African Safari: A Journey

Ages 5-8

  Curator Rebekah K.

Curator Rebekah K.

Why I Built This Kit

Safari is the Swahili word for journey. Every journey is a quest, a search to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. Let’s learn from the adventure of an African Safari, see amazing animals in their own habitat, and explore the African continent together through folk tales of the people who live there.

I have many friends all around the globe, some of them in Africa. I met Charles and David, who work at a library in South Africa, when they visited the college library I worked in and toured the museum where I was a guide. My friends, Candy and Jacques grew up in South Africa. My friend, Becky, is a nurse in Côte d'Ivoire and my old Bwana, teacher or master in Swahili, has returned to Kenya after teaching in the United States for a few years. My friend, Jean, visited Africa and still talks about all of the animals she saw and took pictures of on her safari. Before she went to Africa, learned everything she could about the continent, the countries, the people, the cultures, and the animals.

If I could visit any continent, I think I’d head to Africa, where my friends love their land, their people, and their wildlife. Come along with me, as we explore Africa in books, videos, song, and games.

On Safari

Note: Some books have been included for a slightly older or younger reading range as suggestions for children and parents who are interested in this topic.


A South African Night by Rachel Isadora (Ages 3-8)

Lexile Level: AD450

Twilight in Johannesburg, South Africa, finds the bustle of the city beginning to subside. Work is over, and it is time for rest. But in Kruger National Park the setting sun beckons the animals and their young from the bush. On the darkened plain it is time to hunt, to graze, and to cool off in the night air. (Barnes & Noble)

Isadora's stirring picture book At the Crossroads (1991) about a family under apartheid was a Booklist Youth Editors' Top of the List, but Over the Green Hills (1992), also about South Africa, was more a scenic landscape than a children's story. Here, Isadora begins with glorious watercolor spreads of Johannesburg at sunset, first the broad view of skyscrapers and freeways, then close-ups of the streets and park as people go home after a long day. A small black child falls asleep in bed, and 200 miles away in the Kruger National Park, the animals begin to stir. A black mamba snake, lionesses, a hungry leopard, a hippopotamus, and an elephant and its baby are shown in dramatic sweeping paintings. Then at sunrise the animals lie down and the city wakes up. There's not really a story, but it is refreshing to have busy urban life a part of the southern African scene, and children will enjoy the exciting close-ups of animals in the wild. (BookList)


Safari by Robert Bateman (Ages 3-7)

Lexile Level: 940

The book invites readers on an African safari to observe a variety of animals in their natural habitats. Each two-to-four-page section focuses on oneor two animals including the elephant, leopard, wildebeest, and zebra. Bateman shares his experiences with and impressions of each creature in the wild. Additional information such as habitat, size, range, and food is provided in inset boxes. However, the real focus here and the most outstanding feature is the artwork.At least one full page per spread is devoted to Bateman's spectacular oil paintings that are photographic in detail and perfectly capture the essence and beauty of their subjects. These illustrations combined with the text create a sort of travel diary that clearly conveys the artist's love of wildlife. An endnote emphasizes the importance of conservation. Those seeking information forreports will need to look elsewhere, but for all others this is an eye-catching,entrancing journey(School Library Journal)


Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Ag Ford (Ages 4-8)

Lexile Level: AD710

The premise may look ordinary: a group of siblings eagerly await the arrival of their grandmother and aunt, but the particulars and illustrations make clear that this tale will be different. The setting is Tanzania, and the visiting relations are from America. Part heartwarming family story, part travelogue, the narrative comfortably meanders as it describes both culturally rich at-home routines as well as an amazing excursion to the Serengeti National Park. As with any meaningful vacation, everyone is changed by the experience, especially when, on the last day, the group visits the ruins of an old slave-trading post. There the children learn a sobering truth: one of their ancestors had been captured and taken to America. Robinson bases the affecting story on her own family history, and Ford captures the memorable moments in luminous, full-spread oil paintings, while the historic revelation is set apart in nearly monochromatic sepia, allowing youngsters to pause and reflect. Grandmother’s closing words will resonate with all readers: “land and sea may be between us, but we are all under the same sun.” The book concludes with a note and information on Tanzania. (BookList)


Elephant Quest by Ted and Betsy Lewin (Ages 5-10)

