Category Archives: Africa

Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Idia of the Benin Kingdom, by Ekiuwa Aire, is the first book in a new picturebook series for young children. The series is called “Our Ancestories,” and the stories will all be from African history and legends, with beautiful illustrations, and will be “free of the racial prejudice inherited from the slave trade and colonization.”

At Our Ancestories, we know that there is a deep divide between the truth of African history and the common understanding of it. We strive to bridge this gap through various means including stories, merchandise, and other informational content. Our desire is to make African history more mainstream filling a void that has been missing for years. We believe this will positively affect the modern generations in providing identity. Ultimately, we know that rediscovering African history will help create a better future.

In this first book, Idia is a young girl in the Benin Kingdom who loves to dance. She dreams one night of a queen leading and winning a battle, and after the battle, the queen helped the injured by using her healing powers using special herbs and potions. She was a great leader!

Idia never forgets that dream, and as she gets older, the dream guides her. She asks her father, a great warrior, to teach her the skills needed to become a warrior. He agrees if she promises never to stop having fun with her dancing. Later, she also asks her mother to teach her the healing skills of their people. Her mother thinks she is too young to learn those skills, but agrees to teach Idia about medicine and magic if she does her chores every day.

Idia grew up with all these wonderful skills, but it was her beautiful dancing that caught the eye of the King, and he asked her to marry him. Idia remembered again her childhood dream, and realized that she was the “queen” in that dream, and her son she would have would also to be a King. So she agreed to marry, and in doing so, she became “a queen, a warrior, the first woman to fight for the kingdom, and the first lyoba (Queen Mother) of Benin.

This was a fun book to read, and beautifully illustrated! I highly recommend that parents and teachers share it with the children and students! 

I chose this book to read for two of my personal challenges. It was a great choice for my “Wanderlust challenge” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Benin.


It also was a great choice to read for my Antiracist Education challenge. 


Deep in the Sahara

Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, is the story of a young Mauritanian girl named Lalla. She desperately wants to wear a malafa like her mother, her older sister, and her grandmother. But a malafa is not to be worn until a young girl understands why they are worn.

from the publisher:

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to show a woman’s beauty and mystery or to honor tradition—a malafa for faith—that Lalla’s mother agrees to slip a long cloth as blue as the ink in the Koran over Lalla’s head, under her arm, and round and round her body. Then together, they pray.

This was such a sweet and interesting story with beautiful illustrations. I didn’t know much about Mauritania, except that it is a West African nation. And I didn’t know much about the practice of Islam there, or the customs of dress, so this was an interesting learning for me. It would be a wonderful addition to a class library or a family’s collection of books on diversity and world cultures. Here is a photo of the author’s notes on writing this story, which I thought were as interesting as the book itself! (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)


I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a story from Mauritania.

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, is a wonderful introduction to the culture of Kenya, and a fascinating memoir of a talented Maasai boy. Mr. Lekuton tells his boyhood stories and tells how, with the help of his tribe, he was sent to study in an American college, St. Lawrence University in New York.

from the publisher:

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton gives American kids a firsthand look at growing up in Kenya as a member of a tribe of nomads whose livelihood centers on the raising and grazing of cattle. Readers share Lekuton’s first encounter with a lion, the epitome of bravery in the warrior tradition. They follow his mischievous antics as a young Maasai cattle herder, coming-of-age initiation, boarding school escapades, soccer success, and journey to America for college. Lekuton’s riveting text combines exotic details of nomadic life with the universal experience and emotions of a growing boy.

After graduating from St. Lawrence, he taught middle school in Virginia for many years, and then was accepted at Harvard University where he earned a Master’s degree in International Education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He returned to Kenya in 2007, and was elected as a representative in the National Assembly of Kenya. He was reelected in 2013. His work has been dedicated to improving the lives of young Kenyans through education.

To bridge cultures you must mix people together,” he says. “Education and travel are the best teachers.

This was a very enjoyable book, a wonderful introduction to Kenya and to a young boy who grew up to be an inspirational man.

Click here to listen to Joseph Lekuton’s TED Talk, “A Parable for Kenya.”


I chose to read this book for my personal challenge, Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about Kenya.

A Long Walk to Water

“The fighting was scattered all around southern Sudan, and now the war had come to where Salva lived.”

