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The Value of Children’s Literature

By Martha Crippen

Giving children access to all varieties of literature is extremely important for their success.
Educators, parents, and community members should help students develop a love and passion for
reading. Not only is reading literature important in developing cognitive skills to be able to
succeed in a school or work setting, but it is valuable for other reasons as well. Although there
are countless values in exposing children to literature, Donna Norton (2010) identifies the value
of literature for young people in her book Through the Eyes of a Child. Children’s literature is
important because it provides students with opportunities to respond to literature; it gives
students appreciation about their own cultural heritage as well as those of others; it helps
students develop emotional intelligence and creativity; it nurtures growth and development of the
student’s personality and social skills; and it transmits important literature and themes from one
generation to the next.

The first value to note is that children’s literature provides students with the opportunity to
respond to literature and develop their own opinions about the topic. This strengthens the
cognitive developmental domain as it encourages deeper thought about literature. Quality
literature does not tell the reader everything he/she needs to know; it allows for some difference
in opinion. One reader may take something completely different away from the piece of
literature than the next reader, based on the two personal viewpoints and experiences. Students
can learn to evaluate and analyze literature, as well as summarize and hypothesize about the
topic. Norton says that for children, “wordless picture books are excellent stimuli for oral and
written language” (2010, p. 9). Students reading wordless books like A Ball for Daisy (Raschka,
2011), The Yellow Umbrella (Liu, 1987), or The Red Book (Lehmann, 2004) will be able to
analyze the illustrations and develop their own dialogue for the story. This strengthens students’
cognitive functions in being able to form opinions on their own and to express themselves
through language in summarizing the plot of a wordless book.

Second, children’s literature provides an avenue for students to learn about their own cultural
heritage and the cultures of other people. It is crucial for children to learn these values because,
“developing positive attitudes toward our own culture and the cultures of others is necessary for
both social and personal development” (Norton, 2010, p. 3). In saying this, however, when
teaching students about the cultural heritage of others, one should be very careful in selecting
which books to recommend to young readers. There are many stories, some folktales, which
contain blatant stereotypes and inaccuracies about certain cultural groups. This includes books
such as Brother Eagle, Sister Sky (Jeffers, 1991), or The Rough-Face Girl (Martin, 1992). Both
of these stories depict Native Americans in a misguided way and contain misinterpretations of
what actually occurred in history. For example, the Iroquois tribe in The Rough-Face Girl
(Martin, 1992) historically lived in longhouses, but the illustrator depicts these Native Americans
as living in teepees. This is a clichéd view, and it can be very damaging in perpetuating
stereotypes if we as adults are not cautious in the books we have in our classroom and home
libraries. However, there are some children’s books that are more accurate in teaching the
cultural differences of others. A story called “Eric” from Tales from Outer Suburbia (Tan, 2009)
is a touching story about a family who takes in a foreign exchange student and must learn about
their guest and accept the differences between their cultures. It has a positive message about
encouraging acceptance of the cultural differences between people, which is something that we
want to help nurture in our students. Another book that helps discuss culture is Going Home
(Bunting, 1996), which is the story of a Mexican immigrant family with the children who were
born in the U.S. There is a difference in what “home” is for the parents and the children, and
when they take a trip to Mexico, the children realize how important their parent’s culture and
homeland is for them. Many books are available that depict culture as an important piece of
society that is to be treasured and valued, and those books can have great value for students.

Third, children’s literature helps students develop emotional intelligence. Stories have the power
to promote emotional and moral development. Children’s literature “contains numerous
moments of crisis, when characters make moral decisions and contemplate the reasons for their
decisions,” an important skill for children to see modeled (Norton, 2010, p. 34). Guji Guji (Chen,
2004), for example, is a story about a crocodile who is adopted into a family of ducks. Ultimately
he must choose between betraying his adopted family and going back to his own “species,” and
he decides to remain true to his beliefs and not betray his family. The Scar (Moundlic, 2007) is
an effective book to read with students in order to teach them about responding to grief, as it is
about a boy whose mother dies. This requires a complex level of emotional intelligence, as many
young children do not understand death. The topic of death would be more appropriate for an
older grade level, but it is an important topic to discuss with students. Another book that
encourages emotional intelligence is Selma (Bauer, 2002), which discusses what it takes for a
young sheep to be happy. It is a philosophical story within a picture book, and challenges
students to think about what happiness really is. The Big Box (Morrison, 1999) is a story about
children who have their freedom taken away by being put into a box and the deeper problems
that exist with not being given one’s freedom. Children’s literature encourages students to think
deeper about their own feelings.

Children’s literature also encourages creativity. Norton stresses “the role that literature plays in
nurturing and expanding the imagination” (2010, p. 4). The House in the Night (Swanson, 2008)
depicts the creativity that a young girl has in her dreams at night, as she flies about the dark
neighborhood on the wings of a bird. The Amazing Pop-up Music Book (Petty, 1999), Zin! Zin!
Zin! A Violin (Moss, 1995), and Look Closer: Art Masterpieces Through The Ages (Desnoettes,
2006) are imaginative and original books that encourage students to learn about music and art,
and they are engaging in their design and interactivity. Children’s literature promotes the
development of students’ internal imaginations.

