How Nandi Brought An Unexpected Gift To Me (Book Review)
Introductions Are In Order
If I had to guess where the character Nandi gets her confidence, I wouldn't have to look any further than her creator, Ama Kuma. The story of Nandi in Nandi's Unexpected Gift is refreshing and somewhat familiar. Born Alexia J. Hogan, the Orlando native chooses to write under a pen name which completely suits her. She is an enthusiastic person, with a joyful determination. Here is how a chance encounter introduced me to Kuma and added Nandi to my reading list.
Note: I usually refer to people by their last name, but because I personally know this wonderful person, I will refer to her by her first. I met Ama while on the phone with my mother, who was 3000 miles away. She was talking to one of the volunteer tutors she works with who had recently written a book. All of a sudden, I was in an awkward conversation with a local author who's book was soon to be released. We exchanged information. I had no plans to be in the Orlando area anytime soon, but I wanted to learn more about this indie writer and her work. Soon we were corresponding over messenger and exchanging Facebook likes. It wasn't until January of this year that I met Ama in person and had the pleasure of purchasing her book.
Ama's first published title brings Nandi, a bookish little brown girl, and her world to life. In Nandi's Unexpected Gift, our main character has a birthday coming up. But this year would be a milestone year and she wants to celebrate in style. While her mind spends the week celebrating, Nandi neglects to keep up with her studies. Whenever reminded, she boasts at her wonderful math skills; but will that good enough to ace the upcoming test without studying? Will she get to go to the celebratory party at the end of the week?
The Gift of Nandi
You hear over and over to "write what you know." I didn't "know" Ama before I read her book, but part of the joy of this whole experience is the connection I made to her writing. I now know of Ama's childhood because her writing mimics the same experiences I had growing up. She filled her story with pictures of brown girls with brown girl names. Her dialogue choice rings of an accent I could hear in my head because it is close to my heart: southern with a bit of posh.
References to the weather, plus images of ponds and palm trees, brought warm fuzzy feelings of Florida. Manual storm tracking was taught in my elementary school and it was a skill that allowed us little people to feel useful in times of utter chaos. Although I have never dreamed of becoming a meteorologist like Nandi, the love of rain is completely relatable to my inner bookish child. Other aspects, like gator-filled lakes or new braids, also touch memories of a cherished, long-ago childhood.
The only odd thing I came across is the print- it's much smaller than you would expect in this book size and format. That is not a drawback, and it gives you more story than you expected. I even wanted more illustrations. I know, that sounds like overkill because there is one for every two pages. But I wanted more, maybe something small right in the middle of the long text pages. Again, this is not an obstacle, just a publishing observation that I'm making IF I had to find something.
So can a non-southern, never been to Florida reader enjoy this book? Of course you can! A story of how a little humility can go a long way is something we can all relate to. And what child can't relate to pre-test jitters, angsty classmates, and lasting friendships? If you are looking to add stories to your library, diverse or not, this one is worth purchasing.
The Gift of Ama
The great part about meeting local writers is they can become friends to you and to your projects. That is the unexpected gift I got once Ama and I started to learn that we shared similar interests. Since we are creating our own events now, holding space for writers and their stories is the perfect evolution in our journey.
This Saturday, April 1st, Ama and I will be holding an event to welcome in a month of creative writing. Our NaNoWriMo brunch will start your Camp NaNo adventure, with some writing (and publishing) advice from someone who has been there. The festivities start at 10 am and the proceeds go to The Historic Thomas House. The details are also on Facebook where you can make a last minute RSVP.
Ama will have books to sign and sell this weekend, but if you can't wait, you can purchase a copy from her site. See you this weekend and go get Ama's book!