Memories of Sun: Stories of Africa and America


What is it like to grow up in different parts of Africa today?

And what's it like to be a child of two cultures — an American living in Africa, or an African living in America?

In South Africa visit the Bushman Farm, where a lonely girl meets a group of Bushmen who are making their living as a tourist attraction — and finds friendship and family as she's never known them before. In Tanzania join an American family on an unforgettable safari ...

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What is it like to grow up in different parts of Africa today?

And what's it like to be a child of two cultures — an American living in Africa, or an African living in America?

In South Africa visit the Bushman Farm, where a lonely girl meets a group of Bushmen who are making their living as a tourist attraction — and finds friendship and family as she's never known them before. In Tanzania join an American family on an unforgettable safari whose highlights include a broken car, a camp of armed men, heat, tsetse flies, and laughter. In Los Angeles be surprised by what happens when a teenage veteran from war in Sierra Leone comes into conflict with a local gang leader.

Jane Kurtz, who is herself a child of two cultures — Ethiopia and America — has gathered a remarkable collection of voices. These twelve stories and three poems sing of Africa, of America, and of people changing, growing, crying, and laughing under the same sun.

About the Author

Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but moved to Ethiopia when she was two years old and lived there for most of her childhood. She visited Boise, Idaho, for one year when she was seven, and she spent one year in Pasadena, California, when she was thirteen.

As an adult, she has spent time in several African countries but lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she teaches part time in the English department at the University of North Dakota. She says, "My whole life has been shaped by that feeling of never being able to go home again. Luckily for me, my writing can transport me anyplace in the world."

Jane Kurtz is the author of both picturebooks and novels, and her titles include The Storyteller's Beads and Faraway Home.