Children’s literature is of value because it fosters personality and social development. Children
are very impressionable during the formative years, and children’s literature can help them
develop into caring, intelligent, and friendly people. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget
says that when students move from the pre-operational to the operational stage of cognitive
development, they become less egocentric. Whereas students in preschool and kindergarten may
be entirely focused on themselves, as students grow older they begin to take into account the
feelings and viewpoints of others. Being able to understand other people’s viewpoints and to not
be selfish are important skills that adults must nurture in children, as Norton says that
“acceptable relationships require an understanding of the feelings and viewpoints of others”
(2010, p. 27). Children’s literature can foster social development by encouraging students to
accept other people and their differences. Books like And Tango Makes Three (Parnell &
Richardson, 2005), Molly’s Family (Garden, 2004), Heather Has Two Mommies (Newman &
Souza, 1989) and Daddy’s Roommate (Wilhoite, 2000) present situations that might encourage
students to become more open-minded to different types of families and understand that love is
the most important thing in a family. Children’s literature can also encourage students to develop
relationships with people, encouraging social contact. An atypical friendship is depicted in Loop
the Loop (Dugan, 1992), where a young child and an elderly person become good friends and
share the common joy of playing with yo-yo’s. In A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
(Frazee, 2008), the boys learn to think of the needs of others when they build a diorama for the
grandpa who is fascinated with penguins. Literature encourages students to be considerate and
friendly people, and these traits may be consistent with developing students into quality citizens.

Finally, children’s literature is of value because it is a timeless tradition, one in which “books are
the major means of transmitting our literary heritage from one generation to the next” (Norton,
2010, p. 3). Classic stories like Dr. Seuss’ And to Think That I Heard it on Mulberry Street
(Geisel, 1989) and The Cat in the Hat (Geisel, 1957) are important books to read to children
because of their literary heritage. For a younger audience, children could build their cognitive
and language skills through exposure to Mother Goose rhymes. One example of a good
collection of these classic rhymes is Hey Diddle Diddle and Other Mother Goose Rhymes
(dePaola, 1998). Children in older grades can learn to appreciate the classic plays and messages
of William Shakespeare in picture books that aim to make the plays more accessible. Many
versions of Shakespeare’s works are available in abridged and picture book formats, including
Romeo and Juliet (Coville, 1999) and The Tempest (Mayer, 2005). Children are only young for a
short time, and so we must give them access to a basic literary heritage of timeless books.
Quality children’s literature has the great power to captivate audiences for many generations.

Children’s literature is extremely valuable in both the school setting and at home. Teachers and
parents should both be able to differentiate between quality and mediocre literature, in order to
give students access to the best books to encourage these important values of literature and
considering developmental domains. Children’s literature is valuable in providing an opportunity
to respond to literature, as well as cultural knowledge, emotional intelligence and creativity,
social and personality development, and literature history to students across generations.
Exposing children to quality literature can contribute to the creation of responsible, successful,
and caring individuals.


Bauer, S. (2002). Selma. La Jolla, CA: Kane Miller Book Publishers, Inc.

Bunting, E. (1996). Going home. NY: HarperCollins.

Chen C – Y. (2004). Guji Guji. La Jolla, CA: Kane Miller Book Publishers, Inc.

Coville, B., reteller, & Nolan, D. (1999). William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. NY: Dial
dePaola, T., reteller. (1998). Hey diddle diddle and other Mother Goose rhymes. NY: Puffin.

Desnoettes, C. (2006). Look closer: Art masterpieces through the ages. NY: Walker & Company.

Dugan, B., & Stevenson, J. (1992). Loop the loop. NY: Greenwillow Books.

Frazee, M. (2008). A couple of boys have the best week ever. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.

Garden, N., & Wooding, S. (2004). Molly’s family. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Geisel, T. (1989). And to think I heard it on Mulberry Street. NY: Random House.

Geisel, T. (1957). The cat in the hat. NY: Random House.

Jeffers, S. (1991). Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. NY: Dial.

Lehmann, B. (2004). The red book. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Liu, J. S. (1987). The yellow umbrella. La Jolla, CA: Kane Miller Book Pub.

Martin, R., reteller, & Shannon, D. (1992). The rough-face girl. NY: G. P. Putnam Sons.

Mayer, M., reteller, & Bywaters, L. (2005). William Shakespeare’s the tempest. San Francisco,
CA: Chronicle Books.

Morrison, T., & Potter, G. (1999). The big box. NY: Jump at the Sun.

Moss, L., & Priceman, M. (1995). Zin! Zin! Zin! A violin. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Moundlic, C., & Tallec, O. (2007). The scar. Somervillle, MA: Candlewick Press.

Newman, L., & Souza, D. (1989). Heather has two mommies. Boston, MA: Alyson Wonderland.

Norton, D., & Norton, S. (2010). Through the eyes of a child: An introduction to children’s
literature (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Prentice-Hall.

Parnell, P., Richardson, J., & Cole, H. (2005). And Tango makes three. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Petty, K., & Maizels, J. (1999). The amazing pop-up music book. NY: Dutton Children’s Books.

Raschka, C. (2011). A ball for Daisy. NY: Schwartz & Wade Books.

Swanson, S. M., & Krommes, B. (2008). The house in the night. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin,

Tan, S. (2009). Eric in S. Tan (2009), Tales from outer suburbia. NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.
Wilhoite, M. (2000). Daddy’s roommate. Boston, MA: Alyson Wonderland.
Oneota Reading Journal maintained by Travis Huinker. Page last updated on 6 November 2017.

