Nana Akua Goes to School

by Tricia Elam Walker (Author) April Harrison (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

In this moving story that celebrates cultural diversity, a shy girl brings her West African grandmother--whose face bears traditional tribal markings--to meet her classmates.

It is Grandparents Day at Zura's elementary school, and the students are excited to introduce their grandparents and share what makes them special. Aleja's grandfather is a fisherman. Bisou's grandmother is a dentist. But Zura's Nana, who is her favorite person in the world, looks a little different from other grandmas. Nana Akua was raised in Ghana, and, following an old West African tradition, has tribal markings on her face. Worried that her classmates will be scared of Nana--or worse, make fun of her--Zura is hesitant to bring her to school. Nana Akua knows what to do, though. With a quilt of traditional African symbols and a bit of face paint, Nana Akua is able to explain what makes her special, and to make all of Zura's classmates feel special, too.

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Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Zura's school is inviting grandparents to visit, and though her Ghanaian grandmother, Nana Akua, is "her favorite person in the whole universe," Zura is worried that her tribal facial markings will draw unwanted attention. "What if someone at school laughs at you or acts mean?" the child asks. Harrison (What Is Given from the Heart) shows Zura reaching across the table to take Nana Akua's big hand in her two small ones. Once in Zura's classroom, Nana Akua speaks with poise. "I'm sure you noticed the marks on my face.... These marks were a gift from my parents, who were happy and proud that I was born.... I am likewise proud to wear them." She paints Adinkra symbols on the faces of Zura's classmates (a chart listing their meanings is included) in a visit that delights the children and their grandparents. Striking artwork by Harrison gives the characters' faces classic sculptural contours, and the spreads' bold patterns and colors echo a quilt of symbols that Nana Akua made for Zura. Newcomer Walker writes convincingly about how difference can cause unease among children, and her story offers a compelling portrait of a grandmother whose pride and poise put that concern to rest. Ages 4-8. (June)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for Nana Akua Goes to School:

"This beautiful picture book offers a helpful perspective on cultural differences within a heartening family story." —Booklist, starred review

"Walker writes convincingly about how difference can cause unease among children, and her story offers a compelling portrait of a grandmother whose pride and poise put that concern to rest." -Publishers Weekly, starred review

Praise for April Harrison's What is Given From the Heart:

"[An] exquisite story of generosity . . . Harrison has created soft yet dazzling illustrations for this tribute to faith, hope and the African-American community." — The New York Times Book Review

"A sweet story . . . enhanced by delectable art from a prodigious new talent." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"This final book by the late McKissack (Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout) showcases the legendary author's signature lyricism in full force and receives a stunning, aesthetically ambitious interpretation by Harrison, a fine artist making her picture book debut."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"What Is Given from the Heart is a loving tribute to collective work, responsibility and the joy that comes from giving freely from the heart."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

"A treasure from a marvelous storyteller."—School Library Journal, starred review
Tricia Elam Walker
Tricia Elam Walker is the author of the acclaimed picture book Nana Akua Goes to School, which received the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award and the Children's Africana Book Award, as well as four starred reviews. The Wall Street Journal hailed it as a "a picture book . . . that captures a complex vulnerability that every child feels at one point or another." Tricia also wrote a novel for adults, Breathing Room, under the name Patricia Elam. She is a cultural and fashion commentator and blogger, and has written for National Public Radio, the Washington Post, Essence magazine, HuffPost, and more. She practiced law for sixteen years prior to teaching writing in Washington, DC, and Boston. Currently, Tricia is an assistant professor of creative writing at Howard University, and resides in Takoma Park, Maryland with her husband. Visit her at

Ekua Holmes is the acclaimed bestselling illustrator of several award-winning picture books, including Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer (Caldecott Honor, NAACP Image Award, CSK John Steptoe Award, Sibert Honor), Out of Wonder (CSK Award, NY Times bestseller), and The Stuff of Stars (CSK Award). A painter and collage artist, she graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Visit her at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Anne Schwartz Books
Publication date
June 20, 2020
BISAC categories
JUV013030 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | Multigenerational
JUV035000 - Juvenile Fiction | School & Education
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
Library of Congress categories
Ghanaian Americans

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