West African Children’s Books

Culture Books | History Books | Children’s Books

See also children’s books in French.

The universe of West African children is filled with vivid colors and textures, traditional rhythms, and ancestral voices that echo through generations, via the art of storytelling. That these narratives have found their way to paper, as illustrated books, assures their transmission to the children of the world. 

The edifying, enriching, entertaining, and evocative West African tales collected and retold in these children’s books are a cultural legacy, left to us all.

(Note: If you would like to expand your own library of West African children’s books, purchasing through our affiliate links below would help support this website at no extra cost to you.)

Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott

Cover of the West African children's book 'Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti' by Gerald McDermott.

The world of Ashanti children is brillantly colored by a whole corpus of folktales, passed down through generations, called Anansesem, or “spider stories”.  The protagonist, of course, is the insightful, cunning, and mischievous spider Anansi. Leave it to Caldecott-medalist, filmmaker, and world folklore-gatherer Gerald McDermott to bring the antics of Anansi to young readers and into full poetic and richly illustrated light.

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The Cow-Tail Switch: And Other West African Stories by Harold Courlander, George Herzog & Madye Lee Chastain

Cover of the children's book 'The Cow-Tail Switch: And Other West African Stories' by Harold Courlander, George Herzog and Madye Lee Chastain.

This collection for older readers is based on tales directly transcribed, at the turn of the century, from local storytellers from Liberia and Togo to Sierra Leone and Ghana. A preface puts these tales into context and notes, a glossary, and even a pronunciation guide are thoughtful accompaniments to this Newbury-honored work, first published in 1947 but republished time and time again

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The Fire Children: A West African Folk Tale by Eric Maddern & Frané Lessac

Cover of the story book 'The Fire Children: A West African Folk Tale' by Eric Maddern and Frané Lessac.

Throughout West Africa, founding myths or creation stories are an enduring part of an oral, expressive culture that visualizes the beginnings of the universe itself, the movement of the sun and stars, the role of people in that universe. Here is the Akan version of how people, in all of their diverse colors, came to be.

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The Hatseller and the Monkeys: A West African Folktale by Baba Wagué Diakité

Cover of the children's book "The Hatseller and the Monkeys" by Baba Wagué Diakité, featuring a ceramic illustration of a West African hatseller.

Wagué, which means “A man of trust” in his native Bambara, was entrusted with a ‘library’: his grandmother’s trove of traditional legends, oral histories, and folk stories that he preserves through his unique story-telling and ceramic-tile illustration.

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The Iroko-Man: A Yoruba Folktale by Phillis Gershator & Holly C. Kim

Cover of the West African children's book 'The Iroko-Man: A Yoruba Folktale' by Phillis Gershator and Holly C. Kim.

West African textile patterns, painted paper textures and vibrant backdrops bring this well-known Yoruba tale of a wood spirit, a wife’s pledge, and a woodcarver’s creation to life.

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King Chameleon and more West African Folktales by Rotimi Ogunjobi

Cover of the West African children's book 'King Chameleon and more West African Folktales' by Rotimi Ogunjobi.

How wisdom came into the world, how serpents first came into being, why the lizard continually nods his head and why the moon and stars receive their light from the sun … Nigerian storyteller and folklorist Rotimi Ogunjobi has the answers to many of West Africa’s “Whys” and “Hows” and is handing them over to older readers! 

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Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski

Cover of the children's West African history book 'Sundiata: Lion King of Mali' by David Wisniewski.

Sumptuous cut-paper illustrations give visual, graphic power to what was traditionally meant for the ears; the lyric poetry of the West African griot. “Sunjata Fasa” is an epic praise song for the hero Sundiata as he ushered in a golden age of power and prosperity in 13th century Mali. This version is to children what Djibril Tamsir Niane’s Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali is to adults, a glimpse into Mandé culture, through the epic tales that give it form, color, and texture.

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Too Much Talk: A West African Folktale by Angela Shelf Medearis & Stefano Vitale

Cover of the story book 'Too Much Talk: A West African Folktale' by Angela Shelf Medearis and Stefano Vitale.

While the illustrations are inspired by the artwork of West Africa as a whole, this tale itself comes from Ashanti culture, a culture where words have mystical power. Here, words are delightfully given to normally silent entities, like fish and even the water it swims in! As the number of talkative characters grow, we are all tempted to shout out a collective “Aiyeee!”

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Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale by Verna Aardema, Leo Dillon & Diane Dillon

Cover of the children's book 'Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale' by Verna Aardema, Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon.

In this lively tale of cause and effect, a “Why” story known throughout West Africa, a hilarious chain of events is triggered, creating a domino effect, by a simple lie. This may well be West Africa’s short take on A Series of Unfortunate Events!

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Why The Sky Is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale by Mary-Joan Gerson & Carla Golembe

Cover of the West African children's book 'Why The Sky Is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale' by Mary-Joan Gerson & Carla Golembe.

In this ancient tale, the Bini people of Nigeria recount how things used to be when the sky was so close one could reach it. Award-winning artwork and thoughtful text unite to illustrate the more abstract concepts of waste and greed, humility and generosity.

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Top image: “Young Girl from the Village” by Ivorian painter Ephrem Kouakou.

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