For Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, Vena Aardema took an African folktale and turned it into a sonorous rhythm just perfect for a children’s storybook. The tale was originally discovered in Kenya more than 80 years ago by Sir Claud Hollis, a British anthropologist who spent time learning from the Nandi tribe. Sir Hollis camped near a village and took the time to learn the Nandi language from two young boys. He learned riddles and proverbs from the Nandi children. He learned folk tales and legends from the Chief Medicine Man. Then he took all these beautiful folkways and published them in The Nandi: Their Language and Folklore, which first touched bookshelves in 1919.
Considered a tropical climate because it is hot and humid, Kenya is located on the East Coast of Africa. The average temperature is 80 degrees all year long. While there are also sandy beaches, rainforests, and swamps, three-fourths of Kenya consists of very dry plains. The plains receive about ten to thirty inches of rainfall each year.
A Nandi village home in Kenya.
There aren’t any major cities here, but nomads roam the land tending their flocks and searching for food (grasses for grazing) and water. The people in rural areas farm and raise livestock.The Nandi people are an example of a nomad group; they live in Western Kenya, in the plains, and they keep cattle, sheep, and goats as their way of life. We learned more about the Nandi tribe from the Joshua Project.
There is a highland area in the southwest that receives enough rainfall (forty to fifty inches a year) and has enough good soil to support farming. The majority of the people live here. Kenya also has forests and grasslands, and Nairobi, the capital city, is located in the highland area.
We read the book aloud together and the kids competed to see who could make the most comments per page. I decided to take a cue from a teacher I know and asked them to contribute comments in the form of “I wonder…..” statements. Max kept a tally of our “I wonder…” statements for this book.
“I really like the way the story kind of piles up and has a beat…”
“Me too, Max. It’s a cumulative story- it builds on itself- and the rhythm keeps is rushing past like a stream. It’s a mix of predictable repetitions and bold rhymes. I can almost see creating a rain dance to match it.”
“I was thinking about a dance. I was thinking about a story- like a pourquoi story. Isn’t this a pourquoi story?”
“You’re right! It is!”
“So I’m going to write one about the pink dogwood in our backyard and maybe I’ll make it a piling rhyme like in this book.”
“Piling rhyme. I like that description.”
I didn’t mention this to Max, but creating our own twine-and-twig harp would also be quite fun. The only image of this instrument is on the cover of the book. This is a close-up. Cool, eh?
We talked about the mud and straw houses built by the Nandi- why they used these resources, which are plentiful on the plains, to build homes. Micah observed that “they only have one tree, and it is for climbing, not building”. Ecological scarcity and sustainable building practices come up quite readily in a discussion of this book with children of any age.
Chasing butterflies across Kapiti Plain:
Choral reading activity
Explore concept of scarcity with this book
Create an ecoweb for a Kenyan plain.
Introduce 3 new vocabulary words, like acacia, drought, and African plain
Reader’s Theatre version from the Alabama Education Exchange
Journal entry answering one “I wonder….” statement in the form of a story.
Write a “piling poem” per Max’s description.