It’s time for another Book of the Week post, and this week I’ll be covering We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns. (Currently one of the books discounted for the Winter Sale!)
A bit about the book: We All Went on Safari is a story about a group of children and adults hiking around Tanzania. Every time they see animals, they count them in English and in Swahili. (Or, if you get 1, 2, 3, nous partons en safari! in French and Swahili. Or Spanish and Swahili, if you get Nos fuimos todos de Safari.) Animals they spot include leopards, giraffes, hippos, warthogs, and more. The text is rhyming, and the numbers go up to ten. The back of the book is full of information on the animals spotted, the Maasai people, and Tanzania. There’s even an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili.
What I think kids will get out of it and why it’s special: You probably know by now that I love books that rhyme. I think they are really super for kids, especially when there’s a teaching element to them. When we’re taking our first steps in language, or walking our first marathons, it can be hard to remember or absorb everything — our brains are still trying to work out the language itself, so the content sometimes gets lost. Rhyming is a method by which one can make language more accessible. It is easier to remember the content if you can recite a little rhyme!
Think of mnemonic devices — how many of them rhyme? When I was a kid, my mom and I went to all sorts of places. Once we went to a place that had lots of dangerous animals, including coral snakes. Coral snakes have red, yellow, and black bands of color — but the thing is, they have different coloring dependant on whether or not their bite is fatal. Our guide taught us a mnemonic device to help us identify the snakes: If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re okay, Jack.
This example is a little morbid, but there’s a reason I’m mentioning it — that trip was over twenty years ago and I still remember that mnemonic device. I don’t even remember what country we were in, or basically anything else about the trip, but I remember how to identify dangerous coral snakes. I remember it so well that when I was watching one of the Jurassic Parks and a character who’s supposed to know his way around dangerous animals freaks out about a harmless coral snake falling on him and runs out to get eaten by a dinosaur, I got really upset and yelled the mnemonic at the TV.
My point is, for a lot of people, rhyming works for improving memory — and when you’re learning a subject, memory is a very important tool in your kit. The great thing about this book? The words that rhyme are the numbers themselves. “We all went on Safari, where the lake birds swim and dive. Up bobbed some hefty hippos. Akeyla counted five.” This is a great way to insure the numbers stay in your head.
Another important thing, I think, for learning a subject is having a story go along with it. Who gets bored by dry, non-fiction textbooks? *raises hand* But if there’s a story with them…learning the content becomes fun, and things that are fun tend to stay in our brains. We are creatures of pleasure.
We All Went on Safari is a story about a group of people going on Safari through Tanzania, and talking about the animals they see. At the end, they build themselves a campfire and bid each other a good night. It is a very simple story, yes, but it is a story, and there are named characters. This puts the learning aspect — the numbers — into a context that our human brains are more willing to absorb. Instead of learning our 1 through 10s by rote, we get to hear a story about kids counting animals in Tanzania.
So, kids get rhyming and story out of this book, which are important tools to help them learn their numbers. Another really important thing they get out of this book?
They get to see a book that focuses on People of Colour. POC get represented in this book.
All the characters in this book are Maasai, and there is a lot to learn about the Maasai and about Tanzania. They are not glossed over as “vaguely African”; they have a specific identity, one that kids can learn about. And, because the book is illustrated, kids actually get to see non-white characters.
I’m going to talk about this a little more when I do my Top Books that Encourage Diversity post, but it’s really important that we have representation of POC in kids’ books, especially illustrated ones. The market has been over-saturated with mainly white characters for a long time, to the point that when we’re reading books without pictures, our brains often default to making characters light skinned — even when they’re described differently! (Lots of people were upset when Rue from The Hunger Games turned out to be black in the movie…even though she was described as being so in the book.)
It’s not only important for POC kids to see themselves represented, it’s also important for white children to see POC represented. POC have been dealing with over-saturation of white characters for ages, and expected to identify with them no matter what. It’s very rare that white people are asked to identify with POC characters, and when they are asked to, it’s often met with resistance and racism. If we want to end racism, representing POC in books and media (as actual characters, not stereotypes) is an important step.
Whew, I got a bit long-winded today! As you can tell, I really like this book, and think it’s a great one for teaching numbers to kids and encouraging diversity.
The last Book of the Week for January’s theme of Building Blocks will happen next Friday, when I’ll be focusing on Baby’s First Book. I’m also tentatively planning some other posts for this week, so hopefully see you even sooner than Friday.