Handa’s Surprise is a lovely, simple story which provides a great first learning experience for a child who has no knowledge or experience of Africa.
The Story: Handa puts seven different pieces of fruit into her basket to take to her friend Ayeko. On the way to Ayeko’s village a variety of animals help themselves to a piece of fruit until unbeknown to Handa her basket is empty. When a runaway goat headbutts a tree Handa’s basket is refilled with tangerines. Ayeko is surprised and happy to see Handa but it is Handa who is most surprised when she discovers that her basket is full of tangerines.
Handa’s Surprise is set in Africa which immediately provides a stimulus for discussion about how some aspects of our lives in Europe differ from Handa’s, my daughter is fascinated that Handa is carrying her basket on her head. The illustrations use rich, vibrant colours and the short, simple sentences are supported by the actions in the pictures. The animals are only introduced pictorially, they aren’t mentioned in the text and once they have taken a piece of fruit they disappear into the background as the next animal is introduced. Some of the animals and fruit were new to my daughter when we first read the story and it is lovely to have the pictures and the vocabulary on the end papers (I wasn’t completely sure if I was right about the antelope, it was good to have it confirmed!).
This is a lovely story for introducing / developing awareness of life in another country / culture and developing a child’s vocabulary. I have also used the book in school as part of a food topic. In the story the less familiar guava and passion fruit are introduced alongside more familiar fruit such as oranges and when possible I have taken the fruit into the classroom so that the children can taste it. We have then talked about how and where the fruit is grown and the differences in weather and climate that are necessary to grow particular kinds of fruit.
Age Range: 3 +
Author / Illustrator: Eileen Browne