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When Africa was Home   Author

When Africa was Home

Author: Karen Lynn Williams

Illustrator: Floyd Cooper

ISBN: 0531059251

Summary: After returning to the United States, Peter’s whole family misses the warmth and friendliness of their life in Africa; so Peter’s father looks for another job there.

Unit prepared by Amber Hightower


Geography: Africa, North America, and other Continents

Peter’s family live in Africa but return to America for a short time.

Introduce the seven continents. What is a continent? See how many continents your student can name. Using a world map cut out the continents and make a short book. For each continent, you may want to write the countries found there or some other information about it. 

Africa is one of the seven continents. It has 53 countries on it. Find it on a wall map, globe or atlas. Place a story disk on Africa. (The author’s website, cited below gives the exact location as Malawi.) Locate the oceans around Africa. Point out that the island of Madagascar is part of Africa. Use a blank world map to locate Africa and color it in. You may want to print a map of Africa that has the countries on it. Find Malawi on it and color it.

North America is also one of the seven continents. You may want to find America on a map or globe and point out that there are two continents that have America on them. One is North America which is the United States of America, the country of Canada, the country of Mexico and the countries of Central America. South America is the other continent.

Find the oceans around the United States on a map, atlas, or globe.

(The author’s website, cited below, gives Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the location in the US.)  Find Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on a US map or atlas and place a story disk on Pennsylvania. Use the world map from above and locate the USA and color it. You may want to print a map of the US with the states on it and color in Pennsylvania. Use an atlas to find Pittsburgh and place a spot on the Pennsylvania map it for it.

Additional lessons:
1. after putting story disk on Africa and the US, run a string between them to symbolize their trip. What oceans might they have crossed?

2. You could make the flag of Malawi and the flag of Pennsylvania. Discuss what a flag represents. Point out that all 53 countries of Africa and all 50 states of the USA each have their own flag.
3. Older Students may also be assigned a report on Malawi and/or Pennsylvania. This could be in the form of a traditional report, a travel brochure or a presentation.

Pennsylvania Outline Map
Africa Outline Map
Malawi Information
Malawi Outline Map
Malawi  Map
Malawi Flag (scroll down)

Cultural Awareness
There are many differences between Africa and America. Many of these are mentioned in the book or can be seen in the pictures. How many can you spot or remember? Discuss how life in a village may differ from life in a city. Compare the village in Africa (huts with thatched roofs) to the picture of the city in America (tall buildings). Make a list of the differences or have child draw them.

Project: To help compare the differences in city life and village life, your child might like to make a replica of a skyscraper and a village hut. For the skyscraper, you might use legos, sugar cubes or wooden blocks. For the village hut, you might like to use brown construction paper made into the round hut and yellow pipe cleaners or string for the thatch roofs. For older students or those who are really creative, you may want to construct a diorama.

Go-along books
Eyewitness Africa by Yvonne Ayo (pgs. 12-13 have a two page spread titled “Building a House”)  (pages 16-17  “Life in the Compound”)

One Big Family: Sharing Life in an African Village by Ifeoma Onyefulu
Mouse, Country Mouse
retold by Alan Benjamin and illustrated by Jeffrey Severn

Peter’s mother tells him that in America we eat with a fork and a spoon. This is the polite way in America she tells him. What are manners? What happens when we don’t use them? Discuss this with your child.

Go-along books-
Manners by Aliki
Chicken Fingers, Mac and Cheese… Why Do Always Have to Say Please? By Wendy Rosen and Jackie End

Activity Ideas- Research manners in Malawi or in Africa in general. Then research manners in America and compare them. You can make this regional as in southern manners or northern. Make a list of manners and draw them. You can choose to print or draw pages from the Aliki book and use to match the wrong and right manners. Have a formal family dinner after studying manners.



African Animals
What kind of animals do you see in the pictures of Africa? Take notice of the giraffe in the picture of Peter walking in the snow. Make a list of the animals or draw pictures of them. Pick one to do an animal report on. Visit a zoo and look for the animals in the book.  Are any of the animals native to the US?

Peter’s dad mentions getting a kitten. Read books on cats. Discuss with your child that domestic cats are in the feline family with tigers and Lions. If interested, gently introduce animal classification.

African Animal Printouts from Enchanted Learning

Animals from Africa
See Photos of Projects to Replicate


The book says they boarded a plane bigger than a house with hundreds of seats and buttons and switches. Does your child know what kind of plane this is? Read about passenger planes and airports. Draw a picture of a plane they think Peter may have flown in. Visit an airport or plane museum if possible.

Older children may like to research the different types of planes and their uses.

Make paper airplanes for fun.