10 Ways to Use Poetry in Your Classroom

By: Keith Schoch

From activating prior knowledge to exploring language to capturing character, discover ten ways
to integrate poetry into your language, reading, and writing lessons.


Using Poetry to Teach Reading

Literature-Based Teaching in Science: Poetry Walks
Reading Poetry with English Language Learners
Often when I mention poetry during a workshop, at least one teacher laments, "I would love to
do more poetry with students, but there's so much else to teach in my curriculum!" What I try to
encourage (and I'm often helped big time by the workshop participants) is for this teacher to
consider using poetry within her curriculum, as an integral part of her language, reading, and
writing lessons, rather than as an add-on. In other words, I ask her to find a purpose for poetry.

Now, before you poetry purists flame me and cry out, "Poetry is in itself worth reading!" let me
explain that I agree with you. I fondly recall organizing poetry picnics in third grade, where we
would spread sheets and blankets on the field adjacent to the school playground and share
favorite poems as we munched on morning snacks. So yes, I believe in poetry for its own sake.
But at the same time, I'm a realist. Many of us find it increasingly difficult to allocate the time to
read poetry for its own sake; we would, in fact, like to discuss it beyond the month of April
without needing an excuse or (shudder) a learning objective.

So increasingly it seems that while teachers can name lots of good reasons for using poetry with
children at an early age, they still wonder how they can continue to integrate poetry in later
grade levels. I offer a few suggestions below. And even if you can't get through my ten reasons,
do take the time to explore the recommended sites and resources appearing at the close of this
post. I could in no way do justice to all the fantastic poetry books that are available, so I
encourage you to share your favorite title in the comments section below.

1. Activate prior knowledge

Students are most receptive to new learning when they can connect it to what they already
know. Poetry provides a quick and fun way to do this.

Recommended texts

The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons

by Sid Farrar and illustrated by Ilse Plume

This text presents students with vignettes of each season in the signature haiku 5-7-5 syllable,
three line form, focusing upon nature with a surprising perspective. Each month is represented
by its own poem, and students can write their own after determining what makes a poem a
haiku. Students can also unearth the literary devices employed by Farrar such as personification,
metaphor, alliteration, and simile. A sample from the book:

Lawns call a truce with

mowers and slip beneath their
white blankets to sleep.

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys

by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Guyku stays true to the form and function of haiku, with each poem offering a
funny twist in the final line. Apart from pure enjoyment, this book shows
students (especially some of your hard to motivate boys) that poetry can be
simple and straight forward and even fun. in "why I wrote Guyku," Raczka says, "When I was a
boy, I didn't even know what a haiku was. But I did spend a lot of time outside with my friends.
Nature was our playground, and we made the most of it — catching bugs, climbing trees,
skipping stones, throwing snowballs. Now … I realize that haiku is a wonderful form of poetry for
guys like us. Why? Because a haiku is an observation of nature, and nature is a place where
guys love to be." A sample from the book:
If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.

2. Establish theme
Teaching with a theme and its accompanying guiding questions isn't new to most of us, and the
majority of teachers maintain a ready repertoire of methods to establish themes for classroom
novels or other literature units (see some ideas and a huge list of Universal Themes in my How
to Teach a Novel Handout). The perfect poem, however, can lead to a wonderful writing
reflection or discussion that allows students to construct the theme and essential questions for

Recommended sites and texts for theme

 The Children's Poetry Archive groups poems by themes, and my class always enjoys reflecting
upon poems about death since, after all, every novel we read seems to be about death! Many
poems on this site are read aloud by their authors, and my students especially love
hearing The Carrion Crow read aloud.

 A common theme in upper elementary and middle school novels is Change. Encourage an in-
depth study of Change using Paul Janeczko's examination of Nothing Gold Can Stay in his new
Heinemann title Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades. This highly recommended book features
20 thought-provoking poems from contemporary writers, with extensive lesson plans which
help students to better understand each poem, and to apply it to other texts and their own

 Students can compose and publish their own poems using the Theme Poems interactivefrom

3. Explore language
If you're anything like me, you struggle to teach students grammar in way that is motivational or
memorable. How many of us can recall learning our parts of speech and verb forms in deadly
dull exercise books? While drill and example books might have a place in instruction, I'd
recommend some verse to liven up the process of language learning.

Recommended sites
 If you're seeking to help students learn parts of speech, check out the Language
Adventures from Gibbs Smith. These highly engaging and hilarious books focus on discrete
parts of speech through the incorporation of rhyme and humor, and later editions contain
learning activities, definitions, and reproducibles related to the book's topics. Answer keys and
additional activities can be accessed at author Rick Walton's website. There Rick offers some
wonderful language learning activities (your lesson plan for next week might just be waiting
for you there), as well as an amazing assortment of ideas for using his picture books (over
fifty in print!).

 At The Poem Farm, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater shares wonderful original poems and teaching
ideas. One of my favorites is Getting Dressed, a wonderful poem featuring personification. In
addition to the many poems she shares on the site, you can have her work for your very own
in her newly published collection of poems titled Forest Has a Song. In addition to the
resources at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's site, you can also download a Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt Poetry Activity Kit, featuring ideas for "Forest Has a Song" as well as several other
poems from HMH titles.