Lexile Level: AD800

Botswana's Moremi Reserve, with its grasslands muddy and lush from flooding rains, is the setting for the Lewins' latest wildlife quest. They provide a day-by-day account of their search for elephants, which takes three days of close meetings with a hippo, lions, kudus, wild dogs, impalas, warthogs, Cape buffalo, giraffes, a male leopard, lechwe, wildebeest, and other denizens of the delta. Then on day four—success: "Suddenly, shrill trumpets sound behind every tree. We've found the elephants at last! In a pool deep in the mopane scrub, the giants of this garden squeal and splash and flap their ears, looking as joyful as we feel." The small field sketches, providing visual details of their adventure, complement the lush, realistic watercolor spreads of the wildlife in their habitat. An introductory map, two concluding pages of elephant facts, and an index round out this introduction to the region's wildlife and ecology that is also a tantalizing adventure story. (School Library Journal/ Kirkus)



We All Went On Safari by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Julia Cairns (Ages 5-8)

In a fresh, bright successor to Tom Feelings's classic Moja Means One (1971), Krebs (The Beeman, 2002) and Cairns (The Spider Weaver, 2001, etc.) team up to invite readers to tour the Serengeti with a group of young Maasai, counting animals in English and Swahili as they go. The text's easy, natural rhythm makes reading aloud a pleasure, "We all went on safari / Where the treetops intertwine. / We met mischievous monkeys, / So Doto counted nine." Each sharply detailed scene glows with jewel-like color, set off by the traditionally dressed human figures' heads and limbs. In the end, all settle down comfortably for a twilight sing: "We all went on safari, / In the sunset's fading light. / We built ourselves a campfire / And bid our friends 'Good night.' " Further information about the Maasai, Tanzania, the ten children's Swahili names, and the equal number of wild creatures met along the way close this brilliant, horizon-expanding outing. (map, counting pronunciation guide) (Kirkus, Starred Review)


Safari: A Photicular Book by Dan Kainen and Carol Kaufmann (Ages 8+)

Safari is a magical journey. Readers, as if on safari, encounter eight wild animals that come alive. Using an innovative lenticular-based technology, precision sliding lenses, and original four-color video imagery, each image is like a 3-D movie on the page, delivering a rich, fluid, immersive visual experience. The cheetah bounds. The gazelle leaps. The African elephant snaps its ears. The gorilla munches the leaves off a branch. It’s mesmerizing, as visually immediate as a National Geographic or Animal Planet special.

Accompanying the images is Safari, the guide: It begins with an evocative journal of a safari along the Mara River in Kenya and interweaves the history of safaris. Then for each animal there is a lively, informative essay and an at-a-glance list of important facts. It’s the romance of being on safari—and the almost visceral thrill of seeing the animals in motion— in a book unlike any other. (Amazon)


The Field Guide to Safari Animals by Paul Beck, illustrated by Ryan Hobson (Ages 8+)

Young explorers embark on the safari adventure of a lifetime with this fabulous faux-journal, “written” in 1924 by fictional naturalist Rebecca Mayhew. Through her journal entries, youngsters accompany Mayhew as she explores mysterious Africa, from tracking lions in Nairobi to watching white rhinos in Pretoria to marveling at the birth of a baby giraffe in Botswana. Each info-packed page is filled with stunning photographs, colorful maps and illustrations, and fascinating facts about African animals and their environment. At the journey’s end, children can assemble the eight animals from 59 included die-cut pieces and then display them on a gorgeous, removable 3-D diorama. (Amazon)

Use an app, like iTunes ParkSpotter Africa, to explore the flora and fauna of Kruger National Park, north and south, Etosha National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and Addo National Park. This app includes the ability to map, photograph, identify, and share wildlife and includes identification guides.

Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.


African Animals


Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu, photographs by Peter Greste (Ages 4-8)

Lexile Level: AD920

“Remarkable" seems too tame a word for this memorable book about a friendship between two wild creatures. Its genesis lay in Greste's photo of a baby hippo snuggling with a giant tortoise, which appeared in newspapers the month after the cataclysmic 2004 tsunami. Craig Hatkoff and his then six-year-old daughter, moved by that image and by the accompanying article, decided to learn more about these animal companions—and to write their story. They do so succinctly and smoothly, ably aided by Kahumbu, manager of the Kenyan animal sanctuary, Haller Park, where the two creatures now live. Greste's crisp, closely focused photos will instantly endear the title characters to readers. When the tsunami struck Kenya, Owen was separated from his mother and the rest of their pod and became stranded on a coral reef. Several spreads chronicle the hippo's difficult rescue and transport to the sanctuary. Once set loose, he immediately scrambled toward Mzee (the Swahili term for "wise old man"), a 130-year-old Aldabra tortoise: "Owen crouched behind Mzee, the way baby hippos often hide behind their mothers for protection." The unadorned text allows the facts themselves to move readers, making clear how the improbable bond between the now inseparable mammal and reptile has helped resilient Owen recover from his traumatic ordeal. ("Most [wildlife experts] have never heard of a mammal... and a reptile... forming such a strong bond.") Priceless images document the pair swimming together or nuzzling, their rough skins complementing each other. In several of Greste's photos, the two creatures appear to have genuine smiles on their faces. Readers will have the same. (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

