Eric Walters may be best known as the author of dozens of highly regarded young adult novels, but in recent years, he has published a growing number of picture books, many of which have been inspired by his travels in Africa. His striking collection, From the Heart of Africa: A Book of Wisdom, comprises aphorisms that Walters has gathered from African friends and colleagues whom he’s encountered while co-running the Creation of Hope, an organization that provides housing and education support to orphaned children in the Mbooni region of Kenya.
Some of the 15 aphorisms – which come from Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, and other African countries – may be familiar to young readers. “The longest journey starts with a single footstep” is one example. Others, such as “Wisdom is like the baobab tree: no one person can embrace it,” require scaffolding. “Meaning” paragraphs appear after each aphorism to help young readers interpret the text, and are especially useful considering the author letter from Walters and the foreword by Femi Kolapo, a professor of African history at the University of Guelph, seem aimed toward adult readers.
The earnest tone of From the Heart of Africa is softened considerably by the vibrant artwork that accompanies the aphorisms. Each page employs a unique artistic style ranging from cartoon illustration to realism, created by a diverse group of artists from Africa and North America.
Colourful and bold typography with extremely minimal text – some of the aphorisms are only three words long – will instantly appeal to young and reluctant readers. However, this book will be best enjoyed with the support of a teacher or parent. Since, according to Kolapo, aphorisms are a “kind of portable knowledge” originating in the oral tradition, it is most fitting to read this book aloud, giving young readers the opportunity to talk together, construct meaning, and brainstorm how they might apply each teaching to their own lives.