Reviewed by Barbara A. Lehman
This fine novel for middle-graders is set in contemporary Ghana and realistically depicts the lives of its protagonists: Ato, age 12, and his two best friends, Dzifa (a bold, nonconformist girl — viewed by other parents as “wild”) and Leslie (a cautious, germophobic boy). The intricate plot begins when Ato reads a school announcement inviting students to propose projects “to protect the green earth, the blue sky, and the animals and people between the two” (p.3) to get selected to visit the bird island sanctuary Nnoma. He has been dreaming for five years about seeing the marvel his father had helped to create. Ato’s father is dead, but he is Ato’s hero whom he aspires to emulate. Together the three friends initiate their project of growing a garden using only organic pesticides in a vacant area in their neighborhood, shared with Papa Kojo who also grows vegetables, adjacent to a church started by Yakayaka (who “yacks” nonsense), the self-proclaimed “prophet of fire.”
Meanwhile, Ato’s mother, struggling to run a business and worrying about whether her son will reflect well on her, reluctantly agrees to send Ato every weekend to stay with Ato’s paternal grandmother. Nana lives in an upscale neighborhood, but Ato soon comes to regard her as “cool” and loves spending time with her despite some peculiar qualities (an old porch sofa that the Prophet has warned must be avoided because it was the spot where Ato’s father died, a large, grave-like hole in the back garden, and the potions she concocts to cure illness and protect Ato’s growing plants). She understands his drawings, listens carefully, and over several weekends, suspensefully recounts a story to Ato that helps him to develop courage. Continue reading.
Crossing the Stream by Elizabeth Irene-Baitie
Published by Norton Young Readers on 2021
Reading Level: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8
Review Source: Africa Access
"A powerful coming-of-age story of self-discovery and overcoming fear."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Ato hasn't visited his grandmother's house since he was seven. He's heard the rumors that she's a witch, and his mother has told him he must never sit on the old couch on her porch. Now here he is, on that exact couch, with a strange-looking drink his grandmother has given him, wondering if the rumors are true. What's more, there's a freshly dug hole in her yard that Ato suspects may be a grave meant for him.
Meanwhile at school, Ato and his friends have entered a competition to win entry to Nnoma, the island bird sanctuary that Ato's father helped created. But something is poisoning the community garden where their project is housed, and Ato sets out to track down the culprit. In doing so, he brings his estranged mother and grandmother back together, and begins healing the wounds left on the family by his father's death years before.
And that hole in the yard? It is a grave, but not for the purpose Ato feared, and its use brings a tender, celebratory ending to this deeply felt and universal story of healing and love from one of Ghana's most admired children's book authors.