When Africa was Home

by Karen Lynn Williams

Publisher and date: Scholastic, 1994

age/ grade: kindergarten – grade 2

Synopsis: from www.bn.com
After returning to the United States, Peter’s whole family misses the warmth and friendliness of their life in Africa; so Peter’s father looks for another job there.

Author’s Perspective: (from Karen’s website)

Peter was not even a year old when we took him to Malawi for what turned out to be nearly four years. He had a wonderful freedom there—time and space to run and play with a whole village of friends outside his door. But it was a bit of a shock to me to realize that while I still considered America to be my home, Peter did not even remember anything at all about the United States. Africa was the only home he knew. I wrote this story after we had returned to Pittsburgh. As I wrote in my tiny study, I was so involved in the story that I felt like I had traveled back to Africa. Sometimes I was so homesick for the quiet lifestyle and gentle people there that I found myself writing with tears running down my cheeks. After I finished the book I thought that no one would be interested in reading about Peter’s life in Africa unless they had lived there too. But I was wrong, this book resonates with many readers and I know that is because I was able to capture my passion for the a place that still remains very close to my heart.

Literary Elements:

Character – The main character of Peter truly loves his home in Africa. Through his eyes, the reader also falls in love with the beauty of the land and the people.

Setting – Malawi, Africa. The setting is experienced through the day-to-day amusing of a young boy. Anthills, paw-paw trees, the hot sun, warm earth, and native animals are what makes Malawi home. This is contrasted with his brief time in America. In America, Peter finds winter weather, bright city lights, and the loss of his friendly village hard to adjust to.

Theme – Several themes are found: home, different cultures, friendship, and community

Curriculum Connections:

Web Resources:


School Library Journal (from www.bn.com)

PreS-Gr 2– Peter, a white American, is entirely at home in a Malawian village. He slides down anthills in the hot sun, chews sugarcane with his friend Yekha, and runs with the goats. When he has to go to America with his parents, he feels displaced, and waits patiently until their joyful return to the village, where he is once again at home. Williams evokes Africa as the ultimate playground, a place of warmth, belonging, and freedom. Cooper’s luminous paintings in oranges, yellows, greens, and blues contribute to this image, as they show Peter and Yekha playing against a background of shimmering heat. The warmth of that country is contrasted starkly with the cold of winter in America. Peter’s story tends to lose its flow in the descriptions of daily life. However, continuity is provided by frequent use of the phrase, “when Africa was home,” and by the use of Chichewa words followed by their English equivalent. Cooper’s portrayal of people varies: his profiles of faces are usually more successful than his frontal views. Peter’s face changes from page to page, and so does his apparent age. Also, although the use of Chichewa places the book in Malawi, some characters appear West African in their style of dress. The book is successful as a read-aloud, but the print is also large enough for independent reading. It will be most useful to those looking for material for multicultural units. –Susan Giffard, Englewood Public Library, NJ


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