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is the true story of ll-year-old Salva Dut, a Sudanese boy who became one of 20,000 “Lost Boys” during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005).

A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

Linda Sue Park is one of my favorite authors from my years of teaching Sixth Grade. My students read her book, The Single Shard, when we studied the Pacific Rim countries, and always liked it. So when I was looking for books to read for my “Wanderlust” self-challenge to read more books from or about different countries and cultures of the world, I knew that many of her books would fit well. This one was so well written, and I was captured by the story of this courageous boy.

It is a sobering yet uplifting story to read. The brutality of war is not softened for young readers, but it is also not graphically portrayed. The focus is on the Salva’s courage and his resilience, his leadership and his hope for the future despite severe deprivation and despair.

During Salva’s long walk across the desert to a refugee camp, he finds his uncle who protects and encourages him.  His uncle’s words became his guiding mantra for the rest of his life.

Most of all, he remembered how Uncle had encouraged him in the desert.  One step at a time … one day at a time…Just today—just this day to get through . . .   Salva told himself this every day. He told the boys in the group, too. And one day at a time, the group made its way to Kenya. More than twelve hundred boys arrived safely. It took them a year and a half.

At the end of the book, there is a short piece written by Salva for the readers of this story:

I overcame all the difficult situations of my past because of the hope and perseverance that I had. I would have not made it without these two things. To young people, I would like to say: Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you. You will get through it when you persevere instead of quitting. Quitting leads to much less happiness in life than perseverance and hope.     ~Salva

I highly recommend this book, and it is definitely one that could be used in the classroom for helping students understand the complex issue of refugees. There is so much hope in this story, with its messages of courage, perseverance, and resilience. And the life that Salva has built since those days in truly inspiring.

You can learn a lot more about both Salva Dut and Linda Sue Park by watching interviews with them, watching a Ted Talks by Salva, and visiting the web site of the life-saving organization he and some friends started: Water For South Sudan. Here are some links that I found very interesting after reading the book.

Salva Dut and Linda Sue Park

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book from Sudan and South Sudan.

Double Comfort

The Double Comfort Safari Club, by Alexander McCall Smith, is aptly named. I find his books very comforting, filled with kindness and nuggets of wisdom. In the middle of the hustle and bustle of our overly busy lives, he gently reminds us of what is really important in life.

Having the right approach to life was a great gift in this life. Her father, the late Obed Ramotswe, had always had the right approach to life–she was sure of that. And for a moment, as she sat there with her friend, with the late-afternoon sun slanting in through the window, she thought about how she owed her father so much. He had taught her almost everything she knew about how to lead a good life, and the lessons she had learned from him were as fresh today as they ever had been. Do not complain about your life. Do not blame others for things that you have brought upon yourself. Be content with who you are and where you are, and do whatever you can do to bring to others such contentment, and joy, and understanding that you have managed to find yourself.

I (heart) Alexander McCall Smith


B and I are really enjoying the DVD version of the HBO mini-series of The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. We think the casting was terrific, and the cinematography is beautiful — some of the shots of Botswana are quite stunning and worth watching the show just to see those landscapes and colors.  B hasn’t read any of the books, but I love them, reading each one of the series as soon as it’s released. They are so positive and always remind me to focus on the good people and good things in life.

And then, this week in school, I started reading Alexander McCall Smith’sAkimbo” series to my second graders. This fun series is a great introduction for young children to the idea of respecting and preserving the natural wildlife of Africa. We started with Akimbo and the Elephants, which the kids loved, and when we finished the book, they did a very nice handwriting practice page about elephants.  (I love the elephants they drew!)


Alexander McCall Smith writes with great compassion and an equal amount of humor, for both adults and children. It’s always a pleasure to read one of his books, and it’s been fun to watch this mini-series in the evenings after a busy day at work.

I’ve written a number of other posts about Precious Ramotswe and about Akimbo. Click on the links below to read those previous posts.

Thoughts From Precious Ramotswe

Tea Time For the Traditionally Built

Africa For Children

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built


The last six weeks of the school year is always a mad rush to get everything done. There are units to finish teaching, assessments to give and correct, report cards to fill out, field trips, special school activities, and all the hundreds of little details of closing out your classroom before the summer break.  Even after 23 years of teaching, it still all takes my breath away.  That’s what I’ve been feeling this week: breathless. 

