We are big readers in our house, and we have proudly curated a wonderful collection of books for our girls. Both my husband and I want to be sure that our children are strongly exposed to both Kenyan and American culture, so we have made sure we have plenty of books in our collection about life in Kenya and Africa at large. Here are a few of our favorites!
For You are a Kenyan Child, by Kelly Cunnane and Ana Juan
For You are a Kenyan Child is a lovely story about a Kalenjin boy who lives in a rural Kenyan village. He has been given the job of minding his grandfather’s cattle for the day, but he becomes so distracted by all the goings-on in the village that he loses track of the herd. My eldest daughter loves the part when the boy realizes he’s lost track of his grandfather’s cows, and he imagines all the trouble they may have gotten into. I love when he almost knocks down a beautiful Pokot girl and a plump mama carrying mangoes while trying to get back to the grazing cows. Luckily, his wise grandfather knows just where to find them! The illustrations in this book are truly beautiful, and we just love the story.
Chirchir is Singing, by Kelly Cunnane and Jude Daly
Chirchir is Singing is the story of Chirchir, a young Kalenjin girl who loves to sing, and wants to help her family with all their work. She tries to help her mother bring water from the well, but drops the bucket. She tries to help her grandmother make the tea, but accidentally puts out the fire. She tries to help her sister mud the floor, but sneezes and makes a mess. Slowly, Chirchir stops singing, and her smile turns to a frown. But soon she finds exactly how she can help, and her family realizes just how wonderful her singing is.
Moja Means One, by Muriel Feelings and Tom Feelings
Moja Means One is a simple Kiswahili counting book, and it’s great for even very young children. It not only teaches children how to count to ten in Kiswahili, but it also describes important African cultural practices, like the way mothers carry their babies on their backs in a simple cloth, the oral tradition of storytelling in the rural villages, and different kinds of traditional African clothing. Both of my children are learning Kiswahili from their father, but it’s so nice to have a book that emphasizes their African heritage!
Lila and the Secret of Rain, by David Conway and Jude Daly
This is the story of a young girl in a rural Kenyan village afflicted by drought. The sun beats down on the village, and it is too hot to gather firewood, too hot to weed the garden, and too hot to milk the cow. Young Lila learns from her grandfather the secret of the rain, and she sets out to save her village and bring the rains. She climbs the highest mountain she can find, and begins to tell the sky the saddest things she knew. At last, she laments that without water, there can be no life, and her village is at risk. The sky grows darker, full of Lila’s sadness, and the rain begins to fall. Only Lila and her grandfather know the secret of what brought the rains.
Into the Bush, by Sandra Arensen
Into the Bush is a story is about a young girl named Lilee and her adventures on safari with her family. The tale is vividly told – you can almost hear the sound of the hyenas crunching on bones, or the snap of the crocodile’s jaws in the river below. What I love most about this book are the amazing illustrations. Sandra Arensen does her own artwork using watercolors, and her use of striking lines and vibrant color reminds me of spectacular stained glass windows. My children love the story and the illustrations, and my eldest always talks about her own safari experiences when we read it!
“Into the Bush” isn’t available online, but you can send an email to the publisher at editorial@oldafricamagazine.
The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney
Jerry Pinkney illustrated his beautiful adaptation of Aesop’s famous fable about acts of kindness. There are no words in this book – it is up to parents to narrate the story based on the powerful illustrations. We all know the tale: a fierce lion decides to spare the life of a timid field mouse who wakes him from his sleep. Later, the tiny mouse comes to the lion’s rescue, freeing him from a poacher’s net. The moral of the story, of course, is that no good deed goes unrewarded, and that all creatures – great and small – can help one another.
Safari ya Angani, by Francis Atulo
This is a story of the once-beautiful tortoise who wished to fly with the crows into the sky to eat the clouds. One day, the crows carry him up into the sky, as the tortoise sings, “Tunaenda kula mawingu,” (We’re going to eat the clouds!). But the crows lose their grip, and the tortoise falls down to Earth, landing on his back and cracking his beautiful shell. This story is told in simple Kiswahili, and our girls love to sing with the tortoise!
Opulo Aenda Safari by Frank Odoi
The story of a rat named Opulo, who used to have a beautiful, fluffy tail and a nice Maasai blanket to wear on his shoulder. But Opulo is stubborn, and he refuses advice from friends when he sets off on a journey. He winds up walking straight into a thunderstorm, and ultimately loses both his beautiful clothing and his fluffy tail, and learns an important lesson.
Shambani kwa Babu by Hassan Makombo
The story of a young boy named Mumo who goes to the village to visit his grandparents. While helping his grandfather in the garden, he shoots at a bird’s nest with his slingshot, and disturbs a nest of bees. His wise grandfather quickly fans the fire, and uses the smoke to chase away the bees, and Mumo learns an important lesson.
We want our children to see themselves in the books we read, and these tales of life in Kenya definitely give our kids a chance to identify with their Kenyan culture and heritage. Since we live in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, our girls aren’t always exposed to traditional life in the rural villages. We love the traditional tales spun in these stories!
Do you read your children stories about their native country and culture? What are your favorites?
Photos for The Lion and the Mouse by Natasha Sweeney, used with permission. All other photos credited to the author.