Awards: ALA Notable Children's Books; E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards; Flicker Tale Children's Book Award; New York Times Notable Books - Children's Books


Gorilla Walk by Ted and Betsy Lewin (Ages 6-11)

Lexile Level: NC1010

The illustrated journal of the Lewins' trip to Uganda to see the mountain gorilla is both travelogue and naturalist notebook. An introduction talks about this endangered species, where the animals can be found, and describes the process of "habituation," which allows for ecotourists to visit them on a limited basis. Each page is rich with captioned, border drawings that offer glimpses at the terrain, animals, and people that the couple encountered on their difficult journey through the jungle, battling heat, bugs, and mud. Side drawings show their progress, providing humorous asides, such as the drawing of two men falling down a muddy slope with the caption, "Ted takes out a porter." Interspersed with the text are lush, watercolor double-page spreads showing the humans walking through the sun-dappled trees, and, later, the gorillas among the leaves. Readers learn about the animals' habits, their family structure, and how trackers interact with them. A final section gives facts about mountain gorillas. Throughout, the authors transmit their wonder and respect for the creatures. Although young children may be interested in leafing through and "reading" the pictures, the book's tone and vocabulary speak to more mature readers. (School Library Journal)

Award: ALA Notable Children’s Books


Lions by Sandra Markle (Ages 8+)

Lexile Level: 930

Titles in the new Animal Predators series focus on the few predators at the top of the food chain. Clear, detailed explanations describe the unique developmental path animals in each species must follow as they grow from young animals to fierce adult predators that must hunt for survival. Full-page, colorful action photos show the individual species in various stages of maturity as well as images of predator and prey in their natural surroundings, predators stalking and attacking their prey, and the feast following a successful hunt. The straightforward, descriptive text and superb photos give these titles surefire appeal to middle readers. A glossary and book and video resources are appended. (BookList)

Note to Parents: Some of the photographs of lions hunting and eating other animals may be disturbing to young readers.


The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson, photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell (Ages 10+)

Lexile Level: NC1260

O'Connell traveled to Africa in 1992 to observe wild animals; the trip turned into a job offer to study elephants at Etosha National Park; the text focuses on the scientists' work, findings, and problems encountered. The authors offer an outstanding look at new discoveries about elephant communication and how this knowledge can be used to slow the animal's slump into extinction. Combined with stunning full-color photographs by the scientists, the elephants' world is brought to the forefront. Readers enter the researchers' camp to see their setup, fieldwork, and takedown in action. They will learn how elephant anatomy and hierarchy work together to aid in communication. Children will be interested in O'Connell's growing interest in science, how family and teachers encouraged her, and her efforts to protect these threatened animals. This amazing presentation is a must-have for all collections. (School Library Journal, Starred Review)

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books; Amelia Bloomer Lists; Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book; Boston Globe - Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book; NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book


Check out your local library for more books about the land and animals in Africa.

Look for:

  • Reptiles

  • Birds

  • Bugs

  • Snakes

  • Primates

  • Mammals

App Recommendation

African-Safari Wildlife Guide

To learn more about animals seen on a safari, check out Oren Meiri’s app, available on iTunes and Google Play

Description: Going on an African Safari? Then this is the ultimate wildlife guide for you. This application includes up-to-date Wikipedia articles and pictures of all the main wildlife that are found on an African Safari. Prepare for your trip by downloading (caching) all articles and images on your iPhone/iPod Touch (approx. 90 MB). Read about the animals at leisure on your trip without an Internet connection. This application is best used in conjunction with the application "African Birds" that provides similar information of birds found on an African Safari. (iTunes)

Key Features

  • Wikipedia articles cached complete with full large images. Simply click on any image in a cached article to view the large image.
  • Image Picker
  • search capabilities
  • landscape & portrait modes
  • Wikipedia pages formatted for iPhone display
  • Cache update from server resumes where last stopped
  • Server will be updated periodically with new entries and updated data from wikipedia.

Featured worldwide in AppStore "What's Hot"

Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5 or Android 3.0 and up


Audobon African Wildlife

Check this iTunes app for a sophisticated wildlife experience

Folk Tales

Storytelling is an important part of African cultures. Many folk tales teach a lesson and celebrate life. We can connect with the past, the values, the cultures, and the families of a community through the traditional tales that were once passed from generation to generation in spoken word.


Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Ages 5-9)

Lexile Level: 840

This well-researched alphabet book portrays the traditions of a different African tribe for each letter. The striking, noble paintings, each of which includes a man, a woman, a child, living quarters, an artifact, and a local animal, convey the enormous diversity of peoples across the continent. (Zoobean)

Award: Caldecott Medal winner; ALA Notable Book

Artists Leo and Diane Dillon won their second consecutive Caldecott Medal for this stunning ABC of African culture. "Another virtuoso performance. . . . Such an astute blend of aesthetics and information is admirable, the child's eye will be rewarded many times over."--Booklist


Shadow by Marcia Brown (Ages 5-8)

Lexile Level: 550

Multiple Caldecott-winner Brown based this award-winning book on a translation of Blaise Cendrars French poetry about African traditions. In free verse, she describes the qualities and magical powers of Shadow, a mysterious “trickster/ It laughs behind your back/ It mocks you/ and makes a fool of you.” Otherworldly illustrations mix paint and black cutout collage, and the lore of African stories and storytellers that inspired Cendrars is conveyed by strong use of pure color, by eerie wisps of superimposed images, and by strong silhouettes, all in handsome double-page spreads. Some illustrations may be frightening to young readers. (Zoobean/BCCB)

Award: ALA Notable Children’s Books; Caldecott Medal


Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, illustrated by Tom Feelings (Ages 5-9)

Lexile Level: AD 640

Here is an introduction not only to the letters of the alphabet, but also to another language and culture. Each of the twenty-four letters (there are no q or x sounds in Swahili) is represented by a Swahili word, a clear phonetic pronunciation guide, and an explanation of how the word fits into traditional East African village life. Feelings uses a unique pen-and-tempura technique to create realistic, luminous grayscale illustrations. (Barnes & Noble)

Award: Caldecott Honor Medal; ALA Notable Book; Horn Book Award

"The beautiful vision of African life in the text merely hints of the community breathtakingly captured in the illustrations. . . . The space has been filled with monumental figures that glorify the power and beauty of man."--Horn Book.


Sosu’s Call by Meshack Asare (Ages 6-8)

Lexile Level: 760

Ghanian author Asare touches on weighty themes of prejudice and courage as he introduces Sosu, a disabled African boy whose bravery eclipses his physical limitations. Incapable of walking, Sosu is shunned: "It is bad luck to have the likes of him in our village.... You must keep him in your house," two fishermen tell Sosu's father. Readers learn of Sosu's feelings through Sosu's jealousy of his active dog or his interest in watching the chickens, "perhaps because there was nothing to envy about them!" When storm waters rage one day, Sosu drags himself to the drum shed, where he beats out a rhythm to call the men back from their work, to help save the others. Drab hues dominate the watercolors in the climactic scenes and elsewhere, possibly echoing Sosu's feelings of deficiency and loneliness. When the village finally chips in to get Sosu a wheelchair, Asare switches to brighter hues. (Publishers Weekly)

Awards: UNESCO Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance; IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People With Disabilities


Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary & Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns (Ages 5-8)

Lexile Level: AD700

Mama Panya and her son, Adika, are all ready for market day where Mama is planning on using her few coins to buy the ingredients to make pancakes for dinner. Adika is so excited that he can't help inviting all of their friends and neighbors. Mama Panya is worried that his generosity may be more than her few coins and their meager supplies can provide. Luckily all of the guests arrive with gifts, and a Kenyan cross between "Stone Soup" and the story of the loaves and the fishes is realized. A recipe, map, details about daily life, and facts about Kiswahili and Kenya are included. With their bold colors, vivid patterns, and clearly depicted animals and foliage, the illustrations are a great introduction to the landscape and people of East Africa. (School Library Journal)


Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott (Ages 4-6)

Lexile Level: AD290

Anansi the Spider is a folk hero in traditional Ashanti tales from Ghana, in West Africa. This story, retold and illustrated by McDermott in blocky, intensely-colored paintings, relates the tale of father Anansi and his six spider sons. When Anansi sets out on a dangerous journey and gets into all sorts of trouble, each son does one thing to help, and all their efforts together save their father. He finds a mysterious, beautiful globe of light in the forest, and decides to make it a gift of thanks. Nyame takes the great globe up into the sky, and that's where it has stayed ever since--the moon, for all to see. (Amazon)

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books; Caldecott Honor Book


Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper! by Tololwa Mollel, illustrated by Barbara Spurll (Ages 4-8)

Lexile Level: AD590

A humorous and ironic folk tale from the Maasai of East Africa in which only the frog (a most unlikely heroine) is courageous enough to take on a bully. (Amazon)

