By kehinde Adeleke
Chinua Achebe, the author of ‘Things Fall Apart’ and one of the founding fathers of African literature, in an August 2000 The Atlantic magazine interview said, “It was not actually clear to us at the time what we were doing. We were simply writing our story.
Seven years after that interview, Chelsea Anyanwu was born to a Nigerian British-based couple, who today, has grown into a thirteen-year-old, ninth-grade student of St. Ursula’s Convent School and a writer with a published book to her name and credit.
Just like Achebe and his contemporaries in the 1950s, Anyanwu’s writing journey was not clear to her at first. She began writing her recently published book ‘The Jensons’ – a five-chapter, eighty-seven-page young people’s fiction replete with cartoons/artworks she drew herself, and published by Faunteewrites Books – about three years ago, not actually knowing what she was doing then, but simply telling her story. The book is a hilarious fantasy story of a privileged British family of troublesome, daring, but funny children.
The Jensons’ family consists of six children: Rainbow, Sparkle, Sally, Sammy, Mike, and Jade. Written in series, and consisting of texts and cartoons/artworks – typical of children/young people’s stories – the book is set in New York.
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Have you wondered how most families with many children cope? Fighting is a norm for the Jensons’ children in their quest of building their characters and personalities, but they never fail to have each other’s back when the need to do so arises. The book encapsulates how children constantly bicker and fight even though they love one another.
In chapter one, subtitled ‘A horrible morning’, the not-so-closely-knitted family of eight are forced to start their morning a little early in an unpleasant note as they are awakened at 4:00 a.m. by a confused friend of the youngest daughter, Sally, which begins another bad day in their lives.
In chapter two, subtitled ‘Chaos’, the children arrive at school quite early enough for their sister to get into trouble. Rainbow and her friends think they are going on a harmless adventure, but they get frightened by a zombie and are punished by the school authorities, just minutes before a fire breaks out and the whole school goes into an indefinite break.
In chapter three, ‘The days of the week’, their father has their whole week planned out which turns out worse than naturally expected. The children get rudely involved with a bunny family and a cousin – who tried to kill Sally when she was a baby – comes over to stay with them for three months.
In chapter four, ‘Magical board game’, The Jensons’ girls dive into a magical underworld through their discovery of what is supposed to be a game. In this game, their powers are put to test and they are given a mission to complete, otherwise they die. When the girls finally wake up, they are left to decide whether this experience is a dream or not.
Finally, in chapter five, ‘Time to fire Jade!’ the oldest of the Jensons’ girls, Jade, longs to know what being poor feels like. She seems to get constantly bored by their easy and carefree life, and wants a taste of what poverty could bring. So, she sets her sisters on a mission to get her fired from her job. “‘What if we were poor? How do people feel when they are poor?’” Jade asks. Although Jade is the only one who has the idea and feeling of how poor people feel, the rest of the siblings share her quest for peripeteia.
Just like everyone’s week is mostly full of challenges and good luck, the Jensons’ have a week full of fights and commotions. This can be traced back to the disharmony in the family – which in most cases, happens in real homes and families.
Inculcating fictional existence into real-life situation is something mutually shared by creative writers. The book tries to show that in most families, there is always that sibling who is more peaceful; and in this book, it is the youngest sister, Sally.
Using symbolic and metaphoric characters to depict, epitomise and embody real-world situations, the author analyses different issues that surround family, life and the society – ranging from early-morning routines to learning how to cope and interact with neighbours, how important family relationship can affect relationship with other people in the society – taking the lives of Rainbow and Sparkle as an archetype.
Examples of such metaphors could be seen in the first chapter where the neighbour Mrs Moo-moo was referred to as a cow and elsewhere where students are called names like Eagle and Original
The cartoons and artworks of the book are apt and wonderful. I love the fact that the cartoons are not so perfect, which shows that they were done by a teenager that is ready and willing to learn and perfect the art. The cartoons, which are in sync with the setting, plot and narrative, are things to look forward in the book.
With this book, Chelsea Anyanwu is literally on the same roll call with Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa and other acclaimed Nigerian writers who wrote and are writing powerful children and young people’s literature. And, just like Achebe’s ‘Chike and the River’, Anyanwu’s ‘The Jensons’ is an interesting, daring and must-read book suitable for all ages and family.