One of the best things that happened to my childhood was my introduction to the world of stories. My mother and my elder brother were avid readers so there were usually a lot of books lying around in the house. These Nigerian children’s books took me around Nigeria to different places and cultures. I found laughter and sadness, adventure, friendship and betrayal and countless beautiful souls in the pages of these books.
Here, I’ll talk about five of the most interesting Nigerian children’s books I enjoyed as a child. They are reviewed in no particular order. But before we get started, keep in mind that most of these books were recommended texts for primary 4, 5 and 6 pupils.
Stories My Mother Told Me
I met this book by Remi Adedeji in primary school. I can’t remember which class now. It was our literature text for the term. To say I enjoyed reading it would be an understatement.
Stories my mother told me is an exciting collection of folktales with moral lessons for every child. I can easily recall my favourite: the singing bone. It is a story about a king who has two sons but is undecided about which to pass the throne on to. He sends them into the forest to look for a special flower. Whoever finds this flower would succeed him. Fortunately for the younger one, he finds the flower first. Unfortunately for him, his older brother gets jealous and kills him. The older brother takes the flower home instead, pretending he found it. Little does he know that his crime would be uncovered in the most mysterious circumstances.
We loved the story so much we actually produced a rhythm for the song in the story. However, our teacher then was not impressed by how rowdy the class got when we began to march around the classroom, chanting the song. We were punished as a result.
The other stories in the book deal with humans, as well as animals. Every one of them was as interesting as the first.
Chike And The River
Who has not read Chike and the river? This novel by Chinua Achebe is an adventure story about a boy, Chike, who wants to cross the River Niger against all odds. Chike lives with his mother and two sisters in the village of Umuofia until fortune smiles on him in the form of his uncle. The uncle visits and takes him to Onitsha to live with him.
While Chike has mixed feelings about this city, one thing that is uppermost on his mind is the magnificent River Niger on the boundary of the city. All of the new friends he has made in his class have crossed the river and have been to Asaba which is on the other side. But he hasn’t.
Despite his mother’s warnings against going near the river, Chike makes up his mind to cross the Niger. Through sheer luck and persistence, he raises the money needed to get on the ferry to the other side. However, he doesn’t bargain for the adventure that is waiting on that side. A midnight encounter with a gang of dangerous robbers will change his life forever.
I enjoyed every page of this book and have never hesitated to lend my copy to any kid who wants it.
Eze Goes to School – A story by Onuora Nzekwu and Michael Crowther
This is the harrowing tale of Eze Adi whose path to gaining a formal education is littered with several difficulties. The first of this is his father, Okonkwo’s death at the hands of the leopard troubling the village. With the family breadwinner out of the way, Eze’s uncles do not help matters. They ensure that all of his dead father’s wealth is wasted on a lavish burial. This is despite the fact that Okonkwo Adi’s last wish was for them to ensure that his only son goes to school.
Eze and his mother are left to eke out a living whichever way they can and still raise his tuition fees. With each passing day, the odds stacked against them only grow rise higher and higher. It is needless to state that this book mirrors the saying that life is not a bed of roses.
The Bottled Leopard
This is one of the very few Nigerian children’s books I read with a touch of the supernatural – no, there are no fairies! In Amobi’s first year at the government college, his nights are dominated by strange dreams of a stalking leopard. In his naivety, he goes to his teachers at school for help. But they are the wrong people because they have no understanding of African mysticism.
In the end, he is forced to head back to his roots for answers. His parents take him to a dibia in the village to divine the cause of the seizures that accompany his dreams. The dibia’s verdict is that Amobi is connected to the leopard. This is only the beginning of Amobi’s new life in a different dimension rife with frightening challenges which he isn’t prepared for.
I enjoyed reading this book not only because of the satisfactory resolution but also because of the subplots involving Amobi’s childhood sweetheart. I also loved the boarding school angle.
An African Night’s Entertainment
Another classic Nigerian children’s book you definitely can’t miss. There is Abu Bakir who is betrothed to the most beautiful woman in town. On the other side of the divide are the wealthy Mallam Shehu and his longing for a child of his own. Unfortunately for Abu, his betrothed shows up on Shehu’s radar and the later sets wheels in motion to make her his wife.
This is a tale of love and vengeance, described by the amazing Cyprian Ekwensi. Abu’s obsession with the woman of his dreams and the extent to which he goes to exact vengeance will keep your child (and you) turning the pages.
Bonus Book: Potter’s Wheel by Chukwuemeka Ike
Potter’s wheel is one of my all-time favourites. Definitely, this book was worth being a recommended text for JAMB and it comes highly recommended for older children as well. It is a story about Obuechina Maduabuchi, the apple of his mother’s eyes and his travails in the hands of teacher Zaccheus Kanu and his wife.
Obu is the last child of his parents. However, the fact that he is an only son amid five sisters endears him to his mother. Before his birth, there had been a lot of pressure on his father to take another wife who would give him a male child. So, for his mother, the boy is an anchor that has secured her place in her husband’s house.
But both his world and hers are rocked dramatically when his father decides to send him to the town to live with teacher Zaccheus Kanu and his wife. His logic is that Obu has been spoilt rotten by the indulgence of his doting mother. Life with strangers will teach him the good manners he sorely lacks.
The problem, however, is that teacher Zaccheus and his wife are rumoured to be a wicked couple whose cruelty to the children under their roof is unrivalled. This book had me cackling with laughter a lot of times as I read it. The antics of the characters show that side of us we never really find funny until we consider it in retrospect.
Other Nigerian Children’s Books That Deserves a Spot on This List
- Sugar Girl: The story of Ralia, the Sugar Girl by Kola Onadipe is one book no one who’s read it is ever going to forget. In fact, there’s no debating the authority of this book as a classic Nigerian children’s book.
- Zandi and the wonderful pillow: Who can tell the story of a young boy with hunchback better than J. I. N. Chukwuka? No one.
- Koku Baboni: Kola Onadipe, again! If you’ve never read nor heard about this book, then you should be in a bookshop right now getting it. Or purchase the book online.
- Without a silver spoon: An Eddie Iroh book that focuses on the story of Ure.
- In need of one more Cyprian Ekwensi book, then check out The Drummer Boy.
- My father’s car: Written in 1980 by SMO Aka, this book illustrates the reality of a family whose father bought a car that came with more troubles than they could handle.
These are all old Nigerian storybooks that were greatly loved. The Lantern books collection was also another source of joy in those days. If you can’t get the hard copies of these books, you can always buy them from Goodreads and other online platforms.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
These books are not the only Nigerian children’s books I read as a kid. There are still several others that thrilled me as a kid and had me turning the pages quickly. But they are not included here due to space constraint. Are your favourites in this list? If they are not you can tell us about them in the comments!
Samuel Ifeanyi is a freelance writer on Upwork and Fiverr. He loves stories and uses the ones he creates to escape reality. He is on the verge of completing a BSc program in Sociology from the University of Calabar.