Folktales are such a wonderful part of children’s literature. There are so many tales that have been passed down through the generations and we have learned so many valuable lessons from them. One of the things that I find especially fascinating is reading folktales from a wide variety of cultures to see how similar situations are handled differently and how each culture tries to educate its children on how they are supposed to behave. The list could go on and on, but here are ten that we have recently read that are completely non-traditional for mainstream western world and quite wonderful.
All animals are pretty amazing, but what child hasn’t been fascinated by elephants? In North Carolina we are fortunate to have one of the largest natural habitat zoos, so watching the elephants roam and frolic is pretty special. The huge animals are pretty awesome to watch, especially if they are coating themselves in dirt or playing with each other.
One thing that we have been told about elephants is that they have amazing memories. In Thirsty, Thirsty Elephant, author Sandra Markle tells us of the true story of an older elephant in Tanzania who helped her herd find water during a drought. As the synopsis explains:
During a drought in Tanzania, Grandma Elephant is in search of water for her herd. Little Calf follows along and mimics her grandmother at each stop on their journey. When Grandma leads them to a watering hole she recalls from years before, the elephants are overjoyed and Little Calf splashes about with her tender leader. Grandma’s persistence and powerful memory is something Little Calf will never forget.
The story is told through the fascinating generational differences between Grandma Elephant and Little Calf. While Grandma leads the herd in search of water, we see how Little Calf hasn’t yet mastered getting water from her trunk to her throat. Unfortunately, the watering hole is being used by a wide variety of animals and soon there is not enough to go around. Continue reading →
Sharon Robinson invites us to travel with her to Tanzania in her book Under the Same Sun published by Scholastic Press. This lushly illustrated book is based on a family trip that Robinson and her mother took to Africa to visit her brother and his family and to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. Robinson is the daughter of the famous baseball superstar Jackie Robinson, and while she and her brother grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut, her brother moved to Tanzania in 1984.
The most beautiful portion of this book takes place in the first half when the family in Tanzania gets the home ready for their guests, when they wander through the marketplace, and then when the go on a safari through Sarengeti National Park. The illustrartions of the animals, by AG Ford, were absolutely stunning. Continue reading →
Every year schools across the state of North Carolina compete in the Battle of the Books. There is an elementary level and a middle school level. The elementary Battle of the Books is only open to kids in the 4th and 5th grade. J has been waiting to be able to be a part of the team since 2nd grade. She hopes to make the team this year, although there are more kids wanting to be on her school’s team than will be allowed.
What I have always loved about the BOB is that they produce a list of books that each child is supposed to read and then answer questions on. I know that some of my friends have had some issues with the questions themselves, but that’s not what this post is about. What is great about the list is that the books cover a wide array of topics, genres and levels and are often books that children wouldn’t generally just pick up on their own. The latest in J’s string of great books read is A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.
A Long Walk to Water is a book that is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a young boy who is forced to flee his village and his family in 1985 at the age of 11 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. It is told in alternating perspectives from Salva and Nya, a young girl in Sudan in 2008 who has to walk to a pond that is 2 hours away from her home every day in order to get her family water, but the main story is Salva’s.
Sudan in the 1980s was ravaged by a civil war. The war had many issues, but it was at it’s heart a war between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians and native spiritualists. When Salva is forced to flee his village and wander, not only do younger readers have a hard time understanding what he is going through, but they are additionally confused when many adults don’t want to help the young boy. It is talking points like this that make these BOB selections so fabulous.
Salva becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a large group of boys who have been separated from their families and wind up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He learns a great deal about himself and his strengths as he walks the long journey with thousands of other refugees. He is one of the fortunate ones and is relocated to the United States in 1996.
