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Masai and I by Virginia Kroll

Masai and I

Author: Virginia Kroll
Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter
ISBN: 0689804547
Summary: A young African-American student uses her imagination to compare her life with what it would be if she were a Masai.

Literature Based Unit Study by Denise Gregson; Lapbook by Ami with ideas and Vocabulary Cards by Kimberly

Lapbook Templates

African Village/ American City Venn Diagram
Masai Tab Book
Compass Simple Fold
Where in the World is Tanzania? Shutterfold
Swahili Vocabulary Cards
Point of View 3/4 Book
Where in the World is Kenya? Shutterfold
Swahili Vocabulary Cards Pocket
What is a Honey Guide?
Flag of Tanzania Simple Fold
Swahili Counting (with Cards)
Giraffe Tab Book
Flag of Kenya Simple Fold
Vocabulary Flap Book
Ways We Use Water Petal Book
My Ancestors Graduated Book
Adjectives (for Masai) Fan Book

Does your student want to include more about African Animals in his lapbook?

Try Homeschool Share's  Zebra Lapbook and Ostrich Lapbook

Social Studies:

History : African- Americans –

The little girl from whose perspective the story is written feels a certain kinship with the Masai people as she learns about their culture in school knowing that her ancestors were from Africa. Ask your child, “If you were to feel a tingle of kinship with a group of people who would it be with?” This could lead to a talk about where their ancestors are from.


Africa is a continent that consists of over 50 different countries each with many different tribes having their own unique cultures (Swaziland is an exception – it being a small one-tribe one language group nation; however even within this country there are tribes from neighboring countries that have settled there).  The northern third of the continent is home to the Sahara Desert – the largest and hottest desert in the world.

African Culture:

Contrast the differences in village life in Africa compared to US city life, for example:
        1. Homes:
        Mud and stick huts are clustered together for extended family to live together in homesteads, cooking by open fire, lack of            
, furniture , windows and beds (sleep on mats).

        2. Mode of Transportation:
        It would not be unusual in the villages of Africa to walk a mile or several miles to get to water, get to a store etc.

        Note: You should, however, point out that just as in the US rural and urban areas vary a lot, so there are cities in Africa that are much
        more modernized where people do live in concrete style homes or apartments with furniture and beds and where people get around   
        by cars and buses.

        3. Tribal Life:
        The Masai is just one tribe of 100's in Africa; each tribe has its own language and unique culture; Notice in the book the distinctive
        dress of the Masai people-including loose cloth and large beaded necklaces and hoop earrings (even the men); the Masai people
        wear a lot of red clothing which stands for “power” and are strong warriors** (note the double page of the warriors with no text); notice
        also the differences in girls' names mentioned in the book. 

        4. Resourcefulness:

        Rural Africans generally live off the land growing their own food, selling their extra, raising livestock for personal use and sale, selling
        handicrafts made from grass, wood, clay etc.

        Growing up in Africa, children learn to be resourceful at an early age; Instead of going to the store to get sweets, children in rural
        Africa will look to nature to find something sweet such as honey from a beehive, sugar cane from the field or fruit from a fruit tree
        (guava, mango, etc).

        (Note: this section is not directly related to the story but would be fun to look at since the story is about children)
        Many of the toys would be more simple and made with available resources (tin cans, wire, sticks etc); see the supplemental books    
        listed at the end to look more closely at African toys. The Mancala game originated in Africa but has been adapted and played    
        around the world; traditionally it would be carved from wood and small stones would be used as the playing pieces. To make your own
        Mancala game from egg cartons and tuna cans visit:
        The game can be played with marbles, small stones, shells, beans etc.

In spite of all these differences, there are commonalities between the two cultures that you can bring out: love of family, respect, participation in household chores, self-care

Many different kinds of people live in Africa; they have different ways of life, different customs, different languages, different foods they eat.  Masai (also spelled Maasai) is one tribe of people who can be found in Kenya and Tanzania. 

The Masai are a warrior tribe typically pictured wearing a red cloth and holding a spear. They live in villages consisting of 8 to 15 huts which the women are responsible for building.  The frame is built of branches and then a plaster mixture of twigs, grass, and cow dung is applied to the frame. When the mixture dries, it is very strong (comparable to our cement).   It takes a woman about 7 months to complete the task of building one hut. 

Inside the hut, the only openings are the doorway and a small hole in the roof or wall which allows the smoke from a fire to escape. They use dried cow dung for fuel to keep the fire going to cook and keep them warm during the rainy season. The only furnishings inside are beds of woven branches cushioned with dry grasses and animal skins.

Women and girls are also expected to milk the cows and fetch water.  Their time is also filled with beadwork; they decorate animal hides with beads in addition to making arm and leg bracelets.  They also pick gourds and clean them.  Then the gourds are decorated with leather and beads. They use the gourds to store milk, water, honey and cornmeal. Masai do not kill animals for food but will eat them if they die naturally.

