For this week’s picture book, I’d like to share one of my favorite books during childhood: Where Are You Going, Manyoni? by Catherine Stock. This book tells the story of a young girl’s long walk to school in southern Zimbabwe, opening with her waking up and eating porridge, walking the reader through many landscapes with all kinds of animals, and finally taking us to her school, where she greets her teacher and plays with her friends for a few minutes before the school day begins. The beautiful illustrations transport us to this world entirely, depicting riverbeds, dams, pans, plains, and other elements of rural Zimbabwe, as well as bushpigs, hyenas, impala, and more. Not only do the illustrations bring this part of Zimbabwe to life, but they also convey the passage of time and the true length of Manyoni’s walk through light and coloring, using cooler and darker colors towards the beginning, closer to dawn, and warmer and brighter colors as the day wears on. In many of the illustrations, finding Manyoni amidst the vast wilderness can be tricky, becoming a game through which the reader can interact with the book.
This is a wonderful book to have in a school or classroom library. Where Are You Going, Manyoni? can be used to teach science, with students learning about the geographical features or the flora and fauna in this part of Africa. What do hyenas eat? Where do impala live? What creates a krantz? This last question ties into another way to teach the book: vocabulary, culture, and life in other countries. For instance, using the glossary in the back of the book, students may learn that some of the unfamiliar words in Manyoni come from Venda, a native language of southern Zimbabwe and northern South Africa, but that some of the unfamiliar words come from Afrikaans, a descendant of Dutch. This may lead to the question of how Afrikaans came to be and why the Venda are split across national borders, presenting an opportunity to learn about the history of colonization and independence in southern Africa. In a broader sense, this book raises children’s awareness about something that is simple and yet significant: all over the world, there are children who walk one or two hours to get to school every day. This book shows us the difficulty and value in education, but also the beauty along the way. Manyoni helps us learn something about a girl in Zimbabwe; it helps us appreciate Manyoni, her walk to school, and the awe-inspiring landscapes surrounding her. Perhaps best of all, it gives us a thirst to learn more about Zimbabwe, South Africa, and every other place in the world.