So it was a miracle, and a pleasure, that I was even able to read a book this week.  And no surprise that it was Alexander McCall Smith’s new book, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.  As anyone who loves his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series knows, these books are perfect antidotes to all the hustle, bustle, and stress of everyday life.  I enjoyed it immensely. It reminded me to focus on what’s really important in life; it inspired me with wonderful little nuggets of wisdom and common sense; and it warmed my heart with it’s gentle kindness.   And because this is a week of remembering my Dad (today would have been his 89th birthday), I was particularly touched by Mma Ramotswe’s memories of her own beloved father, who is also late.

She closed her eyes.  She was standing next to her father, the late Obed Ramotswe, that great man, and he was handing her an ice cream. He was wearing his hat, his battered old hat that he wore until the day he went into hospital for the last time. And he smiled at her from underneath the brim of that old hat, and the sun was behind him, high in the sky, and the ice cream tasted sweeter and purer than anything else she had ever tasted in her life. She would give anything — anything — to have her father back with her, just for a day, so that she could tell him about how her life had been and how she owed everything to him and to his goodness to her.


Escape to Africa

It wasn’t planned ahead of time, but just happened to work out this way, that in the last month I have managed to escape some of the winter cold and darkness of the Northwest by being “transported” to Africa. First, B and I went to see The Lion King in Seattle. We’ve wanted to see this Broadway musical since watching a special program on TV a few years ago about the brilliantly creative Julie Taymor. We were anxious to see her costume and stage design work for The Lion King, and we were thrilled with both! We loved the evening of stunning visuals and wonderful music.

And then yesterday, after a last-minute invitation from a friend, I went to see the Lucy’s Legacy Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. The tickets were for both the exhibit and the IMAX movie, The Mystery of the Nile. So for hours yesterday, we were completely immersed in Ethiopian history and culture.

And then, tired and hungry, we headed for the freeway to go home. But as we stopped for a red light, I looked over and saw an Ethiopian restaurant, and when I mentioned it to the others in the car, they all immediately said, “Let’s stop!” So we had a lovely and absolutely delicious late lunch of traditional Ethiopian food to complete the day’s immersion into the culture. It was a magical day!

And oh yes, I’ve always loved reading about Africa. Here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed over the years:

The Blue Nile, by Alan Moorehead

The White Nile, by Alan Moorehead

Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen

West With the Night, by Beryl Markham

The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley

Venture to the Interior, by Laurens Van Der Post

The African Queen, by C.S. Forster

The Akimbo series, by Alexander McCall Smith

Africa for Children

Alexander McCall Smith has written so many different books that I’ve loved reading — Dream Angus was a wonderful retelling of the Celtic myth; I eagerly await each new volume in his #1 Ladies Detective Agency series; and I have just discovered that he has written a new little series of books for young children that will be perfect read alouds for my new group of 2nd graders in the fall!

The series is about a ten-year old boy named Akimbo. He lives on the edge of an African Game Reserve where is father works, and he is a boy who cares deeply for the wildlife around him and who isn’t afraid to do what he can to protect them. In reading about the different adventures Akimbo gets involved in, children will learn a lot about Africa, endangered animals, and the ability of one person to “make a difference.” The four little books (a 5th one is available in the UK!) are beautifully illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and are delightful reads. The audiobook versions are equally as delightful because they are read by Alexander McCall Smith himself.

The Camel Bookmobile

In The Camel Bookmobile, by Masha Hamilton, Fiona Sweeney is a New York librarian who goes to Africa to “make a difference in the world.” She becomes part of a new literacy program, “the camel bookmobile,” that bring books to the nomadic tribes of Kenya via camels.

“Of all the places you might have gone,” he said, “why here? Why Africa?”

She didn’t answer immediately. A mixture of expressions crossed her face at such speed that he wished to stop and freeze each one until he could decipher them. “I believed the bookmobile could change lives in settlements like this,” she said finally. “I still believe that. But it was personal, too. I knew something existed beyond my world, something important. Like a flavor I have to taste if I wanted to be fully alive.”

