Friday, December 23, 2011

Children's Book Review, Handa's Surprise

Here is a guest review of children's picture book, Handa's Surprise, from passionate children’s literature supporter, Sue Stirling. Sue has a new blog where you'll find great literature activities. Find more children's book reviews by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. 

Handa’s Surprise, written and illustrated by Eileen Browne and published in 1994 by Walker Books, brings a taste of Africa to both children and parents. Bright, rich colours and ‘life-like’ character drawings pull us into the different and exciting world of an African village.

Handa is a little girl who decides to visit her friend Akeyo, and bring her a basket of delicious fruit. As she walks along the dusty road, she wonders which fruit will be Akeyo’s favourite. On her way, some cheeky animals spy fruit in the basket and find different ways to take it! There’s a lovely surprise at the end that will delight children for many years. The story has appeal for younger children as they watch the way the animals find their favorite fruit. Older children enjoy the expressive language such as the sweet smelling guava and the creamy green avocado and the surprise ending!

Handa’s Surprise is a joyous, colourful book journey. Revisiting the story several times encourages children to match animals to fruit, and remember which animal was first, second and so on. The story naturally incorporates opportunities for language development as children try to predict which fruit Akeyo will like. Classrooms can incorporate literacy take home bags with supporting resources and activities for parents to enjoy with their children. Matching card games, colourful masks and fun fruit recipes would all add and extend children’s learning and enjoyment of the story.

As an educator, I‘ve found this story offers many wonderful opportunities to develop children’s artistic and creative abilities. Kids enjoy drawing, and discovering different textures, shapes and colours found in some of the more unusual fruits. Small drama productions have bring great delight to children as they retell the story and re-create the animals with wonderful masks and costumes and hand painted backdrops.

The cultural aspect of the story gives children an insight into different ways people live and dress thereby giving them a glimpse into the world outside the one they live in. I love the way the story can’t help but encourage rich, oral language! I love the versatility of the story as it can be a wonderful ‘lap time’ story, just adult and child together enjoying the cheeky animals and the rich colours. It can be a story with a group of children focusing on different aspects, maybe the use of the colours, the different and diverse animals and the intriguing ending. It can be a whole group story with children taking small drama parts and re-enacting the story.

Much to everyone’s delight in 2002, Eileen Browne wrote and illustrated a second book, incorporating Handa and Akeyo. Handa’s Hen sees the two friends looking for Handa’s hen, and making discoveries along the way. A wonderful set of stories to be kept and loved by children, parents and educators alike!

Sue Stirling started working in a Child Care Centre in her late teens. She was privileged to have an amazing mentor who made it her mission to teach her about children, their development, and play, and how to engage children in authentic experiences. At her insistence, (which she will always be grateful for), she trained as a Child Care Worker. This led her to work in Princess Margaret Hospital for Children (Perth) as a Play Assistant. She enjoyed providing fun and engaging experiences for children during their stay in hospital. What continues to amaze her is children’s resilience and ability to overcome difficulties. 

From there Sue went to work in a variety of day care centres caring for children from 0-5 years old. Sue had the opportunity, when her boys were young, to write articles for the publication, Infant Times. She trained as a Teacher’s Assistant and worked with Kindergarten and Pre-primary children. After being some years in this role, she enrolled in a K-3 Teaching Degree and finished in July this year.

The Book Chook will be taking a short break. See you back here December 30.  


  1. I loved love love this book! It's one of my all time favourites for reading to children - the illustrations are so engaging and the story is so interactive! As a children's librarian it was always well loved in story time, (and as you pointed out suited so many themes - (different cultures, fruit, colours, animals!) I read it to children I babysat and now I am so happy to read it to my own two children. Handa's Surprise is my favourite - but Handa's Hen is also lovely. It's great for counting and my little boy presently loves the bugs in it! I'm so glad to know other people know and love these stories and thankyou for lots more ideas on how to use them!

  2. @Kirsty Sue's review (above) had already intrigued me, and now I'm even keener to find this book! Thanks for adding your enthusiastic response, Kirsty.

  3. Handa's Surprise is one of our favourite books. (My daughter dressed as Handa for Children's Book Week this year!)

  4. @Rebecca Newman How lovely to hear from another Handa fan. Thanks Rebecca!

  5. Hi, can i ask you something? I'm looking for children books with such "scary" animal illustrations like wolf (or fox) eating pigs (or seven kids or Red Riding hood or birds in Chicken Little) or being pictured with a fat stomach. Have you seen any book of this sort? Any sort of help is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    Great blog, by the way ;)


  6. @NellyI seem to recall the Disney version of The 3 Pigs had a wolf with a big stomach. You could check on Amazon by putting 3 Pigs into their search box.

    Can any readers help Nelly here?


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