One of the most original children’s books to cross our desk so far this year is Too Small Tola ($15.99, 96 pages, ages 6-9) by Nigerian-born storyteller Atinuke, with delightful illustrations by Onyinye Iwu. Three short stories follow Tola, a girl living in an apartment in Lagos, as she navigates the hustle and flow of the bustling megacity. On marketing day, she and Grandmommy walk to the other side of Lagos and back with baskets overflowing with groceries for her family and neighbors–even when it seems like she’s just too small to be much help at all. When the electricity goes out, Tola heads down to the municipal pump to draw water from the well, despite the possibility of being late for school if everything doesn’t go according to plan. Tola demonstrates kindness and determination to help Mr. Abdul the tailor when he’s sidelined by an accident and needs help taking customers’ measurements. Atinuke’s writing is rich and evocative yet accessible to emerging readers, and deftly incorporates universal themes such as family relationships, bravery, and bullying. Tola’s Lagos is at once startlingly different (for most American readers) yet doesn’t feel overwhelming, which will no doubt inspire further inquiry.
The welcoming and detailed line art throughout are rendered in black-and-white, while the cover–a standout riot of color–would suggest more of the same within, but Iwu’s illustrations captivate and delight, revealing subtle details of Tola’s world waiting to be explored.
Too Small Tola is too great to miss.