What Fi discovers is that life is much more complicated than she realized in these nomadic tribes, and that despite all her good, but naive intentions, the program creates a conflict of cultures and a serious debate between the members of the tribe. Many of the people in the tribe become fearful that the old traditions will be lost, that “the young will begin to think the words of the books are more important than the words of elders. And then we will slide into a world that you would say holds greater learning, but that I would say holds less.

This story is told from the point of view of each person involved with the camel bookmobile, so you really get to understand the issues and concerns from all different angles. It is a fascinating look at cultural differences, a sensitive portrayal of the strengths and struggles of nomadic life and of the changes facing the members of that culture today.

Her immersion into this very different culture from her own was a profound learning experience for the main character, Fiona. And I really respect the idea that that came out of the story for me: that the American way is not always what’s right for the rest of the world.

Although this is a work of fiction, there really is a camel bookmobile program in Kenya, so to learn more about it click here and here.


The lovely photograph above (one of many exquisite photos taken by photographer, Phil Douglis) is of Karen Blixen’s desk at her farm in Kenya. Today I finished reading Out of Africa. It took me six weeks to read it because I did exactly what Francine Prose suggested in her book, Reading Like a Writer:

“With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word.”

And reading every word in a book like Out of Africa is an amazing experience and pleasure.

The book is written as a series of stories. Dinesen’s tales are of the people, the animals, the land itself, and the relationships of each with the other to form the sensitively detailed landscape of the Africa she knew and loved. She was my grandmother’s age. Some of what she described from that colonial time may be uncomfortable for today’s reader, and one must remember “time and place.” But her passionate descriptions help us understand the attitudes and happenings of her time. The rest of the book is timeless, eternally young, and so intricately described that we are transported to that place and are able to see and hear and smell the world of her farm in Africa.

My favorite chapter in the book was called “Wings.” This was where she revealed, without ever saying so directly, her deep love for Denys Finch-Hatton, which was inexorably intertwined with her passion for Africa. A pilot, he took her flying. And through her eyes and pen, the view of Africa from the sky was breathtaking:

“The sky was blue, but as we flew from the plains in over the stony and bare lower country, all colour seemed to be scorched out of it. The whole landscape below us looked like delicately marked tortoise-shell. Suddenly in the midst of it was the lake. The white bottom, shining through the water, give it, when seen from the air, a striking, an unbelievable azure-colour, so clear that for a moment you shut your eyes at it; the expanse of water lies in the bleak tawny land like a big bright aquamarine. We had been flying high, now we went down, and as we sank our own shade, dark-blue, floated under us upon the light-blue lake. Here live thousands of Flamingoes, although I do not know how they exist in the brackish water,–surely there are no fish here. At our approach they spread out in large circles and fans, like the rays of a setting sun, like an artful Chinese pattern on silk or porcelain, forming itself and changing, as we looked at it.”

The movie version of Out of Africa (a must!) is about Karen Blixen and is her story. The book is about Africa. Dinesen does not reveal or discuss the particulars of her life, except when necessary to deepen our understanding of the Africa of her heart. Then, only enough is revealed to open the window–but what a view is to be seen through that aperture! A quote from Eudora Welty on the back of the green Vintage edition of the book says it best:

“True to her credo of the storyteller’s story, her tales are…glimpses out of, rather than into, an extraordinary mind.”

So, for a complete immersion into the passionately articulate world of Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen, read the book, watch the movie, and listen to the lovely soundtrack. But I suggest that you read the book slowly, word by word.

Thank you to Phil Douglis for letting me use his photograph of Blixen’s desk, which tells a story in itself. Click on the following links to see more photographs from Blixen’s farm, and to visit Phil Douglis’s “cyberbook of travel photography.”

Expressive Travel Photography: Communicating With Pictures. An instructional cyberbook by Phil Douglis

More photos of Blixen’s farm…

Immersed in Africa

It doesn’t matter that it is gray, rainy, and breezy outside today, or that there are workmen pounding on the roof. I am immersed in the warmth of Africa and the brilliantly told stories of Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). The beginning of Out of Africa is rich with delicious description, which must be savored slowly, that completely carries me away to another time and place.

Click here to read the beginning of Out of Africa and see photos of the Ngong Hills of Kenya.

Click here to visit an extensive web site on Karen Blixen and see more photographs of her.