 Finally, check out this Figurative Language lesson on personification and alliteration from

Recommended books

Alphabest: The Zany, Zanier, Zaniest Book about Comparatives and Superlatives
by Helaine Becker

This probably isn't a poetry book, since each page contains just three words (such as Fuzzy,
Fuzzier, Fuzziest) but it reads like poetry, and helps kids understand how adjectives can be
changed to compare two or more things. Author Helaine Becker sets the scene in a busy
amusement park, and illustrator Dave Whamond delivers the goods with his spirited and wacky
illustrations. Students can likewise choose a single adjective, and create images to illustrate its
comparative and superlative forms.

Noisy Poems for a Busy Day

by Robert Heidbreder and Lori Joy Smith

Looking for poems with onomatopoeia? Check out Noisy Poems for a Busy Day by Robert
Heidbreder and Lori Joy Smith. Short and fun, and easily replicated by students. Collect all your
students' poems and create your own Busy Day anthology!

4. Focus on facts
Creating poetry is a wonderful way for students to share information they learned through class
or independent study. What's fantastic about poetry is that it can bring life to otherwise dry and
lifeless facts!

I can recall assigning fourth grade students to create poems for mathematical operations, and as
a class creating couplets describing the most important names, places, events, and dates for the
American Revolution. Students are incredibly receptive to these challenges! So after checking out
some of the examples below, be sure to devise your own lessons to have students write
informational poems in class as well.

Recommended texts

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors

by Hena Khan

In this book Hena Khan introduces young readers to the world of Islam by describing its colors
and traditions in simple rhymes. Each poem serves as a definition, and the terms introduced are
explained in greater detail in the book's end. Mehrdokht Amini's gorgeous bright and intricate
illustrations make this book itself a treasure, perfect for reading with groups or sharing on a
parent's lap. A sample from the book:
Gold is the dome of the mosque,
big and grand.
Beside it two towering
minarets stand.

Animology: Animal Analogies

by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Cathy Morrison

Animology introduces students to word relationships (also known as analogies) through the
simplest of rhymes. Bold, full spread pictures show realistic depictions of the animals in their
natural settings. Like all Sylvan Dell books, this one includes the "For Creative Minds" follow-up
activities in the back of book, which can also be accessed at the publisher's site, along with an e-
book preview, a video trailer, a 48 page teaching guide, and other resources.

Hey Diddle Diddle: A Food Chain Tale

by Sylvan Dell

This book features a wealth of support materials for classroom instruction (see the menu bar to
the right on this page). In catchy rhyme, author Pam Kapchinske describes the the animals and
complex relationships which make up a food web, the circle of life, and more specifically the
ecosystem on a pond and forest habitat. Sherry Rogers' images capture each animal playing its
part in this ongoing natural cycle.

5. Set a scene
Before launching a science, social studies, or math unit, I often used poetry to set the scene. The
poems I chose from myriad books would spark discussion, curiosity, and prior knowledge,
ultimately building excitement and anticipation for the new unit. If only all textbooks were nearly
as engaging!

Recommended texts

Water Sings Blue

by Meilo So

So, provides the denizens of the deep with their own voices, priming student curiosity about life
in the ocean. One of my favorites is the poem "Old Driftwood," wherein this artifact is described
as a "gnarled sailor" … "telling of mermaids/ and whales thi-i-i-s big/ to all the attentive/
astonished twigs." Another sample from the book:

Sea Urchin

The sea urchin fell in love with a fork.

With a tremble of purple spines,
she told her mother, "He's tall, not a ball,
but just look at his wonderful tines!
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night
by Rick Allen

This book is a perfect poetry/informational text companion to Poppy or any other novel that
takes place in the forest. Each of Joyce Sidman's wonderful poems about the nocturnal world of
the woods is accompanied by a fact-filled sidebar, exploring the creatures described in the
poems and in Rick Allen's beautiful relief print illustrations. The title poem in part reads:
"Perched missile, almost invisible, you preen silent feathers, swivel your sleek satellite dish of a

This small excerpt gives you an idea of the book's sophisticated verse! The author cleverly
formatted the poem "Dark Emperor" in the shape of an owl, and if your students are interested
in creating concrete poetry like this, you might find that shape templates are a good way to get
started. And if you're not familiar with Avi's novel Poppy, be sure to check it out! Boys find it
easy to root for this strong female character because "she is, after all, a mouse."

6. Inspire writing
If you're seeking ways to get students writing, poetry is an effective vehicle to transport them to
success. Take the opportunity to preview Poetry Mentor Texts online at the Stenhouse site; you'll
be amazed at the simple steps to sophisticated writing using the lesson ideas presented there. In
addition to Poetry Mentor Texts inspiring students to write their own verse, this book will also
provide you with ideas for using poetry as a creative response format for other disciplines as

Poetry shouldn't be just a part of the language arts curriculum. It offers another way to
communicate and demonstrate our understanding of a concept in content areas. It is a method
for deepening comprehension and developing a level of empathy and knowledge that can be
applied to real-world situations. Poetry can be used to informally assess science and math. It can
help students link content areas.

Recommended site
In an earlier post, I discussed writing "Valentines for Vermin" using Vulture Verses: Love Poems
for the Unloved as a mentor text. The book closes with a request: "So many cards to write! So
many animal friends! I may need some help. Do you know someone who is misunderstood? Will
you help me write friendship notes, too?" Such a fantastic suggestion! Working in pairs or teams,
students can research basic facts about other unloved animals that "scuttle, slither, buzz, and
sting." A really fun and stress free way to get students writing creatively, with results which
they'll be eager to share with others.

