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Verna Aardema

Verna Aardema Author Study

Verna Aardema was a school teacher in Michigan from 1934 to 1973. Her writing is very unique with stories full of expressive animal characters.

Many of her books have won various awards. The books that I used were all African Tales retold by Verna. This was done in conjunction with a unit on folk tales.

The children worked in literature groups with each group reading a different tale. They were given a directed reading activity and were told to:
  • Read aloud the book.
  • Work through the comprehension strategy.
  • Be ready to share the story and strategy with the class.
  • Listen for common themes and narrative techniques among the tales.

Beginning the Study

  • Introduce Verna Aardema:
    Make a poster - including picture and information about her life.
  • Introduce folk tales and discuss common features of folk tales.

Bimwili and the Zimwi

Bimwili and the Zimwi Book Cover This story from Zanzibar explains what happens when Bimwili returns to the seashore to find a shell that she has left there. She is captured by an evil Zimwi who imprisons her in his drum. Purpose of this tale is to warn children about the dangers of straying alone from the village.

Directed Reading Thinking Activities:
  • Look through the book.
  • Pay attention to the illustrations.
  • On a chart, write story predictions.
  • Read aloud the story.
  • Retell the story.
  • Check your predictions.
  • Change the predictions that are wrong.
  • Be ready to share your chart with the class.
Predictions -- Checks -- Changes
  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Beginning Event
  • Problems
  • Story Events
  • Solutions
  • Lessons

Who's in Rabbit's House?

Who's in Rabbit's House? Book Cover This Masai tale describes events that occur when Rabbit hears a big, bad voice coming from her house. Animals from the savannah stop to help, but their solutions are not sensible. Finally, Frog cleverly solves the problem. Leo and Diane Dillon illustrated the characters as actors in a play who wear animal masks.

Story Grammar Retelling:
Read aloud the book. Draw and write story grammar retelling in a big book format. Be ready to share your big book with the class.
  • Title
  • Setting and Characters
  • Beginning Event
  • Problem
  • Events
  • Actions and Outcomes
  • Solutions
  • Lessons

Princess Gorilla and a New Kind of Water

This Pourquoi tale of the Mpongwe explains why talapoins live in trees. King Gorilla finds a barrel of vinegar and decides to use the vinegar to get a strong and powerful husband for his daughter. Will the princess get to marry the gorilla of her dreams?

Sketch to Sketch:
  • Read aloud the book.
  • Draw the main story events. (Be sure to include details so the class can guess what is happening in the story.)
  • On the back of the picture, write about the story event.
  • Hang the pictures in the sequence on the board. play a game with the class.
  • Invite them to retell the story from your pictures. (Sequence and details through pictures.)

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears Book Cover This West African cumulative tale begins when Mosquito tells Iguana a tall tale. Iguana, rather than listen to Mosquito, puts sticks in his ears and that is when the problem begins

Sequence Story Maps:

Read aloud the book. Retell the story in a cause/effect map.
  • Event One - so that
  • Event Two - so that
  • Event Three - so that...etc
Be ready to share your map with the class.

What's So Funny Ketu?

This Neur tale tells about Keto who understands animal language, but may not reveal his talent to anyone. The animal conversations he hears make him laugh, and that gets him into trouble. The story provides interesting insights about African family and village life.

Active Comprehension:
  • Look through the book.
  • Pay attention to the illustrations.
  • On a chart, write come questions about the story.
  • Use story grammar elements to guide your questions.
Read aloud the story. Answer the questions. Be ready to share the questions and answers with the class.

OUR QUESTIONS --- OUR ANSWERS
Write your questions before you read. What would you like to know about the story. Write your answers after you've read the story.

Bringing the Rain to the Kapiti Plain

Bringing the Rain to the Kapiti Plain Book Cover This Nandi story uses rhyme and repetition in a cumulative pattern to teach about life and animals on the savannah. When the rains are late, Ki-pat uses an eagle feather to end the drought on the plain.

Responding to Literature:

Read aloud the book.
On a chart, write your responses to the following questions

Respond to the Text:
What are your feelings about the story?

Enter the Text:
What parts of the story make you feel that way?

Focus on the Author's Craft:
What techniques did the author use to involve you in the story?

Take a Critical Stance:
What are your opinions about the book?

Oh Kojo! How Could You?

This Ashanti tale from Ghana is a pourquoi story that explains the place of cats in Ashanti life. The story is about Ananse, a trickster, who takes advantage of Kojo, a lazy and foolish young man. After many involved events, a cat helps Kojo overcome Ananse's cleverness. Ananse appears in many African tales to teach youngsters proper behaviors.

Discussion Web:
Read aloud the story. Then, complete the following discussion map:

POINTS FOR DISCUSSION--AGREE/DISAGREE--REASON
  • Kojo was a good son.
  • Kojo was irresponsible and lazy.
  • Anansewas a clever trickster.
  • The dog was a good bargain.
  • The cat was a good bargain.
  • Tutuola was foolish to trust Kojo.
  • The dove was a good bargain.
  • Ananse's niece is dishonest.
  • The cat was more faithful than the dog.
  • Kojo was easy to trick.
  • Kojo learned lesson.

The Lonely Lioness and the Ostrich Chicks

The Lonely Lioness and the Ostrich Chicks Book Cover This Masai tale about a lonely lioness who steals an ostrich's four baby chicks and calls them her own reiterates the lesson that cleverness is the way to solve problems.

Rising-Falling Action Map:
  • Read aloud the book.
  • Retell the story in a rising action story map with illustrations.
  • Build a pyramid of sequential events.


Concluding the Study on Author Verna Aardema


  • Discuss common thread in books - African folk tales with expressive animals. All have a moral or lesson.
  • Poll the students and make a bar graph illustrating their favorite book.
  • Write a letter to the author expressing class opinions and ideas about the books they have read.
  • Dramatic Interpretation: Choose one of the stories to reenact using props and costumes.
  • Make an original class big book using Verna Aardema's style of writing/illustrating.


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