Award: Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award


Zomo the Rabbit by Gerald McDermott (Ages 4-8)

Lexile Level: 370

When Zomo (``He is not big. He is not strong. But he is very clever'') beseeches the Sky God for wisdom, he is set three impossible tasks: he must bring back ``the scales of Big Fish in the sea . . . the milk of Wild Cow and the tooth of Leopard.'' The cunning rabbit dupes the three creatures into giving up these prizes, but returns to discover that the joke's on him. His newfound wisdom? To run like mad from the three very angry animals. The tale moves along with the swift concision of a good joke, right down to its satisfying punch line. McDermott's gouache illustrations in brilliant hues of fuchsia, green and orange recall the color and geometric lines of West African textiles. The dazzling artwork shows Big Fish dancing until his scales cascade to the ground, the scrawny Wild Cow ramming a palm tree and getting stuck there, and Leopard tumbling down a hill and knocking out his tooth. (Publishers Weekly)

Awards: Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award; Treasure State Award; Young Hoosier Book Award


Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan (Ages 4-6)

Lexile Level: 540

Bryan provides rhythm and sound effects throughout this musical adaptation of a Zambian tale. Because they haven't got a spot of black on their bodies, the colorful birds envy Blackbird. And although he assures them that "Color on the outside is not what's on the inside," he generously shares the blackening brew in his gourd, causing them to finally sing, "Oh beautiful black, uh-huh, uh-huh/Black is beautiful, UH-HUH!" Illustrated with cut-paper silhouettes. (Publishers Weekly/ School Library Journal)

Award: Coretta Scott King Award


Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon (Ages 5-7)

Lexile Level: 770

Mosquito tells Iguana such a preposterous tall tale that Iguana puts sticks in his ears so he won't have to hear her nonsense. This causes a chain of events that upsets all the animals. When Lion calls a council to solve the problem, the animals realize Mosquito is at fault. To this day, mosquitoes whine in people's ears to ask if everyone is still angry. (Barnes & Noble)

Award: Caldecott Medal


We love the music of Ella Jenkins. The folk music she shares with children and her magical ability to relate to her audience is a lesson in communication for each of us.

  1. Here, Ella Jenkins shares Tah-Boo and a Maori Chant.
  2. Ella Jenkins’ song "On Safari" is available on Amazon and iTunes and rdio.
  3. The Lion Sleeps Tonight is an all-time favorite fun song to share with kids.
  4. View beautiful photographs of many African animals set to instrumental music on Kenya Safari


Watch & learn from trusted sources like National Geographic and Animal Planet.

  1. Lives of Lions from National Geographic
  2. A dozen safari videos from Animal Planet
  3. BBC Nature offers a collection of videos about African animals and their habitats
  4. PBS’ Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies tell us all about the rainy season
  5. Disney’s Animal World teaches early learners about numerous African animals using animal footage and clips from Disney’s animated movies. DVDs include short quizzes and activities. Each video teaches about two animals and costs approximately $19.99 before tax, shipping, and handling.


  1. Jack Hanna’s website & Rawanda Conservation Video
  2. PBS Mama Mirabelle Enjoy games, a photo safari, and music.
  3. PBS also offers a Sarengeti photo safari to accompany their program, Serengeti Stories
  4. National Geographic Kids offers articles about African countries, animals, and culture. Visit National Geographic Kids’ Cameroon article to get started.
  5. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has created a website for young visitor’s to their parks about conservation.
  6. Check out Kids’ Discover Magazine’s Spotlight: African Safari and Spotlight: Big Cats for amazing photographs and lots of facts.

Talk About It

People in Africa are as individual as the people where you live. Different families, towns, and communities have their own stories, songs, and traditions. Reading a few books, visiting the continent, or exploring some videos give us snapshots of the individuals who live on the continent of Africa. It is important to remember that not everyone has the same thoughts, but everyone has friends, family, traditions, and work that are important to them.

As you read about and explore Africa through books, songs, and video stop and talk frequently about what we learn about ourselves and about the world around us from our learning. Making these connections can help your child understand how reading enriches his / her life.

A conversation might begin like this, “Reading about Grandother Bibi’s and Aunt Sharon’s trip to Tanzania reminds me of when my grandmother would come to visit us when I was your age.” Share a story about anticipating a relative’s visit and the things you enjoyed together, then ask your child, “Does ‘Under the Same Sun’ remind you of when Grandma comes to visit?” “How do you feel when Grandma comes?” You can coax a little more conversation by saying, “Tell me more about that.”

