Book review: Handa’s Hen

Cover of book showing two African children and a black hen
Cover of book showing two African children and a black hen
Handa’s Hen by Eileen Browne.

This is one of many, many, MANY books that are based around counting to 10. There’s a limit to how many of such books you want to bother with, because really, it’s an incredibly boring plot device and your kids WILL work this out. However, there are some ages and stages where they like the predictability of it, or where you want to be practising their reading of numerals or number words, or where they are learning numbers as an ordered list (“seven comes after six and before eight”), or where they are learning to associate a quantity with a number, or where they are learning to recognise a small quantity visually without counting (“there’s three birds”). And we all have relatives and friends who will buy your kids something because “it’s educational”. So. You’ll have some of this kind of book around.

What makes this one any different? Well, I like it for several reasons.

  • The children are not white-skinned with red or blond hair. That’s a rarity in children’s books, where characters are either very pale people or they are animals.
  • The children are POC (People of Colour) from a non-English-derived culture.
  • The artwork is visually strong, colourful.
  • The environment in which the story takes place is a hot climate, which is important for me seeing as I’m trying to raise my kids with an understanding of the place they live in rather than the expectation that somehow everywhere they live is kind of like a second-best Europe. I find the Euro-centric dominant imagery of popular media a little disconcerting and not helpful to a peaceful future.
  • Handa and her friend explore natural surroundings through the book. I like the sense of adventure and play and belonging to nature.
  • The plot is based on a search-and-explore rather than just being a counting list, so it’s not *just* the sequence 1 to 10 that creates a narrative structure.
  • There’s a tracking reference. I love tracking myself, and one of my children is on-and-off keen about it too so having pictures of tracks automatically makes a search more interesting to us.
  • The language is nicely done – just repetitive enough to be rhythmic without being beat-heavy, not too complex, not too much text on any one page.
“Five beautiful sunbirds,” said Akeyo. “But where’s Mondi?” said Handa.