Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fifth Grade People and Places, African Geography in Level 2 Mater Amabilis

Next year, First Son will be in the second year of Level 2, fifth grade. Mater Amabilis recommends an African study for People and Places under Geography. One of the main goals of this study is to introduce new countries and experiences using living books and complementing that with mapwork on the region. I had not read any of the recommended books before and sought them all the at the library.

Our library did not have Africatrek: A Journey by Bicycle Through Africa by Dan Buettner (First Son and I both enjoyed Sovietrek: A Journey by Bicycle Across Russia) or Jock of the Budhveldt by Sir J. Percy Fitzpatrick. I downloaded the free Kindle version of Fitzpatrick's book, but was so distracted by the weird formatting, I couldn't make myself read it. I was also a little uneasy about some of the reviews about the outdated attitudes sometimes depicted in the book. We read lots of older books and I usually have no problems letting things go by without comment or starting an interesting discussion on how things have changed, but I usually try to reserve that for times when I'm reading aloud and can tell how the children are reacting as I read.

Hippos in the Night: Autobiographical Adventures in Africa by Christina Allen seemed really light. I felt like First Son was ready for something that delved more deeply into the issues of modern Africa, though I still wanted a book for young people. I thought this book would be fine but it didn't seem great, and the reading level was quite a bit below First Son. I think First Daughter could read it in second grade next year, if she needs some more reading choices.

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story by Beverley Naidoo is set in South Africa during the time of apartheid. I think this could be a good book to share if I wanted to spend time discussing apartheid, but I tend to focus on that a lot in our American studies (slavery and racism here) and did not want First Son to think this exemplifies modern South Africa (though I suppose I don't really know it doesn't).

I returned to our library catalog and Amazon to find other options. After reading quite a few books set in Africa for young people and skimming even more of them, I think I've found the three I intend to assign next year.

Safari Journal by Hudson Talbott is the fictional journal of a twelve-year-old boy who travels to Africa with his aunt. There are some derogatory comments about his sister (who is not along for the safari), but for the most part the journal offers lots of great information on the people, animals, and modern life in Africa, as well as a great example of nature journal entries.

Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta is the story of twelve-year-old Linus who moves to Liberia when his father gets a job at the American Embassy there. Set in the 1980s, it still gives an interesting glimpse into modern Africa, and has the benefit of being pretty realistic since the author moved to Liberia in the '80s when his father started working in the Embassy. There are some supernatural aspects to the story, as a very dangerous black mamba has a mysterious connection to Linus, and there is one scary part where the mamba attacks Linus's brother, but overall I think it's a great story.

A Gift from Childhood: Memories of an African Boyhood by Baba Wague Diakite, an actual memoir of life in Mali. Baba spends years of his early life with his grandparents in a rural village, then moves to the city with his mother. Unlike a fictional account, some of the stories are not really connected; they are meaningful episodes in his life. I thought it was a great introduction to life in Mali and was thrilled to read his praise of his wife's Kansas hometown as well as his thoughts on the similarities between her rural upbringing and his own. What a great book for a Kansas boy to read! Of the three, this is probably likely to be First Son's least favorite, but I think it will be good for him.


First Son read Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe a few years ago. The content of this book would be fine for a middle grade aged child and the writing is a little simpler, so it would be an excellent choice for a boy who struggles a little with reading.

In a few years, when First Daughter is ready for Level 2, I think I'll substitute Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan for Mamba Point. It's set in the past and part of the time in England, but the longing for Africa is constant. It's a sweet story of honesty and perseverance. I think most girls would enjoy it more than Mamba Point.

For more mature readers, I enjoyed both A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story and The Good Braider.

For young readers, I highly recommend Anna Hibiscus and Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! The other Anna Hibiscus books might be just as good, but our library didn't have them.

Our library also has a vast collection of picture books set in Africa. As in past years, I plan to read-around-the-world (in Africa) with the little ones and am a little overwhelmed with the number of options. (That's saying something for someone who will read one hundred picture books to pick thirty without really batting an eye.) I usually try to document our picture books on the blog after we read them. Here's the list of a few set in Africa we read back in 2011-2012 if you just can't wait to get started.


  1. Hello! Do you happen to know where there is a good explanation of level vs. grade for Mater Amabilis? It confuses me to no end. I am enjoying your posts so much! Do you possibly have a post on how a typical school day goes for you? I love the idea of the Living Books approach and would love to implement it for a few subjects. Thanks! Enjoying your blog!! ~Vieve

    1. Hi Vee Bee, thanks for your comment! You can find the levels on the Mater Amabilis site (, but there is flexibility as you know your child best. I don't think I have a recent post on how a typical day goes for us; I think I've avoided it because there isn't really a typical day. Mostly, I try to hit the most important things in the morning so if we slack off later, I don't feel like a failure. For me, that's often math (for the older two), Latin (for the oldest), and exercising for me. I usually try to work with the youngest first and move up in years. That way, the oldest (who has the most he can do independently), is working away on his own while I work with the younger sisters. I try to do all their lessons with me in a chunk of time, so I can move on to other activities even if they're still working. And we usually save crafts and art for the afternoons when we're tired of books. I sometimes read to them while they do those things, just for fun, or we listen to an audio book or a composer CD. (All that was probably more confusing than helpful!) If you join the Yahoo/facebook groups for Mater Amabilis, you can ask for a schedule or typical day from someone with students the same grades as you. There are lots of helpful people in the groups. Good luck!

  2. Thank you so much for that chart!! That will be so helpful. Yes, I joined the group on FB and appreciate all that I read! Thanks a lot!! I'll continue to follow your blog! - Vieve


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