You can continue the conversation by pointing out that Grandmother Bibi shares the  family history with the children and asking your child, “What would you like to ask Grandma about?” A follow-up to this would be, “What do you think Grandma will say when you ask her _____?”

Conservation is key in Africa as poaching, illegal hunting, and loss of habitat have endangered many animals native to the continent. By learning about the needs, habitats, and dangers to African animals, we can help others understand the need to care for the wildlife. One of the endangered animals, the Addax, lives in the Saharan deserts. Because of hunting, there are fewer than 300 addaxes in the Sahara. Groups, such as African Conservation Foundation, African Wildlife Foundation, and African Conservation Fund work to raise awareness of the needs of African wildlife and raise money to help protect the animals and their habitats.


Talk about it with this app

Use an app, like The Rainforest Kakamega ebook and music combo, to explore the loss of habitat in the rainforests. (Ages 5-12)


Questions to get everyone talking

What do we know about African wildlife?

Who do the wild animals belong to?

Who is responsible for taking care of wild animals and their habitats?

What makes wildlife valuable?

Where do animals live when their homes are lost?

The colorful birds of Africa live in trees. Where will they live when rainforests along the equator are cut down for lumber?

What are some ways we can start, as a family, to support wild life?

Suggest simple solutions, like recycling, conserving energy, volunteering, and raising money to donate to a conservation group, and allow your child to add to the ideas. Accept all ideas, rather than pointing out the limitations of an idea ask supporting questions, like, “Where can we start?” and “What do we need to learn next about this solution?” Children have an amazing ability to think about problems and solutions outside of traditional parameters.

What questions do we have about African wild life, their habitats, and conservation?

Conservation in Africa

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Ages 4-8)

Lexile Level: AD710

Napoli adopts a folkloric narrative technique to showcase the life work of Wangari Maathai, whose seminal role in Kenya's reforestation earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. When, one after the other, women journey to Maathai to seek counsel about scarce food, disappearing firewood and ailing animals, she tells them, "Plant a tree . . . .Thayu nyumba-peace, my people." Specific tree species and their utility are mentioned in the text and reiterated in a glossary. Nelson's pictures, a union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers' clothing and the greening landscape. The richly modulated oils portray the dignified, intent gazes of Maathai and other Kenyans, and the illustrator's signature use of perspective suggests the everyday heroism of his subjects. In addition to incorporating the fabric collages ,the artist focuses on landscape, with many double-page spreads depicting undulating fields, distant mountains and a white-hot sky. Deserving of a special place with Claire Nivola's Planting theTreesofKenya (2008), this is, in a word, stunning.  (Kirkus, Starred Review)

Award: Amelia Bloomer List -- Beginning Readers Nonfiction


Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire Nivola (Ages 5-8)

Lexile Level: AD1030

Laced with gracefully told anecdotes, this picture-book biography examines the work of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize–winner Maathai, who returned from college abroad to find her country ecologically imperiled. With the shift from small, local farms to large commercial ventures Kenya'strees were disappearing, women were forced to hunt further afield for firewood and desertification threatened. ThestoryofMaathai's Green Belt Movement lends itself well to Nivola's treatment. The often-panoramic scenes of country and village life possess a detailed, näive charm that beautifully explicates Maathai's social progress as she instructs women, schoolchildren and even prison inmates in the benefits ofplanting and nurturing trees. In one effective spread, Maathai says to soldiers: "You hold your gun . . . but what are you protecting? The whole country is disappearing with the wind and water." In the facing painting Maathai stands before a group of attentive, black-capped, red-coated soldiers and gestures to a map ofKenya posted above a cheery row of potted seedlings. This impressive effort will resonate with children. (Kirkus)

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books; Amelia Bloomer Lists -- Beginning Readers Nonfiction; Booklist Editor’s Choice; Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards; Parents’ Choice Awards


The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter (Ages 4-6)

Lexile Level: AD820

Economical art and language produce a fully fleshed-out biography of Jane Goodall, tracing her early years as a watcher of English fauna to her adult work as scholar of animal behavior in Africa. Winter's deliberate illustrations, as rich, complex and unaffected as all great folk art, complement equally engaging, unadorned text. Initial illustrations break through square inset panels, encouraging readers to look, pause and think about how Jane also broke out of boxy boundaries. When Jane finally reaches Tanzania, revelatory double-page spreads invigorate readers with their dense lushness and panoramic views. Myriad trees dot hillsides; countless stars congest the sky. Green mountains and bustling canopies run off the page, and chimps scamper across the book's gutter. While crowded with shapes, color and activity, Winter's illustrations calm the eye with their compositional integrity and cool palette. This gorgeous, accessible biography allows young readers to absorb the significance of Jane's tireless research, her groundbreaking discoveries and important work protecting Africa's land and animals. Quotes from Jane augment this inspiring book, encouraging young people to join her as dutiful watchers of the world.(Kirkus, Starred Review)

