Africa Picture Books

21965198We recently finished a unit study on Africa (part of a larger year long world geography/cultures study). I previously shared some of the broader survey type of books we read and some of the young adult and middle grade fiction that we’ve read. We also read quite a few non-fiction and fiction picture books. Interestingly, many of the non-fiction picture books fall in the general category of “inspirational stories”.

Laurie Ann Thompson’s Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmauel Ofosu Yeboah is certainly inspirational. It tells the story of a young boy born with a severely malformed right leg who grows up to bicycle across Ghana with one leg. More than just succeeding at a challenge for himself, he aims to change the view in his country of people with disabilities as people who are worthless or cursed. It’s a beautiful story (and has also been made into a documentary) that was nominated for the Cybils this year in the non-fiction elementary/middle grade category.


Another inspiring story and Cybils nominee is Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou
Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia.
 This one tells the story of how one woman began a campaign to clean her country of the thousands of plastic bags that were littering the countryside. She learns how to cut the plastic bags into strips, crochet them and make them into purses. You can see how they do this on this YouTube video (and there are links to purchase the bags themselves if you are so inclined). Another inspiring story of enivromental activism was Franck Prevot’s Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. Maathai was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work in reforestation in Kenya. 23688743

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella is not about one person’s inspiring story but instead looks at the good one donated bicycle can do. A red bicycle is loved by Leo, a boy in a small North American town. But eventually he outgrows the bike and he decides to donate it to an organization that takes bikes overseas. The bicycle is followed as it belongs first to a  young girl in Burkina Faso who uses the bike to help her grandmother bring items to the market and then as it finds a third life as a hospital ambulance.

Other Africa themed books we read and enjoyed: 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema
Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott
Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric Kimmel (just one of many Anansi stories)
Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora



Africa with Kids

550120This year we are doing a world cultures/geography study as part of our homeschool. For each area of the world we study the geography, talk a little about the history and a bit about the different cultures. This isn’t by any measure a comprehensive study of any one area but instead it’s a survey course where I want the kids to get a taste and feeling for different areas in the world and appreciate just a bit the diversity of the world we live in.

One thing I’ve emphasized with each area is that we are looking at that part of the world with broad brushstrokes. We can’t learn everything about Australia or Canada in three weeks. I also want the kids to realize that when we talk about “South American art” or “Australian food” we are usually talking about something that is a stereotype and not something that is representative of every single person or even most people in that country or continent. I have felt like no where is this more true than our current area of the world, Africa. Too often in the west our view of Africa is one of the savannah with a few nomadic tribesmen roaming the wilderness. When I was planning this unit I realized that if my kids come away with an appreciation for how diverse Africa is then our study will be a success. Maybe the best way to think of it is that I want them to know what they don’t know.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is an excellent book for beginning a study of Africa with kids. Knight begins by explaining that Africa is not one country but instead 53 (now 54 with the addition of South Sudan). She uses the illustration of a pie cut into slices to explain how much of the land is different ecosystems (savannah, desert, rainforest). She then goes on to describe a “typical African day” by highlighting a child from a different country on each page. Some of the kids are in villages, some in cities. There is snow and desert. There are kids playing soccer and kids gathering water and kids going to school. There are dark skinned kids and light skinned kids. It’s a long book to read-aloud but kept the interest of my first grader.

Children Like Me by Barnabas Kindersley looks at kids around the world. Photographic 835178spreads with a little text highlight what kids in different countries eat, how they go to school, what activites they like to do, what their homes are like, what their clothes are like and what their families look like. We read the pages on kids in African countries to again highlight the diversity of the continent. Both Children Like Me (published in 1995) and Africa is Not a Country (published in 2002) are slightly out of date. However, I felt like they were good introductions to the people of Africa, especially for a younger elementary student.

We also enjoyed Africa by Mel Friedman, part of the True Book series and Introducing Africa by Chris Oxlade. Both were good basic surveys that covered physical geography, animals and well-known landmarks.


