Review of Too Small Tola, by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

Too Small Tola

by Atinuke
illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

Candlewick Press, 2021. First published in the United Kingdom, 2020. 89 pages.
Review written April 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Too Small Tola is a short chapter book about a small girl named Tola, who lives with her older brother and sister and their Grandmommy in an apartment in Lagos, Nigeria. This is a brilliant chapter book, with a girl not wanting to be thought of as small navigating a very interesting setting.

I like the way this book, as good beginning chapter books do, is full of everyday concerns of a child the same age as a beginning reader. But the everyday concerns of a child in Lagos, Nigeria, are super interesting for an American child.

There are three stories in the book, with plenty of illustrations along the way. Here’s how Tola is introduced at the start:

Tola lives in a run-down block of apartments in the megacity of Lagos, in the country of Nigeria. She lives with her sister Moji, who is very clever; her brother, Dapo, who is very fast; and Grandmmommy, who is very-very bossy.

Tola is the youngest in her family. And the smallest. And everybody calls her Too Small Tola, which makes her feel too-too small.

In the first story, Tola goes shopping with Grandmommy. What makes it extra interesting is that she carries what they buy in a big basket on her head. But they end up with heavy loads for both of them and need lots of rest along the way – rest that comes with treats.

In the second story, “Small but Mighty,” their apartment doesn’t have water, so they must go fill their big jerry cans with water from the pump outside the apartments. But there’s a line, and Tola doesn’t want to be late to school, but she has to stop and help Mrs. Shaky-Shaky. That story has a wonderful reversal after a bully is mean to Tola, but Mrs. Shaky-Shaky thwarts the bully.

The third story has Tola helping their injured neighbor, a fine tailor, get measurements all over the city so he can make fine clothes for Easter and Eid. Tola is as good at taking measurements as the tailor himself, and the story tells about her brother taking her on his bike to different parts of Lagos, meeting many different people.

It’s all about a relatable kid in a wonderfully interesting setting. Tola is indeed small, but mighty!

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