This is a collection of twelve stories and three poems with a focus on young people at turning points in their lives. The anthology is divided into three sections: Africa, African Americans in Africa and Africans in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Offering 15 unique perspectives of Americans, Africans and African-Americans, this collection of vibrant stories and poems celebrates the distinct flavors of the African continent. The first section, entitled "Africa," evokes the beauty of African traditions, landscapes and people. Nikki Grimes captures the magical aura of the Bagamoya seaport in a poem and in a short story reveals the gentle nature and sense of loss that characterizes the disappearing Bushmen tribes. The second section of the book focuses on Americans' first impressions of the continent, crystallizing moments of discovery, awe, confusion and regret. The protagonist of Maretha Maartens's "The Homecoming" feels out of place living in South Africa until a classmate invites him home and introduces him to his wise grandfather. In the story "Her Mother's Monkey" by Amy Bronwen Zemser, even though Francine's father is mostly unsuccessful at treating injured animals during their year-long stay in Africa, her mother forms a close bond with an orphaned baby monkey. While selections in the third and final section of the volume take place on American soil, the rhythm of African life is still strongly felt. Recent exiles such as 15-year-old Kulaja, a former soldier in the African jungle, and Ajang, who had been to missionary school in Kartoum and describes the alien American culture, struggle to assimilate to a new way of life while retaining a piece of their heritage; another child who has never set foot in Africa gets in touch with her roots through stories handed down by an aunt. Providing sharp, contrasting images of splendor and strife, these selections will reverberate in readers' minds. Ages 10-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The twelve stories and three poems in this anthology tell the stories of young people from both Africa and America. The narrators deal with change and are at a turning point in their lives. They all must face consequences, hardships, and above all, the truth about growing up. In Ella's Dune by Nikki Grimes, a teenage girl discovers the culture and wisdom that the Cape Kalahari Bushmen have to offer her and creates a lasting relationship with her estranged father. A young girl and her family take a safari to the Ruaha National Park, and endure heat, strong winds, a broken down car, and exhaustion until they realize what it means to be a family in Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen's What I Did on My Summer Safari. In Sonia Levitan's Lying Down with the Lion, a boy from the Sudan who has a gift for telling stories helps his new friend achieve a dream by showing his father that he is worthy of responsibility. The book is divided into three sections: Africa, Americans in Africa, and Africans in America. There is also a biographical section that includes notes from the authors. The authors go on to explain the inspiration behind their stories. Several authors will be unfamiliar to readers, but they all offer insight and thoughtful stories for teenage readers to peruse. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J S (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Amistad/HarperCollins, 160p., and PLB Ages 11 to 18.
—Jonatha Masters
Children's Literature
If we are truly "all African under the skin," as at least one population geneticist believes, then an anthology of contemporary short stories about Africa and America is a natural combination. Humans have been crossing physical and cultural borders between the two continents ever since a small group of people first walked out of Africa. So how do Africans living in the United States fare today? What do Americans experience when they return to their land of origin? Kurtz provides some answers with her choice of works by U.S. and by African authors. Her collection lets the reader understand what happens in "those interesting places where cultures meet" and people want desperately to belong. "I wove my blackness...into the red, the white and the blue which is the fabric of this nation." There are inviting adages: "Whoever said it was oh so right—Inconvenience is adventure, wrongly considered." Poetic words beat the rhythm of life: "On mats in the next room the men bow, submitting to Islam as the women submit to them and the family submits to the pattern of each day." One account tells of coming home at last: "And I know a country no longer far away but part of me." Kurtz' selections make unfamiliar landscapes and feelings available to any reader. This is a book for all who dare venture outside their own realm of experience. 2004, Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, Ages 10 to 14.
—Francine Thomas
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-This nicely balanced collection explores the connections between Africa and the U.S. through portrayals of contemporary African life, Americans in Africa, and Africans in America. Each section of short stories is introduced by a poem. The authors range from well-known (Nikki Grimes, Angela Johnson, Sonia Levitin) to little-known voices from the U.S. and a variety of African countries north and south of the equator. Kurtz, author of a number of books about her childhood experiences in Ethiopia, has contributed one story. The balance extends to the tone of the stories as well, from the humor of a family trip in Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen's "What I Did on My Summer Safari" to the hopefulness of Elsa Marston's "Scenes in a Roman Theater" and Amy Bronwen Zemser's sad memories of "Her Mother's Monkey." Many of the selections explore the challenge of moving between cultures: Americans returning to African roots or living there briefly, Africans moving from rural to urban lives, and Africans coming to this country. In Uko Bendi Udo's "Soldiers of the Stone" and Mawi Asgedom's "My Brother's Heart," the protagonists find it difficult to apply the morals and manners of their previous experiences to their new surroundings. In Elana Bregin's "Ella's Dunes," a South African girl meets Bushmen trying to adapt to a world in which they can only be a tourist attraction. This is a consistently interesting anthology that will be particularly welcome in schools in which world geography and African studies are part of the curriculum.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This riveting collection of poems and short stories by award-winning African and African-American writers shares the complexities and surprises of living between two cultures and sometimes of one's own culture. At the heart of many entries is the search for identity and, in many cases, identity derives from where characters find themselves at the moment, such as "Ella's Dunes," in which a South African girl feels more at ease with the Bushmen she has just met. Although the collection represents various African cultures, including those of Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Liberia, and Ethiopia, it also reveals the elements that unite all cultures-family struggles, coming of age, and the need to belong. These are best seen in "Soldiers of the Stone," in which recent California immigrant Kulaja, a former rebel soldier in Sierra Leone's civil war, shares much in common with Marco, a gang member originally from Mexico. Whether tender, adventurous, or heart-wrenching, these poems and stories stir readers to experience Africa-its pain and its beauty. (Poetry/short stories. 11-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060510503
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/23/2003
  • Pages: 160
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 710L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Kurtz
Jane Kurtz

Amy June Bates has illustrated many books for children, including Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight by Kathleen Krull, The Dog Who Belonged to No One by Amy Hest and You Can Do It! by Tony Dungy. She graduated from Brigham Young University and now lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with her husband and three children. Illustrating books has always been her dream.