Read Aloud Thursday: Five in A Row

I’ve been wanting to share how we do Five in a Row for some time. It’s a question I hear asked a lot in homeschool circles so I thought maybe it would be helpful to someone out there. Five in a Row is a great curriculum that I used with John for preschool and kindergarten and now am using again with David. It’s meant to be used for older ages as well, although we use other things starting in first grade. I’m going through a lot of the books now for the second time with John and while it isn’t his main curriculum he always wants to sit in and there is still a lot he gets out of the books. It’s inexpensive, easy to use with multiple ages and is a fun way to learn.

The basic structure is that you read a book for five days (in a row) and then each day do a lesson from the manual. One day might be vocabulary, one might be science, one might be math, etc. That’s all you do in it’s most basic form. However, most people add on extra books on the topic or lapbooks or field trips or crafts or cooking or whatever captures their interest. The best thing about Five in a Row is that it is incredibly flexible. You can use it as fits your family. However, I think that for some people the flexibility can make it seem intimidating to figure out how to start.

Last week our book was The Giraffe that Walked to Paris by Nancy Milton. I believe this book is out of print now, but our library has a copy. There are also versions of the same story by Judith St. George and Mary Tavener Holmes. All three tell the true story of a giraffe given by the Pasha of Egypt to King Charles X of France and of the journey that the giraffe took to reach the king. I should say we rarely read the book five times in a row. There are very good reasons that the curriculum intends you to do that, but we just use it differently. Depending on the book, I might read it several times during the week as we focus on a different part of the book each time or I might use it more as a jumping off point for our studies that week. This book was a jumping off point. We read it once a the beginning of the week and then referred back to it each day without every visiting it again in its entirety.

The primary way we do FIAR is to read a lot of books around the topics in the “book of the week”. About once a month I sit down and plan out what books we need for the next month or so and make one really large library trip (which is why we are routinely over the 50 book per card limit at our local libary). For this week I decided to focus on Africa and giraffes.

Africa Is Not A Country

The main thing I wanted David and John to understand was that Africa is a continent and not a country. This book by Margy Burns Knight was perfect for that. I’m guilty like many people of having one picture in my head when I hear Africa (pretty much the Lion King version) but this book does a great job at showing the tremendous diversity among the 53 countries in Africa. Each page shows a child in a different country going about part of their day. The emphasis is entirely on modern kids although some are shown doing traditional activities. It was a great way to introduce the concept that Africa is indeed not a a country and just to get in their heads a bit about how diverse it is. We also talked about the definition of a continent and what the other continents are. Later in the week, we reviewed the continents on our wall map and I had David put a story disc (a little piece of paper with a giraffe on it) on the map over Africa.

I Lost My Tooth In Africa

We also read a bunch of fun books about Africa. In this book by Penda Diakite a little girl goes to visit her family in Mali. While there she loses a tooth and is told that the African tooth fairy will bring her a chicken if she puts the tooth under a gourd. She does and ends up with two chickens that lay eggs. She excitedly waits for the new chicks and hopes they hatch before she has to return to America. My kids loved this book. They still this week are talking about how they wish they could lose their teeth in Africa. We all though it was neat to read the note at the end that said that the book is a true story that happened to the author’s daughter. The book is illustrated by his other daughter. I think knowing it was true and written by her family made it seem more real to my boys.

Papa, Do You Love Me?

I often include books in our weekly readings that I know may be young for David (and are definitely young for John) but that Ruth will enjoy. This one by Barbara Joose was one she really liked and I read to her several times on her own. It’s a lovely little book showing a Masai father and son. The son asks his Dad how much he loves him and the father tells him using things of their culture (higher than a warrior can jump).  The illustrations are gorgeous. Ruth is very much a Daddy’s girl right now which may have been one reason why she liked this one so much.

