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Kids Books About Ethiopia

Ethiopia comes alive for our children in these four books. Although none of them deals directly with adoption, they are all wonderful conversation starters. Reviewed by Rita Radostitz

Silly Mammo // by Gebregeorgis Yohannes; illustrated by Bogale Belachew // African Sun Publishing // $10 at

This wonderful, richly illustrated reworking of a classic Ethiopian folktale tells the story of a dutiful son who is a bit thick-headed, but more than kind (think Amelia Bedelia set in Ethiopia).

The first night I was home with my then eight-year-old twin daughters, we read Silly Mammo. We cuddled together in a big bed, Sabella on one side, Hanna on the other. I read the English words, and they took turns reading the Amharic to me. Back and forth we went, reading to one another, and giggling at the silliness of Mammo.

A Family from Ethiopia // by Julia Waterlow // Raintree // $25.64

The vivid photographs of this Ethiopian family, their hut, and many of their possessions help to tell the story of their lives. Of course, it’s a challenge to portray a “typical” family in a country that’s as vast as Ethiopia; while the majority of people make their living as subsistence farmers, like the family in the book, many others live in large cities.

Nevertheless, reading the book and looking at the pictures with Sabella taught me a lot about her life growing up in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. I learned as much from her comments that, “No, we didn’t do that,” as I did from her admissions that, “Yes, we had one of those in our house.”

Ethiopia: A Question and Answer Book // by Mary Englar // Fact Finders // $22.60

Using beautiful photographs and clear graphics, Mary Englar makes the history of Ethiopia and the lives of its people appealing to readers of all ages. She covers the country’s geography, history, and customs in an easy-to-understand narrative. Hanna immediately found her old hometown on the map and smiled at the photographs of familiar sights.

The short, declarative sentences and highlighted facts provide lots of information about the culture and the ways that people live in Ethiopia.

Faraway Home // by Jane Kurtz; illustrated by E.B. Lewis // Gulliver Books // $16

When Desta’s father decides it’s time to go back to Ethiopia to care for his ailing mother, she learns how different his life was from her comfortable life in America. The story is told in a lyrical style, in sentences as beautiful as poetry: “Sometimes at night,” Desta’s father tells her, “the wind whooshed cold as old bones through the silver blue leaves of the eucalyptus trees outside my home.” And Desta—her name means “joy” in Amharic—imagines herself sleeping on the floor, wrapped in a gahbi.

For children who were adopted from Ethiopia at older ages, the lives of both Desta and her father may seem familiar.

Rita Radostitz is mom to 10-year-old twins Hanna and Sabella, adopted from Ethiopia. She works for Adoption Advocates International from her home in Oregon.

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