Books by Theme

Tales from South Africa

As all eyes look to South Africa for the World Cup, it's the perfect time to learn more about the nation's cultural heritage. From folktales to soccer stories to Nelson Mandela's childhood, these books offer a wonderful introduction to South Africa's people and natural environment. Many of the books also address the long struggle to overcome apartheid, gently opening the discussion for young readers with stories that are both realistic and hopeful.

Quotable Quotes: The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go. -- Dr. Seuss

A South African Night

By: Rachel Isadora
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

When the people of Johannesburg go to bed, the animals of Kruger National Park begin to stir. Simple text and evocative watercolors bring the city and the national reserve to life and will inspire young children to think about what is happening in the natural world while they are sleeping. This edition is out of print but may be available in libraries.


By: Mina Javaherbin
Illustrated by: A.G. Ford
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

This heart-tugging picture book from a debut author tells a lyrical soccer story in the voice of a young boy in a South African shantytown… In full-page oil paintings, Ford uses unusual angles to intensify the sense of the scuffling, exciting action; the tense confrontation; and the reality of shantytown life. — Gillian Engberg, Booklist

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story

By: Beverley Naidoo
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A sister and brother travel to Johannesburg in search of their mother as their baby sister becomes ill. On the way, they become aware of what apartheid means for the people in their country. "This well-written [story] has no equal. Evocative and haunting." — School Library Journal


By: Floyd Cooper
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Meet young Rolihlahla, the boy who will grow up to become Nelson Mandela. "Cooper's oil paintings are infused with golden light. Elegant composition and subtle shifts in perspective add emotional value to the carefully focused account." — Carolyn Noah, School Library Journal

Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales

By: Nelson Mandela
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In his foreword to this rich compilation, Nelson Mandela writes, "This collection offers a handful of beloved stories, morsels rich with the gritty essence of Africa, but in many instances universal in their portrayal of humanity, beasts, and the mystical." Colorful vignettes add an extra dimension to the creation myths, trickster tales, and magical stories that Mandela has chosen.

South Africa: Explore the World Through Soccer

By: Ethan Zohn, David Rosenberg
Illustrated by: Shawn Braley
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Ethan Zohn is a professional soccer player, philanthropist, and lecturer. Through his series of international Soccer World books, Zohn shares ways that soccer can be used as a "common language" across cultures. In this edition, Zohn makes his way through South Africa, and takes readers from wildlife preserves to giant soccer stadiums — just in time for the World Cup!

The Day Gogo Went to Vote

By: Elinor Batezat Sisulu
Illustrated by: Sharon Wilson
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Thembi's family learns that South Africa will hold elections, her 100-year-old grandmother announces that she too will vote now that she has the opportunity. This story of quiet determination pays tribute to the people of South Africa and the privilege of casting a ballot. Pastel sketches convey the joy and warmth of the bond between Thembi and Gogo.

The Gift of the Sun: A Tale from South Africa

By: Dianne Stewart
Illustrated by: Jude Daly
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Thulani enjoys sitting in the sun, and he is tired of milking his cow. When he sells his cow to buy a goat, however, his problems are just beginning. What will it take for his luck change? "This is a fresh, funny variation on the 'Lazy Jack' theme, with illustrations done in a folkart style and filled with little details of South African rural life." — Barbara Kiefer, School Library Journal

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