Calabash Cat

Another day we highlighted the idea of taking a journey like the giraffe does in our book of the week. This book tells the tale of a cat who goes on a journey to find the end of the world. Each time he thinks he has found it he meets an animal who takes him a bit further. It has the feel of a traditional folktale and is told in a nice repetitive format for younger kids. However, the most extraordinary thing about this book is the pictures. The cat and the other animals are illustrated to look like traditional calabash engravings from Mali (a calabash is a kind of gourd and the engraving are somehow burnt on). James Rumford, the author/illustrator includes a page at the end where he describes how he got the inspiration for this story from a calabash gourd he purchased in Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer. Another nice touch with this book is that the story is also written in Arabic and for someone who doesn’t read Arabic the lettering adds an interesting touch to the illustrations.

I, Crocodile

We of course had to read this book by Fred Marcellio that tells of a crocodile captured by Napoleon and taken to Paris at the time when all things Egyptian were fashionable. We’ve read this book multiple times before but my boys still love the humor. Since the crocodile takes the same journey as our giraffe, it was a fun go-along.

Emma's Turtle

In this sweet book, Emma’s turtle lives in a backyard pen and dreams of the faraway places that his friend Emma tells him about. One day he decides to go out and see the world for himself. He doesn’t get beyond the backyard although to his turtle eyes, he has taken an immense journey.

Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey

We read this long picture book over the course of the week as a bedtime book. It was inspired by a painting of a giraffe from China in 1414 and tells the story of a young giraffe taken from his home. He ultimately ends up in China, where they think he is the chee-lin, a  mythical beast destined to bring good luck. It’s a really beautiful book but as a warning it’s a little sad as Chee-lin is not always treated well. There is one scene where he is taken from his family that is particularly sad. John said “I don’t think people should do that to animals.” If you have especially sensitive kids you might want to pre-read this one. The ending is ambiguous but can be interpreted happily and I chose to emphasize the potentially happy ending.

A Giraffe and a Half

We looked at some non-fiction books on giraffes and read a few fun books, including this rollicking silly poem by Shel Silverstein. We’ve talked about animal classification before but I used this week as an opportunity to review with David that a giraffe is a mammal and what makes something a mammal.

Draw Write Now, Book 8: Animals of the World, Dry Land Animals (Draw-Write-Now)

Although the books we read are the main part of our “curriculum” we also typically do a few activities related to our book of the week. This might be cooking/eating a special meal to go along with the story, taking a field trip or doing an art project. This week I had both boys use one of our Draw Write Now books to draw a giraffe and then had David write the word giraffe as his handwriting practice that day.

For a math related activity we went out to the driveway and used a measuring tape and some sidewalk chalk to first mark out how tall a giraffe is. We then marked the height of a baby giraffe and different parts of a giraffe (knees, tail, and most amazingly the tongue at 18 inches). Finally, we each laid down to compare our heights with that of a giraffe. Most hilarious to us was that a giraffe tongue would come mid-thigh on David.

So that’s our week with a FIAR book. This was a fairly typical week. Sometimes we do less and sometimes more. I usually did a lot more when it was just John and I had more time. It might seem like a lot typed out but a lot of this is really very informal and done orally as we read.  For me FIAR is mostly a way to make sure I’m being intentional about doing some special things with my kindergartener. It’s relatively easy for me as a teacher and it’s a gentle and fun way to learn a lot.

When I did FIAR with John alone,  I did more but also was more uptight about what we did. I’m realizing now how a lot of what is done simply and informally still makes an impact. As one example, with one recent book we talked briefly about homophones. That was weeks ago and the boys are still shouting out HOMOPHONE whenever they think they hear one. A few weeks ago we read a book about Russia that talked about a samovar and this week when reading a book David was the one to excitedly point out the samovar in one of the illustrations.

With John I also really tried hard to make the books go along with field trips or other events in our lives. I’ve since learned that even if we take a trip before or after the actual week of a book we can still go back and talk about what we learned. Sometimes it serves as a nice review. I wanted to go to the zoo with this book, in particular because at one of the nearby zoos you can feed a giraffe. But it wouldn’t have worked with our schedule this week. I might try and go the weekend after Thanksgiving and when we go we can remember the fun we had this week.

For more Read Aloud fun, be sure to stop by Hope is the Word.