The other story that is being told is more current and even more important for our children to understand. Young Nya’s story is told in brief snippets of only a page or two at a time. Nya is a young girl in Sudan in 2008. She can’t go to school because every day she must trek to the pond and back two times in order to bring her family the water that they need to survive. The water is filthy and it is a two hour walk, but it is their only option. During the dry months, the family must uproot itself so they can be closer to a different pond, or they would be completely without water. Children get sick from the dirty water that they drink, especially as they are not always able to wait to allow the water to boil and sometimes they don’t even have enough to let it boil. As the story proceeds, people come to her village to dig a well and enable them to not only have clean water readily available, but then to allow the children to also go to school.
A Long Walk to Water is a very powerful and well written book. J and I both learned a great deal while reading it and it gives kids an important insight into the fact that there are many people in our world whose lives are not nearly as easy as our own. Reading this also came at the same time as a friend of ours is working on her mitzvah project trying to help bring clean water to Africa, so I used both as talking points with J. This is the great way that books open up conversations to help truly educate our children to the broader world around us.
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.”
So starts every Anna Hibiscus book. These books, written by Atinuke and illustrated by Lauren Tobia, tell the story of young Anna Hibiscus as she tries to maneuver through some of life’s challenges. They take place in Africa, but really they could be anywhere. They are a multicultural, multi-generational family, which is something we don’t see a great deal of.
We first discovered Anna Hibiscus in picture book format, but there are also chapter books for young readers available.
In “Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!” Anna’s mother has just given birth to twin boys. The day that the babies are born, Anna struggles with the fact that her normal routine has been completely upended by their birth. Anna’s cousins had teased her that boys were trouble and now Anna feels that they were right – her new brothers are nothing but double trouble.
The problem that Anna is facing is that no one seems to have time for her because everyone is focused on the new babies. When she finally breaks down and cries, her father finds her and explains that she will now have to share the family with her brothers, but that everyone still loves her. At that same time, miraculously, everyone finally has time for Anna. She realizes that her brothers aren’t so bad, it will just take some time for everyone to adjust.
This is a marvelous book for any child who is about to get a new sibling. Change can be very difficult, but the message is clear that while that first day is very far from normal, your family will continue to love you and be there for you.
In “Splash,” Anna and her family are enjoying a hot day at the beach. All Anna wants to do is splash in the waves, but no one wants to join her. She invites everyone, but they are busy playing in the sand, playing with their phones, braiding hair or simply napping. Anna gets very frustrated because she really wants someone to play with her, but no one wants to do what she wants.
She finally gives up on everyone else and dips her toes in the water. Her family might be too busy, but she realizes that the waves are jumping and splashing and they want someone to join them! She fully enjoys splashing in the water. Her laughter carries over the sand and entices her family to join her. Everything else is hot, but the water is cool and inviting.
This book surprised me because it was the first Anna Hibiscus book that I read and not only was it about Africa, but it focused on the beaches of Africa instead of the safari or desert. In terms of lessons, it is all about persistence and perseverance. Anna knows what she wants, tries every angle, and when she doesn’t get her family to get in the water, she goes in by herself and shows everyone how amazing it is.
Moving away from picture books, there are also chapter books aimed at younger children that feature Anna and her family.
In the first of the series, the book is made up of four short stories about Anna Hibiscus’s life in Africa. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow! The stories move smoothly and comfortably through life in Africa. The reader learns a lot about a different culture almost without being aware of it. The reader quickly learns to like Anna Hibiscus and her extended family. The delightful illustrations beautifully compliment the stories.
In book 2 of the series, “Hooray for Anna Hibiscus,” Anna taking a big step: she has become old enough to attend school. As her father reminds her, growing-up children need to go to school so they can work to make Africa a better place. Anna certainly has her work cut out for her when she is selected to sing a solo for a visiting president from another country. However, she gets a major case of stage fright. Her learning also progresses outside of school, especially when she accompanies her aunty and uncle on an errand to another part of the city where children beg and scavenge through trash to survive.
There are a total of 4 books of the chapter series available at Usborne Books and More, but these two are a great place to start!