April 16, 2012

We All Went on Safari

We All Went on Safair: A Counting Journey Through Tanzania
By Laurie Krebs
Illustrated by Julia Cairns
3-4 Preschool Primary Barefoot Books 32 pp.
978-1841484785 Hardcover $16.99
Non Fiction

As far as concept books go, We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey Through Tanzania, is one of the best I've come across. There is no part of the text or the illustrations that fails to educate the reader in the most entertaining, layered way. Even more, We All Went on Safari does something that not many books - concept or otherwise - manage to do. It gives the reader a tantalizing taste of a completely foreign culture, just enough to plant curiosity and engender a desire to learn more.

The book's primary goal is to introduce the concept of counting from one to ten, which it does under the guise of an adventure through the grasslands of Tanzania. The protagonists are a group of Maasai children and their caretakers. As Arusha, Mosi, Tumpe and their friends walk through the savannah, they discover and count many different kinds of African animals, including lions, giraffes and warthogs, in both English and Swahili. Krebs's smooth rhyming text helps lead the reader on, making it easy for children unfamiliar with the numbers to intuit what comes next ("We all went on safari, When the day had just begun. We spied a lonely leopard. Arusha counted one"). A large, red numeral "1" is placed in the right hand corner of the page with the Swahili word, "moja" next to it in black, making it easy to connect the word "one" with the number "1" and it's corresponding name in Swahili. The rest of the book progresses in the same way, ending with the adventurers, portrayed in traditional Massai costumes, building a campfire and saying goodnight.

The strength of We All Went on Safari lies in two places. The first is that, in addition to the counting aspect and the easy rhythm of the story, Krebs included a map of Tanzania, a collection of facts about the country, notes about each of the animals encountered on the adventure, information about the Maasai, including translations of each name and a pronunciation key for the numbers 1-10 in Swahili. All of this additional material is organized intuitively at the back so, while not cluttering the main text or confusing younger listeners, it offers curious preschoolers more information on what they've just read. The book's other strength is in Cairns's beautiful illustrations, which have a rich, iconic, almost primitive aspect while portraying the animals, Tanzanian grasslands and Maasai people with dignity and certain natural elegance.

We All Went on Safari is a can't miss. Toddlers and pre-readers will enjoy hearing the rhyming text and seeing the gorgeously depicted animals - and as an introduction to counting, it's hard to beat 2 ("mbili") ostriches sprinting through green grass. Preschoolers and kindergardners will likewise love reading the text for themselves while the animals tantalizingly present themselves for counting. Best of all,  We All Went on Safari inspires curiosity and gives parents and children a chance to learn about a new culture together.

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