I live in a very monocultural part of the world. Fortunately there is a wonderful Montessori nursery very close to us which is a perfect microcosm of multiculturalism with children, teachers and assistants from around the globe working and learning together; this is where my daughters spent 30 hours a week from when they were 5 months old until I stopped working (age 2 for DG; and 4 for MG.) Our local village school is wonderful and inclusive, but it’s hard not to notice the sea of mainly-white faces on stage at their end-of-year assemblies. This is not the idea of ‘normality’ I want my children to absorb. Fortunately their very early years nursery experience; their close friends; their parenting; and their school’s excellent teaching counteract the overly monocultural environment they could be experiencing.
Given my worries on the lack of multicultural experiences, I was more than happy to be offered the chance to review this set of story and activity books based on African folk tales and published to supplement the not-for-profit work of The Lighthouse Children’s Workshop. There are two story books and each has an accompanying workbook.
The Elephants Who Always Forgot (Tokunbo Ifaturoti: TOWAT Publishing, 2011)
This is based on a Kenyan folk tale. The storybook includes a CD with three tracks – one is the Lighthouse Children’s theme and the other two are slightly different versions of “We Love The Elephants” from the story, which is simple and catchy. There is also a recipe for Kenyan Kunde, a black-eyes peas and tomato dish. I haven’t attempted to make this with MG and DG but it looks like a straightforward recipe to follow with slightly older children due to the frying and chopping involved.
The story follows a village where people and animals live in harmony, and hunters come to try to steal the tusks from their elephants. Being forgetful, the mummy elephant who runs to warn the villagers forgets why she was running but all ends well – not so much for the hunters! The storybook is set up to be educational so on each page there are questions. These range from observations on the pictures to thinking about other knowledge children may have e.g. “Why did the farmer pick up the knife carefully?” It’s possible to read the story and leave out the questions, or to only use the questions that are most appropriate for the audience.
The activity book to go with the story contains large black and white outline pictures of every picture from the story, with activities on the opposite page. The activities include wordsearches, instructions on how to colour the picture in, counting, talking exercises etc. There is such a variety that you can pick and choose what to use with a particular child, or just use the book for colouring in. There are lovely big pictures of elephants to colour which should appeal to any age.
The Monkey and the Peanuts (Tokunbo Ifaturoti: TOWAT Publishing, 2011)
This is based on a Nigerian folk tale. The storybook includes a recipe for Kunu Zaki, a ground millet drink. The ingredients for this would probably require a trip to a more specialist store than a supermarket but I know of many in Oxford (Cowley Road seems to have food shops for almost every culture from Halal supermarkets to Polish and Russian; there’s a Chinese supermarket somewhere more central; and just because I can’t think of an African one offhand just means I haven’t been past it on a bus) so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one in cities at least, and would be a good educational experience for children unfamiliar with these cultures.
The story follows a king who loves every part of his kingdom and a naughty monkey who steals peanuts and learns his manners. Again there are questions on every page of the story, which cover observations and knowledge. I feel this is a calmer story than the Elephant one and is the one I prefer for my children’s age group. A lesson on manners is always a plus!
The activity book is similar to the Elephant one with a colouring page on one side and various activities on the facing pages. In both cases the story books are approximately A5 sized landscape and the activity books approximately A4 sized landscape.
There are many positives for these storybooks and activity books. The font used is one with easily distinguishable b/d; p/q; I/l; a as a circle. I keep pointing out easy reader fonts in books, but they do help early/struggling readers and people with dyslexia so it’s a plus point in my mind. The copyright page says the font is Baskerville, which it isn’t, but that’s a plus! There are so many different questions and activities that it covers a wide range of education and age ranges, from early years to late primary / early secondary.
However, the packed nature of the questions on every page of the story and the different styles of questions on each page of the colouring book may be overwhelming to a struggling reader attempting to read everything. It might be worth taking the activity book apart and using as worksheets if that is an issue. The story and activity books are more of a workbook / reading scheme format, these are really for educational use than just stories even though you can read the stories as stand-alone folk tales too.
I have some reservations about some of the artwork, especially the pictures depicting the hunters and their knives in the Elephant story which may be a bit too frightening for small children and the scary cyclops monkey on the front cover of the Monkey story! But on the whole children should find the stories and pictures amusing, the Monkey one especially with MG and DG. These are designed as educational books, and as such they are good value for money. It’s worth getting the story and activity book for either (or both) tales together.
All four books can be bought from Lighthouse Children for £5.99 each with free shipping. They would be perfect for home educators, youth groups, schools and other educational establishments as well as home use.
Disclaimer: We were sent copies of these books by Tokunbo Ifaturoti for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.