KENYA: Our Favorite Kenyan Children’s Books

KENYA: Our Favorite Kenyan Children’s Books

The Lion and the Mouse 600

We are big readers in our house, and we have proudly curated a wonderful collection of books for our girls. Both my husband and I want to be sure that our children are strongly exposed to both Kenyan and American culture, so we have made sure we have plenty of books in our collection about life in Kenya and Africa at large. Here are a few of our favorites!

For You are a Kenyan Child, by Kelly Cunnane and Ana Juan
For You are a Kenyan Child is a lovely story about a Kalenjin boy who lives in a rural Kenyan village. He has been given the job of minding his grandfather’s cattle for the day, but he becomes so distracted by all the goings-on in the village that he loses track of the herd. My eldest daughter loves the part when the boy realizes he’s lost track of his grandfather’s cows, and he imagines all the trouble they may have gotten into.  I love when he almost knocks down a beautiful Pokot girl and a plump mama carrying mangoes while trying to get back to the grazing cows. Luckily, his wise grandfather knows just where to find them! The illustrations in this book are truly beautiful, and we just love the story.

For You are a Kenyan Child

Chirchir is Singing, by Kelly Cunnane and Jude Daly
Chirchir is Singing is the story of Chirchir, a young Kalenjin girl who loves to sing, and wants to help her family with all their work. She tries to help her mother bring water from the well, but drops the bucket. She tries to help her grandmother make the tea, but accidentally puts out the fire. She tries to help her sister mud the floor, but sneezes and makes a mess. Slowly, Chirchir stops singing, and her smile turns to a frown. But soon she finds exactly how she can help, and her family realizes just how wonderful her singing is.

Chirchir is Singing 600

Moja Means One, by Muriel Feelings and Tom Feelings
Moja Means One is a simple Kiswahili counting book, and it’s great for even very young children. It not only teaches children how to count to ten in Kiswahili, but it also describes important African cultural practices, like the way mothers carry their babies on their backs in a simple cloth, the oral tradition of storytelling in the rural villages, and different kinds of traditional African clothing. Both of my children are learning Kiswahili from their father, but it’s so nice to have a book that emphasizes their African heritage!

Moja Means One 600

Lila and the Secret of Rain, by David Conway and Jude Daly
This is the story of a young girl in a rural Kenyan village afflicted by drought. The sun beats down on the village, and it is too hot to gather firewood, too hot to weed the garden, and too hot to milk the cow. Young Lila learns from her grandfather the secret of the rain, and she sets out to save her village and bring the rains. She climbs the highest mountain she can find, and begins to tell the sky the saddest things she knew. At last, she laments that without water, there can be no life, and her village is at risk. The sky grows darker, full of Lila’s sadness, and the rain begins to fall. Only Lila and her grandfather know the secret of what brought the rains.

Lila and the Secret of the Rain

Into the Bush, by Sandra Arensen
Into the Bush is a story is about a young girl named Lilee and her adventures on safari with her family. The tale is vividly told – you can almost hear the sound of the hyenas crunching on bones, or the snap of the crocodile’s jaws in the river below. What I love most about this book are the amazing illustrations. Sandra Arensen does her own artwork using watercolors, and her use of striking lines and vibrant color reminds me of spectacular stained glass windows.  My children love the story and the illustrations, and my eldest always talks about her own safari experiences when we read it!

Into the Bush

“Into the Bush” isn’t available online, but you can send an email to the publisher at, if you are interested in purchasing it. The cost of $10 USD covers the book and shipment in the USA. Please let them know what country you are in, so they can give you the proper pricing!

The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney
Jerry Pinkney illustrated his beautiful adaptation of Aesop’s famous fable about acts of kindness. There are no words in this book – it is up to parents to narrate the story based on the powerful illustrations. We all know the tale: a fierce lion decides to spare the life of a timid field mouse who wakes him from his sleep. Later, the tiny mouse comes to the lion’s rescue, freeing him from a poacher’s net. The moral of the story, of course, is that no good deed goes unrewarded, and that all creatures – great and small – can help one another.

The Lion and the Mouse

Safari ya Angani, by Francis Atulo 
This is a story of the once-beautiful tortoise who wished to fly with the crows into the sky to eat the clouds. One day, the crows carry him up into the sky, as the tortoise sings, “Tunaenda kula mawingu,” (We’re going to eat the clouds!). But the crows lose their grip, and the tortoise falls down to Earth, landing on his back and cracking his beautiful shell. This story is told in simple Kiswahili, and our girls love to sing with the tortoise!

Shambani Kwa Babu

Opulo Aenda Safari by Frank Odoi
The story of a rat named Opulo, who used to have a beautiful, fluffy tail and a nice Maasai blanket to wear on his shoulder. But Opulo is stubborn, and he refuses advice from friends when he sets off on a journey. He winds up walking straight into a thunderstorm, and ultimately loses both his beautiful clothing and his fluffy tail, and learns an important lesson.

