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Read the World Summer Book Club: Where Africa meets Europe!

As mentioned in this post, we’re joining in with Simple Homeschool’s Read the World Summer Book Club this year, and we’re loving it! The book recommendations in Jamie C. Martin’s book, Give Your Child the World, are sublime: there’s such diversity in the types of story she endorses and yet each and every one we’ve read so far showcase beautiful and poignant tales. What’s more, not only is there a country index, perfect if you’re doing an in-depth country study, there’s also a historical index, allowing you to select a range of books to support the historical period you’re currently studying. I hadn’t realised this at first, but this will be a huge boon to my planning for next year. However, I digress, back to this week!

The focus for this week was Africa, but as we travelled to Andalucia, in southern Spain this week (as physically close to Africa as we could get!), we also incorporated a visit to the Mezquita in Cordoba, one of the region’s most important Moorish monuments, highlighting a time when the Moors, Islamic tribes from North Africa, ruled this corner of Spain. So, where Africa meets Europe, historically speaking! OK, so maybe it’s a tenuous link, but actually it led us to the most serene and breathtakingly beautiful site I’ve ever visited: the Mezquita, one of the greatest works of Islamic architecture, combined with the stunning Cathedral, built into the centre of the old mosque when the Christians recaptured Cordoba in the 16th Century.

In my enthusiasm for this project, I did consider taking the children across on the boat to Tangiers, to experience the colour and vibrancy of the markets in the Medina, but then my sensible head kicked in and I decided that might be taking it a step too far on a week-long trip to Spain!

So, here’s what we covered in our fun week exploring Africa.

Book Selections

There are so many wonderful book recommendations for Africa that we got a little carried away this week, although we already owned quite a few from our in-depth study of South Africa. These are the books we read, either together or individually:


So many beautiful stories, but in terms of poignancy, you can’t beat 14 Cows for America, The Day Gogo Went to Vote, Journey to Jo’burg or Long Walk to Freedom. You will certainly need some tissues at hand; I guarantee there will be many tears shed.

The first tells the story of the fourteen sacred cows offered by the Maasai people to America after 9/11. “Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”

The second tells the story of a hundred-year old lady voting for the very first time with her great granddaughter in the South African elections. “This is the first time we have a chance to vote for our own leaders, and it might be my last. That is why I must vote, no matter how many miles I have to walk, no matter how long I have to stand in line.”

The third tells the inspiring story of two brave children who travel 300km on their own to Johannesburg to fetch their mother from work to help save their baby sister who is seriously ill. “Finally Naledi could stand it no longer. When they had returned with the water, she called Tiro to the back of the house and spoke bluntly. We must get Mma, or Dineo is going to die!”

Long Walk to Freedom needs no introduction and is one of those must reads. We studied Nelson Mandela in depth in our preparation for our visit to South Africa last year, but it felt good to review the life and achievements of this extraordinary individual.

On a lighter note, the story of Owen and Mzee, the unlikely friendship between a hippopotamus and an Aldabra giant tortoise, touched Bean7’s heart. He insisted on bringing their Shleich hippo and giant tortoise (renamed Owen and Mzee, obviously!) on holiday with us and they’ve been involved in many of their games.



We were lucky enough to visit South Africa last year for the children’s first safari experience. Despite an unlucky incident with the highly poisonous Transvaal scorpion, we had the most amazing and life changing holiday. There’s something about Africa that touches your soul. For the children, I think it marked the beginning of their wanderlust, opening their eyes to the beauty and enormity of the world.

As we reread many of the books we’d discovered whilst preparing for our safari holiday, the children asked if they could look at all our photos from the trip. So we took a lovely trip down memory lane and they even located the lists they’d made of the species they spotted in South Africa. I then asked them if they’d be interested in writing a poem on some aspect of their experience, and they both jumped at the opportunity.

