Thursday, June 17, 2021

Crossing the Stream

Baitie, Elizabeth-Irene. Crossing the Stream
June 8th 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ato's Mum runs a small shop in Ghana, and the two make ends meet despite the fact that his father when died he was young. He hasn't spent much time with his grandmother, but when Nana wants him to visit every weekend, Mum allows this, but forbids Ato from sitting on the sofa on the porch. Ato is a bit afraid at first, because Nana is whispered to be a witch, but the two end up getting along well. This is good, because Mum is increasingly in thrall to Prophet Yakayaka and his House of Fire ministry, and thinks that Ato might be misbehaving because of evil spiritual influences. Meanwhile, Ato and his friends are working on a project for school. They hope to win a competition that would allow them to visit Nnoma, a bird island that Ato's father helped with before his death. the island has been closed to outsiders for a number of years, so Ato and his friends, with the help of Papa Kojo, work on growing vegetables with organic pesticides. When visiting Nana, Ato hears the story of BB and his mother. BB lived in the nicer neighborhood of Tamarind Village, but made friends with several Zongo children from across a polluted stream that ran between the two locations. His mother didn't trust these children, and didn't want BB to hang out with them. As Ato and his friends work on their gardening project, they also find out more about Prophet Yakayaka and the benefits he is having to raise money for children in Agoro, and befriend a dog they call Choco. When Ato, Leslie, and Dzifa find out about the conditions in Agoro, they try to tell the adults around them about what the prophet is doing. Ato finds out more information about his father, and is instrumental in uncovering evidence about the Prophet's schemes. 
Strengths: Baitie is a Ghanaian writer who has written a number of Young Adult books, so it's great to see her turn her hand to middle grade. I have looked for years for books set in other countries and written by writers who live there, and since I've had a fair number of Ghanaian students over the years, I was so excited to hear about this one! It's interesting to see details about Ato's every day life (he and his mother have a woman who cleans for them) and his interactions with his friends. His grandmother's stories show a lot of social awareness and changing attitudes. The Prophet and his hold on Mum was fascinating, and the investigative journalism that reveals his true purpose was a good inclusion. 
Weaknesses: I was expecting the plot to be more about the bird island and the father's role in that, but enjoyed the turn this took to focus on the Prophet. There is a senseless death of a dog, if you are handing this to tender readers. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and will be a great addition to a small but growing number of titles set in African countries, such as Krone's Small Mercies, Okorafor's Ikenga, or Nwaubani's Under the Baobab Tree  or Warman's The World Beneath.

 Ms. Yingling

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