In order for the village to be protected from wild elephants, Lions, and cheetahs, the men use thorny branches (comparable to our barbed wire) to build fences.  At night, Masai bring their domestic animals (cows, goats, etc.) inside the fence so they will be protected as well. 

The men's primary job is to care for the cattle which they believe God has entrusted to them. Their wealth is measured by the number of cattle they own. As young Masai boys reach the age of 15 they participate in coming of age ceremonies which include many rites and rituals. Several Masai warriors will live together in one hut until they have passed on to manhood (5 to 7 years time). Then they will marry and bring their wives and raise their families in the same hut. People of the same age usually live in the same kraal. The elderly will all live together but teach traditions and skills to the youth; they also lead celebrations and ceremonies.

Language Arts –

Point of View-

Ask your child who is telling the story? This story is told in the 1st person by the African-American girl holding the African artifact in the first illustration; she uses her imagination to consider what it would be like to grow up in Africa.

Vocabulary -

kraal (pronounced crawl): an enclosure for domestic animals in Africa

kinship: relationship

tingle: to feel a pricking or thrilling sensation

cowhide : the hide (skin) of a cow or leather made from it

gourd: a hard-rinded inedible fruit the shell of which may be used for carrying water

sod: top layer of soil

slender: slim, thin

graceful: attractive; moving with ease

glide: to move smoothly and effortlessly

lope (along): moving in an easy manner

Swahili Vocabulary Cards made by Kimberly Kaffenberger

Adjectives: used to describe the Masai people - tall, proud; you can also add your own:

e.g. hard-working, strong

Go-along book for learning about adjectives: Many Luscious Lollipops by Ruth Heller


Animal Kingdom-African animals:
Mentioned in the book – cattle, zebras, ostriches, giraffes. Determine which animals are unique to Africa? (zebras, giraffes, ostriches) Which are found in other parts of the world as well as Africa? (cattle, fireflies, bees); the birds in the “running and leaping” photo is a guinea fowl, also native to Africa. This can lead to a discussion of animal habitats: Desserts, Plains, Congo....

You may want to check-out the report forms and copywork pages on Homeschool Share's Animal Forms page as well as the Zebras Lapbook and the Ostriches Lapbook in the Animal Studies section.

Red Clay:
Much of Africa is covered with red clay; As the story notes, this clay is sometimes mixed with fat and used on the skin and in the hair; also used for the walls and floors of huts, making pots etc.

You may choose to review honeybees and calming of bees. See if you child can identify what was meant by “honey guide

Fire: can lead to a discussion about creating fire by the friction of rubbing sticks together

Health: Water Sources -
Water is essential to life; Discuss what we need water for – drinking, cooking, washing ourselves, dishes, clothing, feeding to livestock, irrigating crops; In parts of Africa and especially at various times of drought water can be scarce; In rural areas, running water is not common and water sources could include: rivers, springs, catchment systems for rain water, bore holes (deep hole, similar to a well, but smaller in diameter with water pipes to carry the water out); Children learn from an early age to balance large buckets or gourds of water on their heads. Get on your swimsuits and try carrying buckets of water on your head, African style!


North, South, East, West – locate these areas of Africa on the map and note that several countries make up each area of this vast continent; the Masai people are from East Africa ( mostly living on the border between Tanzania and Kenya)

Distance – 3 miles = think of a landmark in your area that is about 3 miles away in order to better visualize the distance; it would take close to one hour to walk each way.



A note from the artist at the start of the book (after title page) states her method as being “oil and color pencil on paper”. The first illustration in the classroom shows this method clearly and your child could attempt this art style.


In most cases, the illustrations spread across double pages, with one side illustrating life in the US city, contrasted on the opposite page with life in rural Africa. The artist does this in such a way that the illustrations are blended across the page. Enjoy each of the illustrations that accomplishes this unique style. For example, note especially the page where the girl opens her apartment door into what looks like the African homestead; the page where the girl is walking down the street to the store is drawn in such a way that the tree's shadow appears to be formed by the tree that the African children are searching for honey in. Likewise, in the page about the animals/pets it appears the little girl is looking at the elephant. On the page where the girl is preparing for her grandmother's celebration when she looks in the mirror she sees a reflection of the Masai girl.


Notice the artifacts in the classroom ( Masai necklace, a gourd), Africa on the map on the wall of the classroom, the differing shoes on the title page which are mentioned in the text, as well as the way the letters of title page are decorated in an African art style

Supplemental Books and Resources:

A is for Africa by Ifeoma Onyefulu; this book was written from a perspective and illustrations from Nigeria (West Africa) but the author cites that the goal of the book is to represent common African values of “warm family ties, traditional famille life, and hospitality”; it has some great photos

Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams

Elizabeti's Doll
by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
the above books can be used to illustrate the point of different types of African toys as well as other aspects of life in Africa

Add even more to your Unit Study!  Africa Lapbook from Hands of a Child