Recommended texts

Casey Back at Bat

by Dan Gutman

Students can extend or rewrite or revisit favorite or famous poems. In Casey Back at Bat, sports
writer Dan Gutman revisits the classic American poem (the picture book version illustrated by
Max Payne is one of my favorites). Choose similar narrative poems, and challenge students to
extend them, revise them, or "answer them" with poems of their own.

ABCs of Poetry
by Avis Harley

If you're seeking inspirations for students to write poetry in a number of forms, you'll be amazed
and delighted to read Fly with Poetry: An ABC of Poetry or Leap Into Poetry: More ABCs of
Poetry. First, it's amazing that author/illustrator Avis Harley has found enough poem forms to
write and illustrate not just one but two ABC collections, and second, she's done it by focusing
solely on the topic of insects! So she not only presents and explains the poetry forms in detail,
but these mentor texts teach students wonderful facts about dozens of creatures that crawl,
climb, and fly as well. Extensions using other animal species are possible, although I can see
these form poems being applied to almost any subject area.

Monster Goose
by Judy Sierra

Students love the idea of fractured fairy tales, so a book like Monster Gooseby Judy Sierra is
certain to be hit. The author's creepy and comedic new versions of classic childhood rhymes will
inspire your students to want to create the same. After sharing a few poems such as Humpty
Dumpty (below), provide students with a collection of unrevised rhymes, and see where their
imaginations can take them. See, too, if their accompanying illustrations can be as entertaining
as those of Jack E. Davis, illustrator extraordinaire of Bedhead fame. Davis not only captures a
key moment of each poem, but also cleverly establishes and then breaks the borders of each
illustration, creating an off-the-page effect.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty swam in the sea

Humpty's sunscreen was SPF-3.
Because he was so lightly oiled,
Dear Humpty ended up hard-boiled.

7. See new perspectives

One of poetry's transcendent powers is its ability to refocus, if not totally transform, our point of
view. It's far too simple for students (and teachers!) to lose themselves in their egocentric
viewpoints, and fail to consider issues from another perspective. Poetry open students' eyes to
new ways of seeing.

Recommended texts

Make Magic! Do Good!

by Dallas Clayton

A quirky and crazy collection of verses that collectively encourage readers to see the best in
themselves, in others, and in every situation. So much of modern day communication relies upon
snark and sarcasm, it's refreshing to find poems that are open and honest and encouraging,
while at the same time remaining zany and random, which kids also appreciate. I also think that
the way the book cover turns into a poster is a pretty cool twist!

Paul Revere's Ride

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Perspective, or point of view, plays a huge role in history and its interpretation. Although not
entirely accurate in historic detail, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Midnight Ride of Paul
Revere remains a classic of American Literature. Check out this previous post where I discuss
several picture versions of the text, and the unique perspective supplied by each.

Dogs Rule!
by Daniel Kirk

In Daniel Kirk's Dogs Rule! and his later Cat Power!, the author/illustrator profiles some of the
furriest and funniest heroes of each species. See my Words and Images in Perfect Harmony post
for more details, as well as teaching suggestions.

Book of Animal Poetry

by National Geographic

The National Geographic's Book of Animal Poetry is wonderful in that it often features multiple
poems for a single animal. The zebra and the pig, for instance, are both celebrated by four
different poets. Examining the poems, students can discuss what facts and features each poet
chose to discuss. In what ways are their poems alike? Different? Older students can even
attempt to identify the poem form used by each writer. After reading some of the examples in
this book from both classic and contemporary writers, students can then try their own hand at
describing animals both foreign and familiar. Such poems are an excellent addition to those
animal reports and presentations which many teachers already include in their curriculum.

8. Ignite curiosity
Much has been said in educational texts about inquiry learning. From my own experiences,
however, I find that students are naturally inquisitive, and there's not much more we need to do
but focus their natural curiosity. Poetry can do this!

Recommended texts
A Strange Place to Call Home
by Marilyn Singer

This is an intriguing exploration into diverse and unique habitats of the world. In the preface, the
author explains: "Extreme environments such as deserts, glaciers, salt lakes, and pools of oil
may not seem appealing, yet in these places, there is often less competition and more safety
from predators. So over time, a variety of animals have adapted to these challenging conditions.
This collection of poems celebrates some of these great adapters and the risky places where they
live." End notes give further explanation of each animal and its adaptations to its specialized
niche, along with notes about the poetry forms employed for each piece. Below is a sample
poem, written in sonnet form:

Top of the World

mountain goats

Atop a rocky peak, the air is pure,

but the wind blows fierce and the climb is steep.
Each step must be confident and so sure,
there's little need to look before you leap.
The ice, the snow, the winter's biting cold
require a cozy, insulated coat.
What animal lives here, hardy and bold?
Behold this king of cliffs, the mountain goat!
Feasting in springtime on grass that is lush,
avoiding in summer the sun's blazing rays.
Browsing in autumn on stubborn dry brush,
learning to deal with the year's hardest days.
Living where enemies cannot intrude,
it succeeds indeed at this altitude.