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First Chapter

Memories of Sun
Stories of Africa and America


In the beginning, according to scientists who have been studying human DNA, a small, sturdy group of people walked out of Africa. From there, human beings eventually spread all over the earth. Dr. Spencer Wells, a population geneticist who has studied and conducted research at Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford Universities, says, "We are all African under the skin."

This news comes as no surprise to me. Every time my jet airplane lands in Africa, I have powerful feelings of coming home. When I'm away, I hoard my memories of the intense African sun, the acacia trees, the animals, the people. Then again, I landed in East Africa for the very first time when I was only two years old. My father -- at that point a young man who had grown up on a farm in eastern Oregon -- and my mother -- then a young woman who had spent her childhood moving from one small Iowa town to another -- had decided to leave the United States to work for the Presbyterian Church in Ethiopia. For more than thirty years, members of my family would live and work in East Africa. I grew up as someone who is sometimes labeled a "third-culture kid," a person who doesn't fully belong in her parents' culture but doesn't fully belong in the culture around her, either. Third-culture kids struggle to figure out just where they do belong.

Mine was the first family to be issued an Ethiopian visa after World War II. I'm sure my parents made quite a stir when they arrived, lugging three young children. (And my mom was pregnant.) I spent most of my childhood near a remote southwestern village called Maji. Before the airplane could land on the savanna, it had to buzz low to get the ostriches and zebras and antelopes out of the way. Then we climbed into a jeep and rode all day, thirty-two bumpy miles up the mountain.

Maji was a magical place to grow up, but my family, a nurse, and a teacher were the only people there who spoke English and although I knew enough Amharic to play with my friends, I often found myself in the middle of conversations either in Amharic or one of the other Ethiopian languages) where I was lost. Sometimes life in Maji scared me: when my father would inoculate mules against sleeping sickness, the mules kicking and squirming, the men shouting, holding them down; or the time a friend took me on his shoulders and waded out into the middle of a funeral dance where I was surrounded by ceremonial spears shaking all around me. The year I was seven, my parents said we were going "home" to visit the United States. I thought all my feelings of being an outsider would finally go away.

After we reached our New York hotel, my mom told my sisters and me, "We're going downstairs to get something to eat. Remember that we're in America now. Be sure to use your forks." A little while later, we were all perched on stools at a counter, eating. My mom glanced at her four daughters and then tried to pass a discreet order down the line. "Tell Jane she can eat her potato chips with her fingers." When the message reached me, I blared in a loud voice, "Which ARE the potato chips?"

As everyone turned around to stare, my heart trumpeted the news to me that I was an outsider in the United States. Later, I spent a stiff eighth-grade year in a junior high in Pasadena, California. When I was introduced as the girl who was from Ethiopia, someone would always ask, "Did you see Tarzan?" By the time I came to the United States a third time -- for college -- I was convinced that there was no way to talk about Africa.

After many years, though, I found my voice...through my writing. I've written a number of stories connected with Africa -- folktales, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, nonfiction. I also do a great deal of speaking at schools and conferences. As I talk with people, I notice that although we are all African under the skin, many in the United States still find the continent that birthed humankind, in the words of a recent news report, "distant and dangerous."

This anthology of short stories offers glimpses into contemporary Africa. It also explores questions about borders: What happens in those interesting places where cultures meet? My life taught me that cultural connection is often tough and sometimes impossible. But from my family I learned that it was important to approach cultural differences with humor, curiosity, and respect, or, in the words of the poet W.H. Auden, to do your best to "love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart."

Some of the authors whose stories are in this collection live in Africa. Some live in the United States. And some are "third-culture kids" engaged in a lifelong quest to find out just where they do belong.

-- Jane Kurtz

Memories of Sun
Stories of Africa and America
. Copyright © by Jane Kurtz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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