Nnedi Okorafor’s Chicken in the Kitchen is a Win for African Children’s Literature
October 05, 2015
What do you think happens when one of the world’s most prominent sci-fi/fantasy authors writes a children’s book?
You get Chicken in Kitchen!— the latest and utterly adorable debut in the African children’s literature scene.
It all started with Alice Curry, the cofounder of Lantana Publishing, a publishing company focused on creating children’s content inspired by minority cultures and communities.
When Curry read Nnedi Okorafor’s young adult novels, she loved them.
They “are not only gripping and entertaining adventure stories,” she says to me in an interview, they “are some of the very few examples of books in the fantasy genre that explore culturally diverse characters and communities.”
Okorafor’s ability to write powerful stories of adventure featuring characters of color was in line with the objective of Lantana Publishing. Before long, their partnership led to the publication of Okorafor’s first ever children’s picture book.
In her Facebook announcement of the release of Chicken in the Kitchen, Okorafor drew attention to the personal significance of the story.
“I used to tell my daughter this story over and over when she was little,” she wrote.
Clearly, the story had been tried and tested with the best audience possible—the author’s child! Maybe that’s why the adaptation into a book format works so well.
Chicken in the Kitchen is a delight. The story captures a night in the life of a little Igbo girl named Anyaugo. It’s the eve of the New Yam festival. Anyaugo’s mother and aunties have pulled out all the stops to stock the fridge with plenty of food for the celebration. But something very unlikely happens that could ruin all their effort. A huge chicken has somehow found its way to the kitchen. The quick-thinking Anyaugo recruits a trusted ally—a somewhat mischievous nature spirit named Wood Wit—to help her send the invading chicken packing. But there is a surprise in store for Anyaugo because what she thinks is a chicken “is a little more than a chicken.”
The story is easy to follow. The seamless but dramatic dialogue is great to read out loud to children.
Okorafor who knows her way around the speculative side of fiction does a brilliant job of blending in a good bit fantasy in a story about the everyday. I love the idea of inviting children to see the magic and mystery in a place as humdrum as the household.
The success of children’s books is as much a function of the writing as it is of the illustrations. UK-based Iranian illustrator Mehrdokht Amini is masterful.
She brings Okorafor’s vision to life in a series of dazzling images that make turning the pages irresistible. The gold-toned vividness of the colors gives the illustration a sparkly liveliness. The pictures literally jump right out of the page.
Okorafor has crafted a charming story around aspects of daily Igbo life—Masquerades, new yam festivals, ancestral spirits, and so on. The implication of this is far reaching. For one thing, it shows us the right way to integrate diversity into children’s storytelling. Chicken in the Kitchen is a story featuring a West African girl in a middle class West African household. But the value and beauty of the story doesn’t lie entirely in its being West African, but instead in its being a truly enjoyable read.
Good luck to the lucky child who gets to read such a beautiful story!
[Click HERE to get a copy.]