.

I love it. It was a total pleasure to read to my son, who thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt almost nostalgic to me despite the fact that I had never read it before. It’s a great little tale. Definitely recommended.

What do you think of Handa? Do you know of other awesome kids’ books set in Africa?