Friday, June 7, 2024

Little Memories


By Veronica Elias Ugian

  • Title: Nyambura Waits for the Bus
  • Author: Cath Alexander
  • Illustrator: Catherine Groenewald
  • Publisher: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd
  • Number of pages: 32
  • Year of publication: 2017
  • Category: Children

Nyambura Waits for the Bus is a fascinating story that reveals the essence of our journey in life, our humanity, our memories, patience, generosity and love. The author, Cath Alexander, lives in Johannesburg with her family. She began writing children’s literature when she realised there was a gap that needed to be filled in terms of sharing the diverse cultures and ways of life in South Africa with children.

With clever and funny illustrations that will appeal to the vivid imaginations of young readers and which tell another story within the story, this simple yet insightful book will be treasured by children of all ages. The illustrator, Catherine Groenewald, is also the author of I Could Be Anywhere. She lives with her family on a smallholding outside Stellenbosch, South Africa, where she keeps busy with her writing, illustrating and gardening. Groenewald’s passion is to work with children who are in crisis and foster care.

As the title of the book implies, the story follows Nyambura, a little girl who stands in a queue at the market, waiting for the bus which will take her to see her Gogo (grandmother). The story reveals Nyambura’s compassion and love, though innocent, young and naive as most children are. She is barely even aware of most of the happenings while she is on the queue waiting for the bus as she spends most of her time there recalling fond memories of her time with her Gogo. However, the significance of the story does not lie so much in the arrival of the bus but, rather, on the events that transpire between Nyambura and the other people who are also waiting for the bus. Most of the story takes place in the market where Nyambura and the other unnamed characters wait for the bus to arrive. The story communicates several morals like love and patience but the one most emphasised of them all is kindness.

The book will bring back fond memories of childhood for parents, guardians or teachers who may be reading to their children or pupils; they will reminisce over certain childhood memories of their own. Nyambura is going to visit her Gogo whom she has not seen in a while. The familiar feelings of endless yearning and relentless joy that come with visiting a grandmother or a loving relative are communicated clearly. Judging from little Nyambura’s excitement and sweeping memories, readers will see that her Gogo is a loving one whom she adores very much.

Readers will have to multitask as there is more to the book than just the text. Groenewald’s illustrations are really well thought out and a story in themselves. From the moment Nyambura heads to the market to wait for the bus, we are shown several characters who are already in line, waiting, before Nyambura arrives: a tall woman with an umbrella in front of her; a mother carrying her young child; a little girl, presumably the elder sister of the child being carried; twin girls who spend most of their time playing as children are wont to do; a man with a beaded giraffe along with other beaded items; a little boy with a football; a young man with a chicken and a basket full of eggs; and, at the front of the line, a woman with a large tray of avocados firmly balanced on her head. All these characters have their individual experiences while waiting for the bus and also cross paths with little Nyambura.

Another character who is only briefly mentioned is Nyambura’s mother who gives her a kiss before Nyambura heads off to the market. Though she is only briefly mentioned, readers can immediately acknowledge the love and care little Nyambura feels among her family. It is almost unlikely that Nyambura does not have precious memories of herself and her Mama.

Finally, we are left with Nyambura’s Gogo. Even though she barely does anything in the story, her presence is felt all through, thanks to her granddaughter who introduces her to readers through her wonderful memories of her. Readers easily come to see Gogo as a loving, caring and kind grandmother who has always been there for Nyambura, teaching her, taking care of her and playing with her. What parent or child reading this, would not feel a sense of nostalgia remembering precious moments with their own grandmothers or loved ones who took care of them during their childhood? It is indeed a good storybook to be read to and by children of all ages. The underlying theme of the story helps to strengthen this notion as it helps teach everyone, young and old, the wonder of kindness and the rewards that come with it as can be gleaned from the story. Nyambura goes to see her Gogo with lots of gifts from the passenger to whom she showed kindness.

Some readers may question the fact that no male character plays a significant role in the story. Although the author may have her reasons, one wonders if it has something to do with the setting and the themes of kindness and love. Perhaps the author feels these are more feminine than masculine traits, as African women are perceived, generally, to be paragons of love and kindness. Be that as it may, the story may have been even better if both genders were represented, with at least one male character playing a significant role within the story.

The lack of pagination is also a concern as readers are forced to count the pages to see how many there are. Other than these, the book is a joy to read as acts of love, kindness and forgiveness practically leap out of the pages and into the heart and mind of the reader.

The story teaches great morals which should be greatly imbibed by all children. In this day and age where morals and respect for others have been shelved, it is truly worthy of note that these notions are being reintroduced to this modern generation. The book also communicates how strangers, particularly elders, should be treated. It is amazing how a simple act of kindness ends up being transferred, leaving a permanent memory. The book depicts a utopia where people live and relate well with one another irrespective of race, gender or age. If only we had more children raised with these values, we would not have such a violent, unkind world. This reader highly recommends this book to children of all ages, even beyond the shores of Africa.

Photograph: ‘Waiting for the bus’ by Jens Aarstein Holm

Comments should be sent to Please use the appropriate review title in the email subject line.

Veronica Elias Ugian
Veronica Elias Ugian
Veronica Elias Ugian is an award-winning poet and was a Wawa Book Review Young Literary Critics Fellow. She was on the long list of the 2018 Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP). She writes under the pen name Veralyn Chinenye, and moderates the 365-day Poetry for Advocacy Challenge on

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