World Rat Day

by J. Patrick Lewis

A fun collection of unusual but authentic holidays, celebrated here in verse. Where else could you
learn about Cow Appreciation Day, Limerick Day, or Chocolate-Covered Anything Day? Students
will enjoy researching these and other wacky holidays, and even inventing their own to
commemorate people, places, and events that are important to them. (See a video trailer
here at the Candlewick Press site).

9. Provide pleasure
Okay, so you may think I cheated on this one. After all, I'm supposed to be giving you purposes
for using poetry. But if we can't convince our students that one of reading's purest functions is
pleasure, then I don't think we've really done our job.

So many poems and books of poems exist to fill this classification that I won't even begin to list
them all here. So if you have a favorite poem or book you read with students for pleasure,
please share it in the comments section below!

Recommended texts
A Dog is a Dog
by Stephen Shaskan

This book is an incredibly simple, yet funny and clever book about a dog who may not be a dog
at all, but perhaps instead a cat … or is it a squid? … or a moose? This crazy dog sheds one
disguise after another, and who knows what he'll be next? It's short, fun, and you'd better be
prepared to read it more than once, although its simplicity, meter, and rhyme make it easily
accessible to independent beginning readers. Also be sure to check out the cool stuff on the
author's site.

Recommended sites
Do you have older students who are obsessed with zombies? The Zombie Haiku site offers a
unique twist on this traditional poetry form, with submissions from famous contemporary
authors, as well as poetry "fakes" by greats of the past.

10. Capture character

Most of us have assigned biography reports, only later to be disappointed when some students
fail to capture the greatness of the men and women they studied. What's awesome about
biographical poems is that they encapsulate the essence of what makes a person's life
memorable and meaningful.

Recommended sites
Use the The Explorers' Graveyard lesson plan for sharing facts and findings when reading
biographies. Again, the aim here is to get to what's worth knowing about this famous person.If
you're looking for a funnier take of epitaphs, I recommend Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely
Humorous Verses by J. Patrick Lewis (yes, him again!), and illustrated by Simon Bartram. The
hilarious and revealing tombstone tidings capture in the most clever way the humor of many
professions. Take this one, for instance, written for a Book Editor:

Miss Spellings
Exclamation points
Were myriad!!!
She live on the margin.
And died.

Recommended texts

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders

by J. Patrick Lewis

A satisfying mix of heroes and heroines from the world-wide struggle for human rights. Familiar
names such as Jackie Robinson, Harvey Milk, and Mohandas Gandhi share the pages with new
discoveries such as Sylvia Mendez (Mexican-American-Purto Rican civil rights leader),
Muhammad Yunus (Bangladeshi banker), and Dennis Banks (Cofounder of the American Indian
Movement and Anishinabe political activist). Several artists collaborate to illustrate the poems,
which can also lead to a discussion of what each artist chose to represent the whole of a person's
life in a single image. For more teaching ideas integrating these poems with informational
writing, see the related post at Two Writing Teachers blog.
Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans
by J. Patrick Lewis

These poems are notable in that they capture the content of each person's character, rather then
the rote facts of his or her life. John Thompson's realistically rendered illustrations help to make
this title a standout.

Recommended online tools for writing poetry

 My top pick is Instant Poetry Forms, which allows students to enter prompted words and
verses in order to form (you guessed it!) instant poetry. Some of the forms are purely creative
and student-centered, while others allow students to enter researched information (such as
data on an early explorer) to create nonfiction verse. An excellent way to encourage your
poetry-phobic students (usually the boys!). Each prompt generator includes an example of a
finished poem in that style, so students can get a good idea of how the finished poem might

 Rhyme Brain isn't just another rhyming site; instead, it has three functions: rhyme creator,
alliteration creator, and portmanteau creator. The results for the latter two tools are pretty
impressive, and lend themselves to some real playfulness with language.

 Poetry Splatter is a decent site for reluctant or struggling writers. Students are offered limited
words to complete template poems. The results are fairly closed ended, but this might be a
good place to start for those students who struggle to generate poems wholly on their own.

 At the PBS NewsHour Extra Poetry site, students can write poems based on current events
using the poetry forms and examples found there.

 At WriteRhymes, it's as easy as "As you write, hold the alt key and click on a word to find a
rhyme for it … " That's it. You can Copy, Save, or Print from the site.

Recommended resources for poetry month

 Stenhouse Publishing has compiled a wonderful collection of poetry lesson plans and teaching
ideas from about a dozen of their best-selling professional resources. Check out the Poetry
Sampler, available as a pdf download directly from the publisher.

 ReadWriteThink is a go-to resource if you're seeking poetry lesson plans complete with
interactive or printable components. From the search page, you can narrow down the 285
results by grade level, resource type, or popularity.

 If needed, here's an extensive glossary of poetry terms. I wish each term was accompanied by
an example, but a good place to start regardless. If you can't find a term there, then you can
likely find it in this Glossary of Poetic Terms.

 Bruce Lansky books and teaching ideas at Poetry Teachers. Sixteen poetry categories, fun
ways to get students writing, and poetry theater (poems to download in read-aloud theater

 The Children's Poetry Archive is a wonderful collection of poems selected just for children, and
read by their creators.
 For older students (middle school and up), The Virtualit Interactive Poetry Tutorial features
three study poems, as well as extensive online aids including Elements of
Poetry(understanding language), Cultural Contexts (social, political, and economic currents)
and Critical Approaches (literary criticism).