Shambani kwa Babu by Hassan Makombo
The story of a young boy named Mumo who goes to the village to visit his grandparents. While helping his grandfather in the garden, he shoots at a bird’s nest with his slingshot, and disturbs a nest of bees. His wise grandfather quickly fans the fire, and uses the smoke to chase away the bees, and Mumo learns an important lesson.

We want our children to see themselves in the books we read, and these tales of life in Kenya definitely give our kids a chance to identify with their Kenyan culture and heritage. Since we live in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, our girls aren’t always exposed to traditional life in the rural villages. We love the traditional tales spun in these stories!

Do you read your children stories about their native country and culture? What are your favorites?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu. Follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Photos for The Lion and the Mouse by Natasha Sweeney, used with permission. All other photos credited to the author.

Tara Wambugu

Tara Wambugu is a wife, a mother of two, and a Kenya-based lifestyle blogger covering parenting, family life, travel, and more. A former aid worker, Tara has worked in various countries in Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Central America. She is now a stay-at-home mom living in Nairobi with her husband and their two sassy little girls. You can follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni.

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UAE: I Wish We Didn’t Have to Have “Day of the Girl”

UAE: I Wish We Didn’t Have to Have “Day of the Girl”


“My grandmother told me that a woman is like the neck and the man is the head,” my student said. “Important but supportive.” The rest of the students in my class on “Global Women Writers” nodded their head in agreement. None of the students is from the same country—in fact, their nationalities pretty much span the globe—but apparently they’d all been given similar sorts of instructions. One girl had been told that she should plan on being an accountant because it would be easy to quit when she got married; another girl said that her mother worried that her brains were going to be threatening to her potential husband.

It’s been interesting to listen to these girls—young women, really—explore history and culture through our readings: we’ve spent time in ancient Japan with Lady Murasaki and Sei Shonagon, visited 17th century Spain with Sor Juana, bounced around the 19th century with Mary Shelley (and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft) and Charlotte Bronte; read Chimimanda Adichie’s TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” and then traced Adichie’s ideas back to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own—and back again to Sor Juana.

The list of readings is longer than what I have listed here—we will go to India, New Zealand, Egypt, Nigeria, and the UAE before the term is over—but the students have already noticed a pattern. No matter where we are in time and space, we find variations on the same theme: lack of access. Lack of access to money, education, safety, autonomy—the particulars may change, but always the obstacles seem rooted in the material reality of being female, and how the category of “woman” has been valued (or devalued) through the course of human history.

2015 13Oct WMB Quote Deborah Quinn

Sor Juana joined a convent so that she could pursue her studies instead of being forced into marriage and motherhood; Jane Eyre famously declared that women “feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint … precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings…”

“I love Jane,” exclaimed one student when we read that passage in the novel. “It’s like she’s speaking to me!” When students respond to ideas in the course, I am always delighted, but in this instance, I had to pause.

What does it mean that the struggles of an early 19th century heroine still resonate with a 21st century reader? I know, of course, that men struggle with feeling limited in their choices—as I remind my students, “gender” is something everyone has (although I’ve noticed that when students talk about “gender roles” they mostly talk about women). All the same, however, wouldn’t you have thought that by 2015, we would laugh at the attitudes Jane complains about because they seem so old-fashioned? Instead we experience a flash of recognition that in Jane’s world, as in our own, society insists on placing boundaries around women’s lives.

When I proposed teaching this course, a colleague asked why I had to specify “women.” She wondered why I didn’t just teach a course called “The Global Novel” or something like that. It’s a reasonable question, I suppose, but I think the answer connects, in a way, to why the United Nations decided, two years ago, to declare 11 October the International Day of the Girl: “Empowerment of and investment in girls are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights.”  (Click here to see how World Moms Blog celebrated this day.)

Don’t get me wrong – I am the mother of two boys (and no daughters) and while I know that my sons face gender-related struggles, I also know (because I was once a girl, and am now verging on “crone”) that men have not been as systematically pushed to the margins of history. It’s why we have “Secretary Day,” in the U.S., rather than “CEO Day.” We create formal occasions to notice those who would otherwise be silenced, overlooked.

 I teach “Global Women’s Writing” because we live in a world where “woman” gets all too easily pushed out of the picture. Ironically, I teach the course in hopes that one day I won’t need to.  Perhaps my students–our children–will inherit a world where we don’t need “International Day of the Girl” or a course in “women” writers. Do you think we’ll ever get there?

This post is original to the World Moms’ Blog. Deborah Quinn occasionally blogs at and writes a regular column for The National, the English-language paper of the UAE.  Her most recent column can be found here.

Photo credit to the author.

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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INDIA: The Idea of Competition

The thermocol apple tree with thermocol apples and thermocol branches pinned up

The thermocol apple tree with thermocol apples and thermocol branches pinned up

As Kirsten wrote in her travel itinerary last Sunday, I do have a tale to tell you, rather my son does.

It is the story of the boy and the apple tree. It’s a very popular story in India and was recently read by my son’s teacher during one of the Parent Teacher meetings.

Let me get on to the beginning of the story. I was called to school one day and informed that my son was selected to represent the school for a story telling competition. (more…)

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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