Sara wants to hold a birthday party for her ailing grandfather. The problem is how many candles should she put on his cake? No-one seems to agree on how old her grandfather is! Sara explores key events in Ethiopian history to find out his true age. A short illustrated chapter book, available in Amharic and English editions.
A chapter book on Planet Picture Book? Yes, I do take the occasional liberty on this site! I decided to include Sara’s Quest on this picture book journey for a number of reasons. First, one of the key themes: Ethiopian history. What a great way to learn some facts – in a work of fiction. Second, the book is readily available online: I purchased the Kindle edition from Amazon. (Btw, you can do this even if you don’t have a Kindle). And third, Sara’s Quest is available in both Amharic and English editions making it accessible to a broad audience. Oh, and there are pictures too by Ethiopian artist Desalegne Enawgaw, including a book cover in full colour and fine black-and-white illustrations sprinkled through the chapters.
The story starts with a birthday party for Sara, the young protagonist. She knows how old she is (12) but when she decides to hold a birthday party for her ailing grandfather, she doesn’t know how many candles to put on the cake. No-one agrees on how old he is, so Sara goes on a quest to find out. She discovers that her grandfather’s generation calculate age based on key events in the country’s history, such as the end of the Ethio-Italian war and the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. As well as introducing (or reminding) the reader of these momentous occasions, I enjoyed the way author Tsion Kiros draws attention through Sara to certain cultural traditions, like slavery, which was outlawed in Ethiopia in 1942: ‘Sara was surprised to read that slavery was practised in Ethiopia, that people were forced to work for free.’ Earlier in the chapter, Sara expresses disbelief that a 12-year-old would be expected to have children when she learns that her grandmother was married at that age.
The grandfather’s illness is a constant theme in the book. Sara and her grandpa share a strong bond and it is the first time she has thought about the possibility of him dying. Although her quest to find out his true age takes her briefly away from him, Sara always returns to his side. Illness and death are treated openly in the story; Sara’s mother speaks out about what Grandpa is going through and advises her daughter to prepare for the inevitable. Sara’s reaction to the situation is sensitively portrayed, showing the jumble of emotions she is feeling: confusion, fear, distress, sadness, and, above all, love.
Sara’s Quest is a valuable exploration of a young girl’s response to the illness of a loved one, that also provides readers with an introduction to/refresher on key dates in recent Ethiopian history and insights into cultural traditions.
Sara’s Quest (available in Amharic and English editions) by Tsion Kiros, illustrated by Desalegne Enawgaw, edited by Daniel Worku and Helen Papworth (Midako Publishing, 2017)
Tsion Kiros is the founder of children’s book publisher Midako Publishing, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has a background in PR and communications and branched into publishing so her children could see their realities reflected in books. She is currently developing a series of decodable books to help children learn Amharic.
Desalegne Enawgaw lives and works in Addis Ababa, the city where he was born in 1991. Much of his artwork focuses on Ethiopian landscapes and daily life. His work has featured in a number of exhibitions, including two at the Ethiopian National Theatre in Addis Ababa.
You can read more about Tsion Kiros and her publishing journey at Midako Publishing right here on Planet Picture Book.