To prepare for this, we read some of their favourite animal poems, such as The Tyger by William Blake, and used this book to see if we could find any appropriate poetry frameworks to help their writing. Bean8 was inspired by an unusual poem written from the perspective of a room, discussing what it had witnessed over the years. She wondered if she could write from the perspective of the dusty savannah ground, and went on to write this beguiling poem, drawing on her own experience:


Writing is Bean8’s favourite activity, and so she needed very little support in her poetry writing, only coming and asking for our opinion on her progress every now and then. Bean7 was very enthused about the idea of writing a poem but needed more support. The Tyger is his favourite poem (after being introduced to it in the excellent book, Running Wild, by Michael Morpurgo), so he decided to focus his poem on another awe-inspiring African big cat, the cheetah (his favourite teddy is Lily the Cheetah, so I think this may have played some part in his decision too!). I’ve found the best way to help him in his poetry writing is to provide a basic framework and then throw out a few examples to help him release his creative juices. For this poem, he used similes to aid in the description of the cheetah as she hides in the grasses, waiting for the right moment to catch her prey. Here’s his poem:




As mentioned above, we took a day trip to captivating Cordoba, once (nearly a millennium ago) the capital of Islamic Spain, after tribes moved across from North Africa to rule this southern corner of the country. The mesmerising multiarched Mezquita, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, displays Islamic architecture at its finest. In 1236, Cordoba was returned to Christian rule, but instead of destroying the mosque, they converted it instead into a church, finally adding a Gothic/Renaissance-style cathedral into the central section and reinforcing and rebuilding the minaret into a Renaissance-baroque bell tower.


The conflicts between the Muslims and Christians in Spain is an area of history we’ve covered this year, so it was an excellent opportunity for them to see first-hand such an extraordinary and important building. I suspect the site of the terracotta and white striped arches, so typical of Moorish Islamic architecture, flanking a giant crucifix will be indelibly marked in their minds. Nothing prepares you for the enormity, impressiveness and serenity of this building though. The kids were awestruck and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the excellent children’s audioguide, proudly reciting the facts they’d learned, and excitedly leaning in to try and spot specific paintings or statues mentioned in the audio. They took their First Holy Communion this year and so were particularly enamoured by the giant and ornately decorated processional monstrance on display! We even made it up the bell tower, despite my crippling fear of heights. I have to admit the view was phenomenal, even from my position clutching the inner wall for security!


We had wanted to visit the neighbouring Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Fortress of the Christian Monarchs) as this was the site where Ferdinand and Isabella made their first acquaintance with Christopher Columbus in 1486, as we’ve recently studied this great explorer. Unfortunately, it was shut in the afternoon (bad planning on my part!). We had to be content with having been close by!


Cordoba itself is a great place to explore by foot, with the gorgeous narrow streets of the old juderia (the Jewish quarter) and Muslim quarters stretching out in a maze across the city, filled with lively restaurants, bars and shops, and the tranquil Guadalquivir river flowing gracefully just below the Mezquita. If you have an opportunity to visit this alluring city, grasp it with both hands!



The Beans took the opportunity of a plane delay this week to finish drawing all the countries of Africa using this Draw Africa book, from the excellent series by Kristin J. Draeger. These books are highly recommended; they show you how to draw each continent, one country at a time, in a clear and methodical way. Here’s Bean8’s map:



This week we focussed on learning all the 54 colourful African flags from our Flags of the World game – no mean feat! We played it in the airport, in the queue to pick up our hire car and at various restaurants around Andalucia. I’m pleased to announce that they’ve finally managed to learn them all! I’m almost there, but my memory is not quite as agile as theirs, and they take great pleasure in beating me at the game! They’re looking forward to getting home and testing MrJ on his African flag knowledge!



They completed two pieces of African art this week. The first was painting a replica of a striking piece of artwork my brother brought back for me from West Africa. Their grandmother arrived and read them Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan, whilst they were busy creating, making for a blissfully happy afternoon of home ed.


For the second, they made some African masks: such a simple and fun activity. A quick search found these simple instructions and we got stuck in.

1. Punching holes for the hair
2. Cutting out eyeholes
3. Adding a nose and mouth out of twisted newspaper
4. Painting and adding distinctive white tribal markings
5. Making the hair

The finished products:


As Bean8 is currently learning how to calculate the volume of pyramids and cones in her maths, we took the opportunity to make a mini Egyptian pyramid and then calculate its volume, using the formula 1/3 (area of base x height):



On exclaiming that he was hungry (for like the millionth time that day!), I suggested they make a simple African snack: Banana Fritters. These were so simple to make and delicious to taste; the kids devoured them within minutes. We’ll definitely be making these again to appease the insatiable appetite of my little boy!

There were many other activities I had in mind for this week, such as watching the David Attenborough Africa series (my two adore Sir David), but the sun in Spain lured us outside and into long hours spent playing complicated imaginary games, poolside.

Now to next week’s focus: Europe!


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