A little taste of Africa

Bill, our BLG reader this week, brought us two very different picture books that allowed us to step into the African savannah for a small part of our day. First he read Help Me written and illustrated (beautifully!) by Paul Geraghty.

Before Bill began the story he read the students an important line from the summary on the back of the book: This extraordinary picture book is based on real, documented animal behaviour. Students were advised to listen carefully with this in mind. Help Me takes place in and around a waterhole in Africa. As a herd of elephants lumbers by in the moonlight, an old thirsty tortoise heads down to the waterhole for a drink. She trips on the steep bank and flips onto her back. When she feels the ground shudder with the movements of the elephants, she hides inside her shell. Yikes! The picture shows our tiny tortoise inside her shell and gigantic elephant feet all around her, one poised to come down right on top of her. “Oh no!” everyone shrieks. The text reads Then a great foot rose up and came down on top of her. . .

Nobody breathes. Bill flips the page and reads  . . . and carefully rolled her over onto her feet “Whoa!” “No way.”  Phew. Relief.

So starts a series of surprising animal interactions. A huge crocodile encloses a little hatchling turtle in its jaws. Amidst the gasps and sighs and covered eyes were mutterings from our new experts on crocodiles (“Are those really crocodiles?” “Check the teeth” “Yep”) The crocodile sets the baby free in the water. “What?” “That’s weird.”

An impala is chased by a pack of wild dogs and stumbles exhausted into the waterhole. The dogs started splashing toward him when a huge hippopotamus steps between them and bellows at the dogs. He comes in closer, jaws over the impala. Why? To help it get warm and strong again.

Someone called out “Why do they all help each other?” Everyone is quiet, thinking.

“Symbiosis!” Miami exclaims knowingly. Heads start to nod as we wonder if what we just experienced in this book is connected to the learning we have been doing as we’ve read Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s book How to Clean A Hippopotamus. These are the moments we live for as teachers – where you can almost see inside heads and watch the thinking happening!

Next Bill read The Sticky Doll Trap by Jessica Souhami. This is a story based on the West African stories of the trickster hare and a sticky doll. The best known version of this tale is the Uncle Remus Story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby told by Joel Chandler Harris. However Harris’ version is based on the stories that came over with the African slaves and it is this African “version” that Souhami honours with her retelling.

This is such a fun story and Souhami’s colours are bright and beautiful. Students were totally engaged from page one. This is the tale of the rascal Hare who is too lazy to help the thirsty animals dig a waterhole to quench their thirst in the midst of a drought. When the animals find the precious water they decide to protect it from thieving animals that did not help dig for it. Every day a different animal will stand guard. Hare hops up with his empty calabash and is told there is no water for him. But utilizing his trickster ways, he manages to fill his calabash and sneak away while the animal, eyes closed, awaits the treat Hare has promised.

What is the Sticky doll trap? The result of the annoyed animals creative thinking – a trap to trick the trickster! The perfect revenge. And how well it works! Yet, in the end that rascal Hare proves himself to be the ultimate trickster! The animals throw him into the spiny thorny bushes as he begs them not to, convinced that they are inflicting the ultimate punishment. Moments later, Hare is taunting them from up on the hill. Off he hopped to continue his tricks!

At the end of the story Ricky clarifies, “Hares can’t be hurt by the thorns?” Bill reiterates that no, the hares are used to the thorns. “Okay,” says Ricky, “So this is kinda nonfiction?”

I love how we are trying to bring meaning to how these stories are created and understanding that facts are interweaved throughout fictional tales. Ah, the wonder of books! Thanks Bill for choosing such great titles this week!

Our student reviewers report:

Jena: I liked the book Help Me because first one of of the animals are in danger by another animal and then a totally different animals comes and saves the animal that was in trouble. It was like they had a symbiotic relationship.

Annie: I like the part in The Sticky Doll Trap where he got stuck when he touched the doll but got away because he was tricky.

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