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books; Booklist Editor’s Choice


Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Ages 4-6)

Lexile Level: AD740

Little Jane Goodall and Jubilee (her toy chimpanzee) ramble outside their English country home observing everyday animal miracles and dreaming of a life in Africa, "living with, / and helping, / all animals." Readers familiar with the groundbreaking primatologist will love seeing her as a conventional, buttoned-up child, wearing a plaid skirt, classic bob and hair clip as she squats in a coop to watch a chicken drop an egg. McDonnell's simple ink-and-watercolor illustrations appear as sunny, amorphous panels in ample white space. Purposeful black lines provide specificity with small suggestive strokes—a tiny apostrophic smile relays Jane's complete contentment sprawled in grass. Opposite pages offer groupings of faint, intricate stamps that correspond with young Jane's early outdoor experiences and engage readers with their fine details. The playful interplay among stamps, cartoonish drawings and real photographs of Jane reminds readers of a child's hodgepodge journal—one like Jane's, which appears as a double-page spread showing her animal studies, charts, games and doodles. Children will appreciate McDonnell's original format and take heart that interests logged in their own diaries might turn into lifelong passions. Backmatter includes a pithy biography, additional photographs and a letter and drawing from Jane herself—children will thrill at the connection.(Kirkus, Starred Review)

Awards: ALA Notable Children's Books; Amelia Bloomer Lists - Beginning Readers Fiction;   Booklist Editors' Choice; Charlotte Zolotow Award; New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books; Parents' Choice Awards - Nonfiction



Visit a Local Zoo

Take your list of questions about African animals to the zoo and ask the African animals experts your questions about animals and conservation. You may want to consider calling ahead to make sure you can arrive at a time when someone can answer questions or when workshops are available for children.

Many zoologists are also willing to answer questions about their jobs. Your child might be interested in finding out what local zoologists studied in school, where they volunteered as a student, and where they have visited in their work.


Fingerprint Safari Animals

  Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

Did you Know?

  • Elephant’s tusks are made of bone     

  • African elephants have larger ears than Indian elephants

  • Over 80,000 species of insects live in Africa

  • Rhinoceros’ horns are made of keratin the same material that we use to make hair and fingernails

  • Warthogs are herbivores, this means they eat plants, not other animals

    • What other animals are herbivores?

    • What are some safari animals that eat meat, are carnivorous?

Elephant’s ears are as unique as a fingerprint, each zebra’s stripes are individual, and every giraffe has it’s own pattern. Your fingers, toes, handprint, footprint, and ears are completely unique. As you make prints, compare your prints with other family members’ prints to notice the ways each print is unique.  

To make your own fingerprints, handprints, or footprints you will need:

  • paper
  • washable ink
  • pencils or markers

What to do:

  1. Lay out blank paper
  2. Ink finger, hand, or foot
  3. Press inked finger, hand, or foot straight down on paper
  4. Lift straight up
  5. Use pencils or markers to turn prints into Safari Animals     

To make a simple lion:

Make two fingerprints, one laying down, left to right, and one standing up. Surround the standing fingerprint with prints of fingertips to create the lion’s mane. Use pencils or markers to add a face, ears, legs, and a tail.

To make a simple Anansi spider:

Make one fingerprint and use pencils or markers to add a face and eight legs.

What birds, bugs, and other animals can you create?


Plant Your Own Mama Miti Tree

Wangari Maathai taught the women of Kenya which trees to plant to meet their needs. Choose a place to plant a new tree or volunteer in your community to help with tree planting. Visit the Arbor Day Foundation for volunteer opportunities in your community.

Talk about the benefits of trees for your neighborhood and community. Trees help clean the air by using carbon dioxide for the plant and by giving off oxygen. Trees also help keep your lawn and neighborhood cool and provide a home for local wildlife. What other benefits do we get from trees? How do trees grow? What do we need for taking care of our trees over the next few years?

PBS video Sid the Science Kid: Plant a Tree gives some tree planting directions for indoor tree planting.


Safari Journal

Use an app, like Kid’s Journal, free on iTunes, to record nature observations, weather, notes on animals, their habitats, questions you have about the animals you see or are reading about, and new vocabulary. Kid’s Journal includes the ability to include photos and to export journal entries into iBooks.

Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPad.



Mancala is a favorite African counting and strategy game. Instructables provides step-by-step instructions for making your own Mancala.