Go-along Books-

The Jet Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta

The Fantastic Cutaway Book of Flight by Jon Richards

Take It Apart Plane by Chris Oxlade


Oil Wash on Board

The illustrator, Floyd Cooper, uses a method called oil wash on board. He calls it subtractive process. Mr. Cooper paints an illustration on a board using oil paint then uses a stretchy eraser to erase the paint and make a picture. Information about Floyd Cooper


If a student is old enough, try this method with oil paints. If not, draw with crayon and use eraser to get the same effect.  You can buy small art canvases at hobby stores or Wal-mart. Two illustrations in the book to note are the dedication page (green hues) and the page of Peter in bed (the blanket).

Here is a definition: Wash - The application of color in a thin, fluid manner.  Also refers to diluted pigment.

Go along suggestion: Talking with Artist Volume 2 by Pat Cummings

I highly recommend trying to find a copy of this book. It has an interview with Mr. Cooper and at the end of the book it has a project to do using Mr. Cooper’s technique. The project makes 2 paintings.

Artist Study: Albert Dreher
Dreher pioneered the oil wash technique.  If your student is interested, look up his paintings and compare to the illustrations Mr. Cooper created.  Can your student see how the same technique was used?


Peter and friends made dolls from wet earth from the riverbed. Use clay to mold their own creations. This can be dolls or pottery or anything else they would like.

For fun, gather dirt from the yard and make wet to resemble the clay Peter might have used. You can also use air dry clay in different colors. Visit a kiln or speak to an artist that makes pottery.

This is a nice site on making pottery using clay from an artist store

Go along

The Jumbo Book of Outdoor Art by Irene Luxbacher ISBN# 978-1-55337-680-4
pages 14-15 include instructions for using air dry clay for making various pots using the coil method, pinch pot method and the thumb indention method. It also talks about using outdoor elements with the pot.



nanny- a child’s nurse or caregiver (usually someone other than the mom)

paw-paw trees- common name for a tropical and subtropical tree and its fruit (note: I also found entries calling it cranbury and papaya)

maize- corn

riverbed- channel occupied by a river

mango tree- tree which grows the mango fruit which is sweet

antelope- slender deer like animal that usually has horns

paste- dough (there were several definitions but this fits the use in the story)

mosquito net- a net or screen used for keeping mosquitoes out

sugar cane- a tall grass usually grown as a source of sugar

statue- representation of a person, thing or animal made by casting, molding or sculpture

Prepared Crossword Puzzle

Language Arts- Adjectives

There are many describing words used in the book. For students who are ready, introduce the word adjective and its meaning. Look through the book for descriptions. Here is one to get you started: “They made dolls with wet earth from the riverbed.” Wet describes earth. Have student create his own words to describe objects around the house or pictures from the book.
Schoolhouse Rock Adjective Song Lyrics

Language: Chichewa
Peter learns to speak the Chichewa language while living in Africa. Several Chichewa words are used throughout the book such as
Mayi- mother in Chichewa

Achimwene- little brother in Chichewa

Activity:  Learn some words in Chichewa for everyday things.  Practice using them throughout the day.  Make a book with the words in the story and their meanings.  It might be fun to include the English words and pictures for each entry in your book.

Here are sites that may help with pronunciation:

Language Arts: Italics
Show your student the words in the text of the story that are italicized. Does your student know why we use italics? If not, explain that in books or other writings, the names of books and ships are italicized. When we hand write these, we underline them. Grammar Rules for Italics

Activity: On note cards or small slips of paper, write the names of ships or other objects that should be in italics. On another set of paper, write the same words in italics and another set of paper with the words underlined. Have your child match the proper ones together. Older students can do this by copying a passage from a book that has used italics or that the parent provides. Have child copy the passage correctly.



When Peter and family fly to America they fly through the day and a night.

Discuss time. Usually when we speak of a day, we talk about the hours of sunlight. Does your child know that there are 24 hours in a day?  Explain that there are 12 hours for day and 12 hours for night. You may also want to discuss how many minutes in an hour.

Older students can research the time zones (Peter’s family changes time zones while flying) or may want to research the length of time it takes to fly from Africa to America.  Make a map of the world and add in the time zone divisions.  With supervision, you may want to have the student view an airlines departure and arrival times for flights from Pittsburgh to Malawi or your town to Malawi or Pittsburgh. They may want to make a plane ticket for their trek, be sure to include a passport!

If your child isn't familiar with a poll explain to him that it is a questioning of persons to obtain information or opinions.  Tell him that he is going to poll various friends and family members to find out where they consider home to be.  Let him call friends/relatives and ask this question.  Have him record each response.  After he has collected the data, explain to him what a graph is.  A graph is a way to visually compare the information.   Help him chart the information.



Apprehension and Anxiety

Peter is apprehensive about his move back to America. He is afraid it will not feel like home because Africa is his home. Discuss anxiety. At some point we all feel anxious over something. Tell your child about a time when you have been anxious. What did you do to help with the anxiety? Did you talk about it, pray or keep a journal? Share verses from the Bible that your child can read when he is anxious. Comment one to memory.