 Tweenverse is a fun collection of poems by Richard Thomas. No activities included here, but
you'll several of these to be perfect as mentor texts for helping students write verse to reflect
on their own experiences. See Summer Camp Souvenirs or Brother Trouble for a quick idea of
what you'll find there.

 The Poets.org Educator Site provides teaching tips, popular poems to share, curriculum units
and lesson plans, and suggestions for Poetry Month.

 Poetry for Tough Guys features poems written by Steven Micciche, mostly aimed at guys.
Don't worry; it's still kid appropriate! Perhaps a good stop for reluctant boys to gain entry into

Keith Schoch is an educator, presenter, and advocate for reading. This article was published on
his blog, Teaching with Picture Books. He also shares resources and recommendations through
two other blogs: Teaching that Sticks and How to Teach a Novel.

How the Leopard Got His Claws

author: Chinua Achebe
illustrator: Mary GrandPre
In the beginning, all the animals lived as friends. Their king, the leopard, was strong but gentle and wise. Only Dog had
sharp teeth, and only he scoffed at the other animals’ plan to build a common shelter for resting out of the rain. But when
Dog is ? ooded out of his own cave, he attacks the leopard and takes over as king. And it is then, after visiting the
blacksmith’s forge and knocking on Thunder’s door, that the angry leopard returns to regain his throne by the menace of
his own threatening new claws. In a riveting fable for young readers about the potency and dangers of power taken by
force, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, author of THINGS FALL APART, evokes themes of liberation and justice that echo his
seminal novels about post-colonial Africa. Glowing with vibrant color, Mary GrandPré’s expressive and action filled
paintings bring this unforgettable tale to dramatic life.
From Chinua Achebe, father of modern African literature, comes a vivid fable about power and freedom.

suggested retail price (U.S./CAN): isbn-10/isbn-13:

$16.99 / $19.00 0763648051 / 9780763648053
on sale date: type/format:
09/2011 Picture Books / Hardback
age range: # of pages/size:
7 yrs - 10 yrs 40 / 9 3/4" x 11 5/16"
grade range:
Grade 2 - Grade 5
Animals; Fairy Tales & Folklore;

author’s comments:
Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. An early career in radio ended abruptly in the national upheaval that led to
the Biafran war, during which Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various
diplomatic missions. In 1971, while also serving as editor of the Heinemann African Writers series, he helped to found the
immensely influential literary magazine Okike. Achebe is now the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and
Professor of African Studies at Brown University. He has lectured widely, receiving many honors from around the world,
including the Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and honorary doctorates from more than
thirty institutions. He is the recipient of Nigeria's highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit
Award. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. He was also awarded the 2010 Dorothy and Lillian
Gish Prize, which recognizes cultural figures for having “an unprecedented impact in their chosen fields.”
illustrator’s comments:
Mary GrandPré is perhaps best known for her jacket illustrations for the U.S. editions of the Harry Potter series. The
illustrator of Phyllis Root’s Lucia and the Lightand numerous other picture books, she also worked on scenery development
for the animated film Antz and has done illustrations for top editorial and advertising clients. She lives in Sarasota, Florida.

A Role for Children’s Literature

Michelle Ann Abate is an associate professor of English at Hollins University in Virginia. Her most
recent book is “Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political Conservatism.”
UPDATED DECEMBER 26, 2010, 7:00 PM
While the popularity of somber young adult books like “The Hunger Games” trilogy have raised
questions about the nature of current narratives for young readers, children’s literature has long
engaged with weighty cultural issues, complex sociopolitical concerns, and even graphic violence.

The iconoclastic nature of young adult literature began in the 1960s,

with writers tackling subjects once forbidden.
Such elements permeate even the Victorian era, commonly credited with romanticizing children and
“sanitizing” children’s literature. “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland,” “The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” all are loaded with social commentary and
sharp political satire.

That said, the tone and content of children’s literature did experience a transformation in the 1960s
and 1970s. Fueled by societal beliefs that adults ought to be more honest and open with children,
new narratives began pushing the boundaries of acceptable themes and suitable subject matters.

Once-taboo topics like violence in S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” (1967), sexuality in books like Judy
Blume’s “Forever” (1975), and death in Katherine Paterson’s “Bridge to Terabithia” (1977) became
increasingly acceptable. Because many of these books addressed what were considered “social
problems” (juvenile delinquency or adolescent sexuality) they were deemed “problem novels;” and
because many were aimed at a teenage audience, they were deemed "young adult" novels. Thus the
young adult genre has been linked with social, political, and cultural concerns ever since.

The iconoclastic nature of young adult literature continues to this day. Fueled by boutique presses,
the growth of niche markets, and promotion and sales opportunities on the Internet, books for
children of all ages — not just those considered “young adult” — now discuss topics which had
previously been ignored or even forbidden. With subjects ranging from marijuana use in Ricardo
Cortés's picture book “It’s Just a Plant” to oral sex in Alex Sanchez’s novel “Rainbow Boys,” these
books push the boundaries of children’s literature in daring directions.

