First of a series dedicated to children around the world, this photo essay is a well-intentioned snapshot of the life of 8-year-old Noel, growing up in a Tanzanian village near Mount Kilimanjaro.
With this book of big heart and moderate resources, self-described missionary Duda makes the most of a 2016 visit to Tanzania by attempting to capture Noel’s story. Using her own photographs, the author shows his school, home, and daily life. Squeezing in some elementary Swahili (“jambo/hello”; “karibu/welcome”; “asante/thank you”), the book also includes a trip to the village marketplace. The intention of this new series is to introduce young American readers to children around the globe; according to the back cover, “The better we know each other, the easier it is to become friends.” If readers are expecting an expansive, diverse view of Tanzanian culture and the breadth of the experience and possibility of growing up on the African continent, this leaves much to be desired. While its approach is earnest and sincere, it is nevertheless a narrow, representative framing without even other voices drawn from the local Tanzanian community to amplify Noel’s. In the end it simply feels like the author’s brief, international faith-based field trip. Do readers meet Noel or simply browse the stories and photos the author brought back with her?
Though this first entry is a failure, there’s potential here for this series if its producers are willing to immerse themselves. Here’s to it. (Informational picture book. 5-9)