Nelson by Tor and Jude Freeman (Walker Books, 2009) contains three connected short stories for children. In "A Long Journey," Flora and Annie travel from the big city of Cape Town, South Africa to a small country town. They are going to spend the school holidays with their ouma and oupa (grandmother and grandfather). Flora feels very grown up because it is their first time to take the long bus ride without their mother and it is Flora's job to take care of her little sister.
In "A Dropped Egg," Flora doesn't feel so grown up anymore. She is scared of Ouma's big red rooster, Nelson. Ouma is baking a cake and asks Flora to get four eggs from the henhouse. But Flora can't do it with Nelson so near the henhouse!
In "A Big Wave," Flora, Annie, Ouma, and Oupa spend the day at the beach. Flora is worried about the big waves washing over Annie, but she sees that Annie isn't afraid of the waves. This and a talk with Ouma gets Flora wondering about whether she can overcome her fear of Nelson.
Nelson is a good book about the many simple pleasures of school holidays: from eating sweets and drinking fizzy drinks while traveling, to swinging on an old tire hanging from a tree and racing hermit crabs against each other. It's also a good book about growing up and overcoming fears. But the leisurely pace and simplicity of the stories and the simplicity of the black and white illustrations made the book underwhelming for me.
Nelson is underwhelming especially when compared with Handa's Surprising Day by Eileen Browne (Walker Books, 2007), which I read right after reading Nelson.
Handa's Surprising Day has three connected short stories for children set in the villages of the Luo tribe in southwest Kenya. Its black and white illustrations are bold and, as befits the title, it's a surprising book.
In "Where's Mondi?," Handa goes searching for her grandma's missing chicken, and finds something unexpected. In "The Fruity Surprise," Handa walks to another village to bring her friend Akeyo a banana, guava, orange, mango, pineapple, avocado-pear, and passion-fruit - but ends up giving Akeyo something else. In "The Big, Bad Goat," a (you guessed it) big, bad goat follows Handa back to her village and tries to butt her, but something always gets in his way.
What I really found pleasantly surprising about Handa's Surprising Day was that it teaches kids numbers, colors, fruits, and animals while telling truly entertaining stories. :o)
[I bought my own copies of Nelson and Handa's Surprising Day.]