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Patricia Elam Walker draws on West African culture to write a book ‘for all children'

David Wilson for The Boston Globe

Growing up in Roxbury, Patricia Elam Walker always knew that reading was important. Her mother was a children’s librarian, often found in her favorite reading chair. “To her, children’s books could solve the world’s problems,” Walker said. “She taught me to love reading and love books.” Her mother sought out books featuring diverse characters, knowing how important it was for her children to “know where we came from, that our heritage was rich, and that we should be proud.”

When Walker had her own children, she made sure they read, too, and that their education honored their Black heritage. It was at their African-centered school that she first learned about Adinkra symbols from West Africa. When Walker was hatching the idea for her first children’s book, “Nana Akua Goes to School,” the symbols came back to her. In the book, a young girl worries that other children may not understand her Ghanaian grandmother’s tribal facial markings, until Nana Akua comes up with an idea that delights and includes all the children.


Walker collaborated with artist April Harrison (“she breathed life into characters that were in my head”) and read the book aloud to herself, to her now-grown children, and to her editor and agent. “It takes a village to write a children’s book!” she said.

“I hope it’s a book for all children. Right now especially it’s important for white children too to see Black children in all kinds of situations, not just struggling or overcoming a struggle,” Walker said. “I hope it’s a universal story about loving someone who is different, culturally, ethnically, and learning to appreciate that difference. You can celebrate it too.”

Patricia Elam Walker will read “Nana Akua Goes to School” in a virtual event at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, hosted by Brookline Booksmith.


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at