Set in sunny Africa, this story follows a girl called Handa whose basket of fruit attracts some unwanted attention, resulting in a surprise for both Handa and the friend she has set off to visit in the neighbouring village.
What could be better than receiving a surprise? Being in on one, of course! Add to that a generous helping of mischief, blend in blue skies and sunshine, and you have a book that’s guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s face.
Eileen Browne transports us to the scorching Kenyan countryside where a girl called Handa is preparing a basket of seven delicious fruits as a surprise to take to her friend Akeyo. Saturated with colour and glistening in the sunshine, the fruit in that basket looks good enough to eat. You feel you could almost reach right in and take one out…
Indeed, the fruit is just too tantalising for the animals Handa passes on her way to resist. First, along comes a cheeky orange monkey, whose hairy arm reaches down to swipe the soft yellow banana. Then stalking through the long grass comes a beady-eyed ostrich, nabbing the sweet-smelling guava in her beak. Who should pop up on the next page but a stripy zebra? The round juicy orange gets clinched neatly in her teeth.
Browne’s animals are brimming with colour and detail… Her elephant is not simply grey, but iridescent pinks, blues, oranges and yellows. Her giraffe is superbly rendered, from the browns that make the spotty pattern on his hide, to the long fringes of lashes around his eyes.
This is one of those books that, once heard, will have children practically falling off their seats with the excitement of knowing who’s about to pop up next when it comes time for a second, third, thirtieth, even three hundredth reading
As well as giving rise to the giggles, Handa’s Surprise is rich with those little secret clues that young children love to pick out: a banana skin being tossed from a tree (we know who that is!); the backs of the animals as they go off with their prizes; a curly-tailed lizard peering up through the grass.
So what is the surprise for Handa at the end? Let’s just say it’s a juicy one. With all those exotic fruits on offer, this book could well have children hunting round the supermarket and greengrocers for some new and exciting additions to the family fruit bowl. It might also inspire curiosity for even the fussiest of non-fruit eaters, and – like the fruits in Handa’s basket – the newfound varieties probably won’t stay in the fruit bowl for long!
Author notes: Eileen Browne grew up in Birmingham and lived in London for many years before moving to Wiltshire where she now lives. She’s the author of an array of picture books, including Handa’s Hen, Mary Had A Dinosaur and Winnie Wagtail. All the protagonists in Browne’s books are female – a conscious decision made by the author after she noticed that the majority of children’s picture-book characters were male. She is also especially interested in portraying a rich diversity of cultures in her work.
Fun fact Bananas can be fiddly to open, especially for little fingers. Want to know a trick to make life easy? Take a tip from the monkeys. They turn the banana the other way up, so the curved, stalk is at the bottom, and peel from the top. Not only is it easier, you also have a readymade handle to hold the banana by while you munch!