African Proverbs for All Ages: Universal Wisdom from Around the Corner

Allison Chase Sutherland Books & Literature

Longtime Great Falls resident Nelda LaTeef is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator. Her latest children’s picture book, African Proverbs For All Ages, which she illustrated and co-collected with noted anthropologist and educator Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, is being published by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan and was just released November 30. This inspiring work has already garnered significant recognition as it has been selected by Oprah Winfrey as her very first Children’s Oprah Book, and it has been named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. 

This approachable book invites children and adults alike to explore and reflect on complex notions about relationships, identity, society, and the human condition. Nelda notes, “What is distinctive about the book is that it encourages lively debate as to which of the four proverbs framing each of the sixteen illustrations best captures the picture’s narrative. This approach invites readers to analyze each proverb for themselves.” 

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole describes the concept succinctly. “It has been said that a proverb is a short sentence based on long experience. Whether you’re young or old, proverbs can open your mind to new ways of seeing the world. We underestimate children when we assume they are incapable of understanding metaphor and deeper meaning. Children need their imaginations engaged and their visual sensibilities ignited.” And as adults, we have a tendency to limit ourselves when we focus exclusively on practical matters. In essence, proverbs can “stir our souls and spark our imaginations.” And don’t we all need a little more of that in our lives?

Copies of African Proverbs For All Ages is available everywhere books are sold.

Nelda Lateef is also the award-winning author and illustrator of The Hunter and the Ebony Tree, Animal Village, and The Talking Baobab Tree. She grew up in a US Foreign Service family and spent her childhood internationally, attending schools in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Her impressive background includes a degree in social anthropology from Harvard University. She has also traveled throughout West Africa conducting field research. 

Collaborator Johnnetta Betsch Cole possesses a notable set of accomplishments as well. She holds a BA in sociology from Oberlin College and Master’s and doctorate degrees from Northwestern University. Remarkably, Johnnetta is the only person to have served as president of both Spelman and Bennett Colleges. She was the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art from 2009 to 2016 and now serves as chair of the board and president of the National Council of Negro Women.

Many enthusiastic reviews attest to the instrinsic value of this addition to literature for young and older readers alike. 

Linguist and scholar of the Yorùbá language, Olásopé O. Oyèláràn, observes, “The genius of African Proverbs For All Ages is that each stunningly eloquent panel offers a teachable moment. In this regard, this gem of a book leads readers of all ages, of all lands and climes, towards a shared understanding.”

Marian Wright Edelman, President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund, writes, “This beautifully illustrated collection of wisdom will be a treasure for children and the adults who share this book with them.” 

“Again and again these irresistible pictures invite you to turn the pages of this quietly powerful book… and to discover exactly the inspiring words you need to hear at the moment,” astutely perceives Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

“The genius of African Proverbs For All Ages is that each stunningly eloquent panel offers a teachable moment. In this regard, this gem of a book leads readers of all ages, of all lands and climes, towards a shared understanding.”

Olásopé O. Oyèláràn