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Children's Fiction Africa

The Paper House

by (author) Lois Peterson

Orca Book Publishers
Initial publish date
Apr 2012
Africa, Art & Architecture, Homelessness & Poverty
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2012
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


Life is hard for ten-year-old Safiyah in the Kibera slum outside Nairobi. Too poor to go to school, she makes a meager living for herself and her grandmother Cucu by selling things she finds at the garbage dump. After using scavenged paper to fix up the inside of the hut, Safiyah starts a mural on the outside. As word of the paper house spreads, Safiyah begins to take pride in her creation. When Cucu collapses after a fire, Safiyah stays at the hospital to help care for her grandmother. While Safiyah is away, her friend Pendo works on the mural, which upsets Safiyah. But when Pendo attracts media attention to the paper house, Safiyah and her grandmother are given a chance of a better life.

About the author

Lois Peterson wrote short stories and articles for adults for twenty years before turning to writing for kids. She was bornin England and has lived in Iraq, France and the United States. Recently retired from her job as a librarian, she now lives in Surrey, British Columbia, where she writes, reads and teaches creative writing to adults, teens and children. Lois is the author of several books for children and youth, including Beyond Repair in the Orca Currents series.

Lois Peterson's profile page


  • Short-listed, Chocolate Lily Award nominee
  • Short-listed, Silver Birch Express Award nomination

Excerpt: The Paper House (by (author) Lois Peterson)

Safiyah stared into the distance. If she looked hard enough, perhaps she could see all the way to her village. If she were a bird, how easy it would be to fly home again.
    But she wasn't a bird. And between here and the home she missed so much were the crowded shacks of the slum and the endless maze of buildings and alleys of Nairobi. Beyond Nairobi were roads that ran in all directions, like dark snakes.

Editorial Reviews

"Readers will come away happy for Safiyah and at least a little more aware of conditions in one of the Third World’s more blighted locales."


"An unusual story of life in a country that many readers from 4-8th grade would rarely read about. This is a story of struggle, love, and trying to make the best of your circumstances. It is also a story of how a community tries to support each other to survive. An excellent read that will keep readers caring about the characters and wondering what Safiyah is doing with her colorful pieces of paper. You can't help but cheer for Safiyah."

Southwest Ohio Young Adult Materials Review Group

"A wonderful story about the importance of community which will raise awareness about the conditions some people must endure, and how a situation, no matter how dire, can be changed if you really want change. Highly Recommended."

CM Magazine

"Young American readers will identify with many of the protagonist's daily problems (fights with friends, frustration with relatives), while challenges she faces (searching for potable water, finding medical aid for her grandmother) will educate them about life in poverty-stricken Kibera. There is an unfortunate lack of books for young readers about this part of the world."

School Library Journal

"Safiyah is a heroine who through her own actions and passions enables change in her life and in her community, despite the limitations of her situation...Peterson has created a vibrant story full of emotion and descriptive richness, bringing awareness of life in an African slum and the daily struggles for survival that occur there."

Canadian Children's Book News

"Despite the dingy setting and omnipresence of poverty in Safiyah's story, this is not a sad tale; it is rather an uplifting story of a girl with pure and unselfish motives learning to trust others and being rewarded for her talent. Not that it glosses over the darker side: Safiyah's struggle is realistically portrayed, and her feelings of desperation and shame thoughtfully depicted. This is a solid and accessible offering for young readers eager to experience life in someone else's shoes."

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

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