This AR 3.6, 89 page early chapter book features three stories set in Lagos, Nigeria. The main character and her family are Christian, but many of the neighbors are Muslim, and the third story is set in Ramadan with Easter and Eid falling at the same time. The sense of community throughout the book, the OWN voice detail and charm make this book silly, warm, and delightful for first through third grade readers.
In the first story Tola heads to the market with her Grandmommy. Not the fancy mall, but the muddy market further away. Her older brother Dapo is too busy playing soccer to help, her older sister Moji is busy with homework, that leaves little Tola to carry the items on her head with her tough as nails little grandmother. Everyone says she is too small, but Grandmommy knows she can do it. As they purchase the items, and neighbors call to have them pick up items for them too, the duo have to take lots of breaks on their way home, but Too Small Tola does it and proves to herself and others that she might be small, but she is strong.
The second story once again focuses on life in Lagos and the one bedroom apartment the family shares. One morning both the power and the water are out and the jerry bottles need to be filled at the pump. When some bullies trip Tola and the water spills, an elderly neighbor lady patiently waits for the right time to get her revenge on Tola’s behalf, and when the bully challenges the woman, the entire line stands together. Tola may be small, but she stood for something and made a difference.
The final story involves the neighbor, Mr. Abdul, the tailor who lives downstairs, coming to measure Tola and her family for their new Easter clothes. He let Tola measure everyone last year and praises her as the best measurer in Lagos, and Tola is eager to take the measurements this year. When the tailor breaks his leg, he is worried he will not be able to ride his bicycle to his clients and will not be able to prepare the Eid feast and pay rent. Tola knows they have been fasting all Ramadan and between her, Grandmommy, and Dapo they come up with a plan to help. Dapo will peddle the bike and take Tola to measure everyone for their orders. Tola may be small, but she can save the day for the Abdul family.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love little Tola and her sassy grandma. The book would lend itself so wonderfully to be read aloud as it bursts with personality and dialogue. I love the sense of community in such a day-to-day life that would seem to stark and hard to most western readers. Tola’s draws on those around her to find her strength, from her Grandmommy, to her neighbors, they may tease her that she is too little, but they also build her back up and stand with her. I love the diversity in Tola’s world. She seems so excited that Eid and Easter will be aligned and that after her services they will be joining the Abdul’s feast, such a great lesson of tolerance and respect without being preachy about tolerance and respect. Young readers will enjoy Tola and the insight into Nigeria.
Grandmommy lies when a neighbor calls her in the market to ask her to pick up his TV, she pretends the battery dies as she and Tola laugh at how ridiculous them carrying a TV would be in addition to everything else they are carrying. There is bullying when Tola is tripped and then when Mrs. Shaky-Shaky trips the bully.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This wouldn’t work for a book club, but would be ideal in small groups, or to be read aloud. There would be a lot to discuss as children would relate to Tola and find themselves cheering her on.