Now 11 years old, Nila went with her parents to live in Swaziland when she was eight. Here, using her own words and drawings as well as photos, the appealingly precocious girl offers a personalized depiction of life in that small country. Sensing--correctly, it would seem--which information will be of interest to her peers, the author focuses on ways in which the lifestyle of children in Swaziland differs from that of American kids. She describes the schools attended by Swazi youngsters, the many chores they perform at home, the food they eat and their toys and clothing. She also retells a pleasant Swazi folktale, and ends on an inspirational note: ``You can do all kinds of things you never dreamed you could do. . . . Just like writing a book. Just like living in Africa.'' While this project could easily have become cute and cloying, Nila pulls it off neatly--written in her own hand, both the girl's text and sketches are refreshing, upbeat and ingenuous. Ages 5-8. (Mar.)
- Susie Wilde
Learning to Swim in Swaziland was written by Nial Leigh when she was eight. The book is printed in a child-like scrawl and the text weaves around charming, bright, child-drawn maps and illustrations and photos that picture Nial's life in Swaziland. There's much kid humor interspersed. In one photo she demonstrates South African baby carrying by tying her kitty around her waist. In the next page the kitty springs away. Nial touches on school, architecture, cooking, custom and tales. There's a wealth of the kind of trivia that will convey a sense of place to kids and make them laugh at the same time.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-- An eight-year-old American child's upbeat impressions of living in Swaziland. A visual delight, Leigh's account is attractively laid out with her own colorful crayon maps and pictures interspersed with well-chosen photographs. Her concern about such concrete realities as vaccinations, the friendliness of Swazi children, snails that keep her from swimming in lakes, and the way that water drains south of the equator ring true and are well expressed. Her closing advice that, ``You should not be afraid of what you have never done'' is valuable to all children, but should be especially comforting to those facing a new living situation. This is Leigh's own story, rather than the story of Swaziland, yet most readers will come away with some important facts about the country. The description of boys making toy cars from wire and soda cans tells about creativity in the face of limited resources, while other observations lay a groundwork for understanding the geography, family structure, diet, politics, and relations with South Africa. An unusual and personal book. --Loretta Kreider Andrews, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore
Can an eight-year-old's school report become a children's book? Not a very good one, at least not without considerable adult input. Nila's first-person account of her year in Swaziland, presented as a facsimile of her own printed script, is a lively, informal young visitor's account of a foreign place. In her chatty individual voice she gets across all kinds of interesting traveler's facts--the differences in the seasons and in the night sky; what it's like to eat crocodile and warthog; facts about school, language, foods, animals, and general geography (Swaziland "is smaller than New Jersey but sort of round. It is ruled by a King. . . . There are no lions"). However, the illustrations are poor--either posed group photographs ("Here is a Swazi family at home") or Nila's crude crayon drawings of stick figures in comic book style. Though the dedication page includes a photograph of Nila with two of her "best African friends," there is no indication anywhere in her story that she ever went into a Swazi home or that she got to know any Swazi as a person. Williams' "When Africa Was Home" , with compelling illustrations by Floyd Cooper, gives a far better sense of a white child's experience in Africa.