More on Berlie Doherty’s Abela

Posted: September 23, 2008 in Berlie Doherty, children's and young adult literature, race

In an article in called “I Didn’t Know There Were Cities in Africa! Challenging children’s — and adults’ — misperceptions about the African continent,” (Teaching Tolerance magazine, Number 34, Fall 2008, Brenda Randolph and Elizabeth DeMulder reveal a trap I’ve fallen into in my earlier discussion of Abela when they suggest an important way to challenge African stereotypes:  “Use the names of specific countries instead of just calling it ‘Africa.’ Just as it is unusual to use ‘Europe’ when referring to France or ‘North America’ when referring to Canada, avoid using ‘Africa’ to stand for individual African countries.”  The problem is that for most people in North America and Europe, “Africa” calls up exactly the stereotypical images of starving rural people, etc., that Doherty’s novel offers–which may be why I unconsciously ignored the name of the specific country Abela comes from and just identified her as from Africa.  So now I want acknowledge my error and note that Abela does in fact come from Tanzania.  Intriguingly, the back cover of my Andersen Press paperback reports, “Abela lives in an African village and has lost everything,” and never mentions Tanzania either.

  1. rebecca says:

    I felt unsettled by Allan Stratton’s Chanda’s Secrets and Chanda’s Wars being set in a fictional African country rather than an actual African country. The author’s note in the second was welcome, and helped. Being set in a fictional African country is problematic, but I can see it would also have been problematic — or perhaps minimizing — for him to choose one.

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