This entry is part of the series Folklore Fun

I have a giant spreadsheet of books with folkloric influences. The main challenge I have with these blog posts is figuring out how to group countries so that I have a nice amount of material, without getting so broad as to lose all the regional flavor. To complicate things, not all books reference one singular culture. I keep running into books that broadly sample bits and pieces from all across the continent (or tales so old they exist across several cultures). How am I supposed to categorize those?

All this to say, I was delighted to see how many books take direct inspiration from the people of Nigeria. It’s nice to zoom in and spend time with an individual country. Of course, Nigeria itself is home to a number of distinct people groups, the largest being Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.

I loved learning more about the Yoruba culture from the books at WPPL. Children of the Quicksands takes a magical realism approach, starting out in our everyday world and guiding the protagonist (and reader) through a mind-opening experience. Meanwhile, Children of Blood and Bone and Skin of the Sea (both YA books) bring the Yoruba pantheon to life. Olodumare is the supreme deity, overseeing the orishas (spiritual beings) who are associated with a variety of natural forces, occupations, and notable locations. These books spin this cultural background into well-developed fantasy settings, the former exploring the intricacies of prejudice and policies, and the latter reinventing the classic “Little Mermaid” tale.

WPPL also has some books that highlight Igbo folklore and history. Chicken in the Kitchen is a whimsical picture book about a girl preparing for the New Yam festival. Akata Witch follows a young girl who must learn to handle her own magic while tracking down–and surviving–a dangerous foe. How the Leopard got his Claws (written by the much-lauded Nigerian author Chinua Achebe) uses the features of a traditional folk tale to reflect the present strife of his nation.

It is refreshing to see these Nigerian-inspired works alongside the mainstream fairy tales of generations past. Diverse authors bring diverse stories, which let readers learn and appreciate cultures they may never otherwise be exposed to. Likewise, more readers get to see themselves in these books, which encourages pride in their own backgrounds. Natasha Bowen makes an excellent point in the afterword of her book. She writes:

Black history doesn’t start with slavery. An important aspect of Skin of the Sea for me is the positive depiction of ancient African knowledge, culture, and history, which are often insidiously and incorrectly presented as primitive.

Natasha Bowen, Skin of the Sea afterword

She is absolutely right, and these books certainly impressed upon me the depth of African history. Even the most cursory research makes it clear that the civilizations in Nigeria–and the across the whole continent–are a treasure trove of art, innovation, scholarship, and tradition. These books are only the beginning!