Additional Resources

National Geographic Readers: Safari by Gail Tuchman (Ages 2-5)

Safari is a non-fiction early reader, parents may wish to be available to help sound out some new words like safari and jambo, which means Hi! in Swahili.

Safari day dawns on the Savannah. The African light gives the sky colors seen nowhere else on Earth. Soon, an amazing array of wild animals are yawning, screeching, and growling to life. Meet the elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, hippos, and the laughing hyenas of the wilderness and find out who’s friends with whom and why! (Amazon)

A Little About the History of Africa

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (Ages 5-8)

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson was an instant favorite for my family.  Besides being fans of the great Nelson Mandela, we are also huge fans of Kadir Nelson’s stories and art.  I was amazed at how Kadir managed to give a balanced historical account of Mandela’s life while also weaving in the practices and beliefs of South African culture. The story and brilliant pictures follow a young Mandela through childhood triumphs and loss to the struggles and victories of adulthood.

Mandela's fight for the freedom and equality for all South Africans is a lesson in moral character my husband and I wish to instill in our daughter. This book has engaged her in a way I did not anticipate, as she asks questions about ancestors and why Mr. Mandela had to go to jail.   We are able to begin a conversation with her around what it means to be a servant and citizen of the world through the pages of this book.  We will read this for years to come.  (by Donna B., Zoobean Curator)


The Life & Times of Nelson Mandela: an animated biography for children

Note: Among all of his work for Africa, Nelson Mandela served, with his wife Graca Machel, on the Board of Advisers of Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to provide wheelchairs to people around the world who need but cannot afford a wheelchair.

Books for Parents

Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home by Boyd Varty

Boyd Varty had an unconventional upbringing. He grew up on Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, a place where man and nature strive for balance, where perils exist alongside wonders. Founded more than eighty years ago as a hunting ground, Londolozi was transformed into a nature reserve beginning in 1973 by Varty’s father and uncle, visionaries of the restoration movement. But it wasn’t just a sanctuary for the animals; it was also a place for ravaged land to flourish again and for the human spirit to be restored. When Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment, he came to the reserve to recover.

Cathedral of the Wild is Varty’s memoir of his life in this exquisite and vast refuge. At Londolozi, Varty gained the confidence that emerges from living in Africa. “We came out strong and largely unafraid of life,” he writes, “with the full knowledge of its dangers.” It was there that young Boyd and his equally adventurous sister learned to track animals, raised leopard and lion cubs, followed their larger-than-life uncle on his many adventures filming wildlife, and became one with the land. Varty survived a harrowing black mamba encounter, a debilitating bout with malaria, even a vicious crocodile attack, but his biggest challenge was a personal crisis of purpose. An intense spiritual quest takes him across the globe and back again—to reconnect with nature and “rediscover the track.”

Cathedral of the Wild is a story of transformation that inspires a great appreciation for the beauty and order of the natural world. With conviction, hope, and humor, Varty makes a passionate claim for the power of the wild to restore the human spirit. (Amazon)


Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall

Her first 10 years at Gombe (Tanzania) on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika produced the classic In the Shadow of Man. A fitting successor to that work, Goodall's newest continues the saga of the chimpanzee families with an engrossing account of animal behavior. She examines the mother-child relationship, noting that young males must sever the ties in order to learn male responsibilities (patrolling, repelling intruders, searching for food). There are profiles of special individuals: Goblin, who was determined to rise to the top and stay there; Jomeo, without social ambition; Gigi, a sterile female; Melissa, mother of successful offspring. Other stories of the chimpanzees include a brutal war between troops; a gruesome affair of cannibalism; incidents of injury, death and grief. The reader gets promptly involved with the characters--they have distinct personalities. In the final chapters, Goodall turns to the plight of wild chimpanzees today (loss of habitat) and the appalling living conditions of those in captivity (including laboratory animals). An important book for students of behavior. (Publisher’s Weekly)


Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.

LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is his moving and exhilarating autobiography, destined to take its place among the finest memoirs of history's greatest figures. Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life--an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph. (Amazon)

About Rebekah K.
An insomniac since 1979, Rebekah has filled her nights with books & history. Rebekah's earliest memories are of watching documentaries, reading books, and playing Candy Land late at night with her dad. Is it any wonder that she doesn't consider being a librarian and teacher a job? During her fifteen years, in college and K-12 libraries and 10 years in English, ESL, and History classrooms, she has spent her days talking about books and history, sometimes at the same time. Rebekah says, "I love pairing readers with books that are a perfect fit. I feel like I have won a war when a reluctant reader returns to tell me they hated reading; but, after reading a book I recommended, they stay up with a flashlight to read until the page is blurry."