How many things can your favorite blanket be?

Count ’em up: put it over a chair and it becomes a tent. Wrap it around your shoulders and it’s a cape. Pull it over your head and you’re a ghost. Run with it behind you and your blanket becomes wings. Fold it and it’s a mattress; snuggle with it and you feel better on a bad day.

It’s fun to pretend and use your imagination, but sometimes your ideas could make people’s lives easier. In the new book, “Africans Thought of It” (c.2011, Annick Press, $11.95 U.S. and Canada, 48 pages) by Bathseba Opini and Richard B. Lee, you’ll read about inventions in Africa through the centuries.

If you look at a map or globe, you’ll see that Africa is the world’s second largest continent. Around a billion people live in Africa’s 54 countries, representing more than 800 different ethnic groups.

Each group has invented many things to enrich people’s lives, and some of them are still around today.

Take, for instance, watermelon. You know how much you love that summertime treat, but in Africa, watermelon grows wild all year long, and it’s also a crop. Experts believe that Egyptians grew watermelon more than 5,000 years ago. Ethiopians discovered wild coffee trees about 1,500 years ago.

But crops weren’t the only thing Africans ate. You’ll be amazed at this: skilled African hunters can look at the tracks left by an animal and tell what kind of animal it was, whether the animal was male or female, young or adult, where it was going, how fast it was traveling, and how long ago it had passed through.

But hunting is better with protection, and ancient Africans thought of that with style. Bark cloth made from tree bark became clothing. Cloth weaving dates back some 50 centuries. And hair braiding–cornrows, especially–can be traced back 6,000 years.

Today’s Africa, though, is considerably modern. Africa is a popular place for tourists, and many African countries work hard to protect wildlife and the environment. And if you go to church, listen to the radio, or dance, you’ve listened to African music!

Growing up in Kenya, author Bathseba Opini spent time with her extended family, attended school, helped on the farm and had “lots of fun.” But when she moved to Canada, she was homesick for many things. In this informative book (with co-author Richard B. Lee), she writes about them.

“Africans Thought of It” is by no means comprehensive by adult standards, but it gives young readers just enough information (and a “further reading” list) to spark more imagination and curiosity. It’s loaded with colorful pictures, drawings, and maps to help kids understand the African continent better. And while there are some words that may be a challenge to some children, I liked this book because it didn’t “dumb down” for them, either.

I think kids as young as 6 can enjoy “Africans Thought of It” with help. It’s also perfect for a report-writing 13-year-old. Otherwise, for any kid in between that, having this book around is just a good idea.