We're packing for a voyage to Africa!
As an introduction, we're working our way through the Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith. So far we've read Akimbo and the Lions and Akimbo and the Baboons. We're reading them aloud together, but if the kids want to continue the series (and I'm sure they will) they can easily read the others independently. The books are listed for grades 3-5, and they don't have that "cranked out for Scholastic" feel that you get from some popular elementary series.
Akimbo's father is the head ranger at an African wildlife preserve. Akimbo loves to help his father, but things don't always turn out the way he expects! The books are full of fascinating information about African wildlife, and the plots have plenty of exciting twists and turns. The relationship between son and father is really sweet, too. So far, my kids LOVE these books!
The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John is also set on a game preserve, but it was written for a slightly older reader (grades 4-7) and has a very different feel from the Akimbo books. Martine loses her parents in a house fire and is sent to live in South Africa with her grandmother. Strange things keep happening to Martine, and it's clear that there is a secret in the family. Even while she grieves for her parents and her former life, Martine is determined to solve the mystery. This book is a great read-aloud, and as I've been reading, I've circled a lot of good vocabulary words for our word wall.
We're in the middle of a year-long study of biomes, so of course we're reading about the African savannah now. One Small Square: African Savannah by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne is a good place to start. We read about creatures we already know and love, like zebras and jackals, and we learned about animals we had never heard of, like the zorilla. Super and Dude are each going to choose two African animals for a research report.
Of course, Africa has more than just savannah, so we'll be learning about temperate and tropical forests, river valleys, deserts, coastlines, and mountains. We'll be exploring ancient African civilizations as well as modern countries and their challenges. The White Giraffe just touches on the topic of racism in South Africa; we'll definitely discuss Apartheid and learn about Nelson Mandela. Like most elementary-aged kids, Super and Dude have a very strong sense of justice. That's one reason it's so interesting and fun to learn with them.
We'll be using a variety of resources for our unit study, including Africa for Kids: Exploring a Vibrant Continent by Harvey Croze. We'll supplement with a couple of units I got from CurrClick: Milliken's Early Africa and Africa Grades 2-5 from Teacher Created Resources. We also have Bentley Boyd's Ancient Africa, and I know I picked up a book of African folk tales, if I can just find it!