"Big Books" for Big Mufindi Classes

For six years my heavy suitcase bound for Tanzania has contained “big books.” It’s a harambee effort with dear friends of mine pulling together to help. Liz Priestman and I collect materials and ideas, adapting an existing tale to suit the Tanzanian setting or we producing something original. Elaine Olafson creates beautiful illustrations. For the past two years the books have been written in English and KiSwahili with the help of Lily Mbawala, a new Tanzanian friend living in Brentwood.

Yusto Chumi, Igoda’s gifted librarian, entices children with the African Princess and the Pea. This big book including two others has been used as the basis for a play. 


In some of the “big books” I have used my photographs to accompany the text. Children pour over the photos such as in “We are Tanzanians” looking for themselves or their friends. Photos are precious as many do not have pictures of themselves or their families.

Ruth engages a group of children as she helps them read the story. (below)

The children of Tanzania are bilingual, speaking their tribal tongue and the official language, Kiswahili. They are not speaking English when they enter school. But by the time they begin secondary school all of their subjects are supposed to be taught in English. It’s challenging since many of their teachers especially in rural settings do not have a solid grasp of English.

It’s endearing to see children pour over the stories, sounding words out and helping each other read the words. The big books contain simple English with lots of patterning. Hopefully they help them learn English.

Yusto is reading the new big book, Kuku Mdogu, based on The Little Red Hen. Only this little hen plants maize and without the help of her lazy animal friends, harvests it and takes it to the fundi to be ground into corn flour which is made into ugali by the cooking mamas.

Yusto’s dramatic embellishments of stories are mesmerizing. It’s heartwarming to see how children love coming to the library!

We are at Ikaning’ombe school, a long drive from Igoda. John is translating the story in the kindergarten. To begin with we are reading the story to about 25 kindergarten children. But as the story proceeds this changes.

As we are reading the story, clusters of children peer through the open door. More appear and more. They keep coming, each group filing in quietly and filling up spaces at the back. By the time we are half way through the story there are approximately 150 children in the room. Looking, listening and enjoying a book together. These are precious classroom experiences.

Very grateful - Anne