What would a trip to Grandma’s house be like if you lived in Tanzania? Burgess’ (Juma’s Dhow Race, 2013, etc.) young narrator, Juma, describes the experience.
Juma and his sister, Sareeya, are eager to visit their bibi, or grandmother, over April vacation. Traveling from their home, Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, to Bibi’s small village near Seronera is such a long trip it will take “two hundred naps” before they arrive. The family piles into an old Corolla, and they make their way cross country, spotting Mount Kilimanjaro, Maasai herders, and all sorts of animals—elephants, zebra, wildebeest, gazelle, warthogs, and giraffes. The Corolla breaks down on a wildlife preserve where Juma’s mjomba (uncle) works, and Juma has a close encounter with a giraffe before his father and uncle can get the car fixed. The tone of the narrative is subdued. Juma is conversational, often chronicling his adventures without great fanfare. But that’s also part of his charm. When Mjomba tells stories about the animals he has helped save on the preserve, Juma decides, “I will be a game warden when I get big—for sure!” But after camping out atop his uncle’s Land Rover and being woken up by giraffe drool, he changes his mind: “I will never, never be a warden—that’s for sure!” The siblings’ journey conveys to young readers that Tanzania is very different from the United States, although some things, such as Juma’s father making the family take quick bathroom breaks on the long drive, may seem very familiar to young road trippers. Gugu’s illustrations beautifully depict the wildlife, especially the scene that shows Sareeya’s near run-in with an elephant. Endnotes help readers place Tanzania and its cities on the map and define the words in Ki-Swahili that pepper the text.
Burgess has created a likable narrator in a striking setting not often represented in picture books.