Here are few you might like to share: John 14:1, John 14:27, Philippians 4:6-7. Choose one of appropriate length and use as copy work. It may be helpful for your child to prepare a prayer to say when he is anxious.

Memory verse cards to print (look for the topic of anxiety)

Movie go-along: Veggie Tales- Where’s God when I’m Scared?

Another good topic for discussion is home. Has your child heard the phrase “Home is where the heart is”? Explain to your child this simply means that no matter where you are, your home is where you make it. If your family has moved, use this to start your discussion. Does your child remember the move? If not, you might want to share how he felt at the time or how you felt. Stress it is okay to feel anxious over a new place and discuss ways to deal with it.  Again, the Bible verses will help. 

If you have recently moved or are planning a move, try this activity.  Make a When ___________ was Home book.  This can be as simple as your child drawing pictures or you can use photos you have taken and make a mini scrapbook.  Have fun and enjoy the memories this project will bring.


A good way to end this unit is to have a Malawian food night. Celebrate your new knowledge of the country with recipes from Malawi. Nsima is the staple food for Malawians much like bread or pasta for other countries. It is a porridge made from corn, cassava or another starchy flour. It is used as a spoon to scoop up soups and stews.

1 cup ufa (cornmeal or cassava)
2 3/4-3 cups water for each cup ufa
butter or margarine optional

Use a wooden spoon to stir nsima. Heat the water in the saucepan until luke warm. Mix a little of the ufa with the water, stirring well to make sure there are no lumps. Bring to a boil, stirring well, then lower the heat and let boil gently for a few minutes. The mixture should look like a thin transparent porridge. Sprinkle the remaining ufa over, a little at a time, stirring continuously to avoid lumps from forming, until the desired consistency is reached. Keep stirring until the nsima is smooth and well cooked. A little butter or margarine may be stirred in at this stage. Serve in a dish accompanied by a relish such as pumpkin leaves or tabasco sauce.

recipe source

Vegetable Ndiwo

3 cups greens chopped

1 small onion chopped

1 TB oil

2 small tomatoes chopped

1 cup water

salt to taste

Saute' onions in oil until tender. Add other ingredients, cover and simmer over medium heat until greens are tender. Serve with rice or Nsima. (see list below for common greens)

Cassava Leaves = Ntapasya or Chigwada
Sweet Potato Leaves = Ntolilo or Kholowa
Bean Leaves = Nkwanya
Small Bean Leaves = Chitambe
Pumpkin Leaves = Mkhwani
Chinese Cabbage = Chinese
Mustard Leaves
Rape Leaves
Kale Leaves

The staple drinks are coffee and tea. Serve one of these or both with your meal.

Recipes from Malawi


Peter has a ski cap that reminds him of Africa. Learn to knit a ski cap that looks like the one in the story. Another way is use fleece and sew a cap. Remember to add the tassels.  This project also lends itself to the topic of the bright colors used in African clothes.

Music- drums

On the page of Peter sleeping, we see a drummer. Make an African drum and practice playing it. Listen to tribal music with drums.
Kinderart- African Drum

Make an African Drum

Food fun (pretending):
Eat fish eyes! Make this dish by using Tapioca pudding.
Eat sugar cane! Use old fashioned candy sticks.
Eat popsicles! You can buy these or make them in flavors that your family loves.
Make small hushpuppies and dip in cocktail sauce and pretend to be eating corn paste and fish sauce just like Peter.



author’s website (newspaper online) (Bao game from Malawi)  (craft projects)

Library List  includes books mentioned in lessons

Manners by Aliki ISBN # 0590453645
Chicken Fingers, Mac and Cheese...Why Do I Always Have to Say Please? by Wendy Rosen and Jackie End
Eyewitness Africa
by Yvonne Ayo ISBN #0-679-87334-1 

One Big Family: Sharing Life in an African Village by Ifeoma Onyefulu

City Mouse, Country Mouse retold by Alan Benjamin and illustrated by Jeffrey Severn (A Little Golden Book)
The Jet Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta ISBN # 0-88106-916-7

The Fantastic Cutaway Book of Flight by Jon Richards ISBN # 0-7613-1017-7

Take It Apart Plane by Chris Oxlade ISBN # 0-382-39667-7
Talking with Artist Volume 2 by Pat Cummings ISBN# 0-689-80310-9
The River that went to the Sky by Mary Medlicott ISBN# 1856970684 

The Mean Hyena: a Folktale from Malawi by Judy Sierra ISBN# 0525675108

Malawi by Renfield Sanders ISBN# 155546193x

African Animals ABC by Philippa-Alys Browne ISBN# 087156372x

Newspapers by David Peterson ISBN # 0-516-01702-0
The Jumbo Book of Outdoor Art
by Irene Luxbacher ISBN# 978-1-55337-680-4


Children's Stories from Africa vol. 1-3 by Nandi Nyebe ISBN# 1569942765

Songs and Fables from Africa for Children
Veggie Tales- Where’s God when I’m Scared?