Some parents, teachers and critics praise the steady turn toward realism in children’s literature,
celebrating efforts to be more honest with young people. Others, however, are alarmed by it.
As I discuss in “Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political
Conservatism,” a growing sense among many that books for younger readers have become
increasingly liberal (in every sense of that word) has sparked a countermovement. And that has given
rise to a sub-genre of works ranging from William Bennett’s anthology “The Book of Virtues” to Bill
O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor for Kids” to the “Left Behind” series for kids — which aims to offset
what they see as the alarmingly graphic, excessively permissive, and plainly “left-wing” agenda of
contemporary children’s books by conveying more “traditional” values and conservative political

This struggle over the role of children’s literature is not new. Since the appearance of works for
young readers, authors, parents and critics have debated these questions: Is the role of these books
to educate young people about the world in which they live, including its unpleasant aspects. Or, is it
their responsibility to shield children from such elements? Our answer depends on our social
perception of children and the cultural construction of childhood.

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The Roles of Children's Literature in the

Primary Grades
Posted on 03/18/2014 at 01:21 PM by Global Reach
The Roles of Children’s Literature in the Primary Grades
By: Frank Serafini and Lindsey Moses

Blog Written By: Teresa Murray, NWAEA Instructional/CIM Coach


Ten Ways Children’s Literature can be

Integrated into the Beginning Reading Workshop
1. Children’s Literature as a Space for Thoughtful Discussion:

Texts teachers read to students can be more complex than the texts students read
independently. The interactive read-aloud allows opportunities for teachers to introduce new types
of stories and information and allows readers to share their ideas and learn from others.

2. Children’s Literature as a Catalyst for Building a Community of Readers:

Teachers can engage students in thoughtful dialog about important topics such s bullying or
making a difference. Book clubs, literature discussion groups, and book talks are all great
opportunities for building a community of readers through student-led interactions and conversation.

3. Children’s Literature as a Vicarious Experience:

Children’s literature provides a platform for children to experience people, places, and
circumstances that they may not be able to experience in real life. This helps foster tolerance and
acceptance in our children.

4. Children’s Literature for Developing Curiosity and Imagination:

Reading aloud to children and letting them discuss what they have visualized during the
read-aloud fosters imagination and supports for the understanding of text and the world around

5. Children’s Literature as Example of Language Play:

Reading aloud stories with a whimsical language encourages students to explore ways to
experiment with oral and written language

6. Children’s Literature for Developing Narrative Competencies:

Wordless picture books develop a sense of story and the various ways that narratives work.
7. Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts for Writing:

“Reading like a writer” is a phrase surrounding the use of mentor texts in reading
and writing workshops. Mentor texts can encourage children in their own writing and enjoyment.

8. Children’s Literature for Developing a Sense of Being a Reader:

The challenges of reading can be highlighted to help students deal with the
complexities of the reading process. Literature enables students to share their own concerns and
successes in a relatively risk-free environment.

9. Children’s Literature as a Way of Coming to Know the World:

Informational texts spark curiosity, encourage further reading and research, and
answer many questions students pose.

10. Children’s Literature as a Way of Developing Reading Abilities:

Teachers can demonstrate proficient reading through think-alouds making available

their questioning and meaning-making strategies during the act of reading

Historical Background

Thimlich s literally refers to a “frightening dense forest” in Dholuo language, a Nilotic group who occupy the
region. The stone structure enclosure has walls ranging from 1.0 to 4.2 meters in height were built of loose stones
and blocks without any dressing or mortar. Archaeological record of materials found within the site goes beyond
500 years ago. Since the present inhabitants of the area arrived probably some three centuries ago, it seems most
likely that Bantus who initially occupied this region prior to the arrival of Luos first built the stone structures.
Abundant rocks on the hilly areas provided them with building materials to meet their security requirements.

Subsequently communities that moved into this region in the period 15th to 19th centuries carried out repair work
and modification on the structures. However, all these episodes of occupation and repair did not interfere with the
architecture and preservation of the structures. During the first quarter of the twentieth century abandonment of
Ohingnis started en mass. No more stone structures were constructed and consequently some stone structures were
reduced to mere traces of circumferences or disappeared altogether. Thimlich Ohinga is one of the few stone
structures that survived.

Records shows that the first written document on the site was done by Neville Chittick, former Director of

the British Institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa in the sixties while National Museums of Kenya
researchers began working at this site in 1980. By then the site was referred to as ?Liare Valley? after the valley to
the northeast of the hill. Continuing work led to the gazettement of the site as a National Monument in 1981 under
its present name Thimlich Ohinga, since its previous name did not describe the exact location of the site. Thimlich
strategic location forms a perfect stopover for those on their way to or from the nearby Ruma National Game Park,
Gogo falls or the Macalder gold mines.

Geographical Location
Thimlich Ohinga a unique architectural stone structure situated in Nyanza province 181 km south of Kisumu in
Migori district. The site lies on a gentle sloping hill some 46-km northwest of Migori town near Macalder?s Mines.
Its exact geographical location on map is at grid reference 019 474 on sheet number 129/4.

himlich Ohinga is complex of stone-built ruins in Migori county, Western Kenya, in East Africa.[1] It is
one of 138 sites containing 521 stone structures that were built around the Lake Victoria region in
Kenya.[citation needed] The main enclosure of Thimlich Ohinga has walls that vary from 1.0 to 3 meters in
thickness, and 1 to 4.2 meters in height.[2] The structures were built from undressed blocks, rocks,
and stonesset in place without mortar.[2] The densely packed stones interlock. The site is believed to
be more than 550 years old.[3] The area is occupied the Luo people. 'Thimlich' means "frightening
dense forest" in Dholuo, the language of the Luo.[2][3] 'Ohinga' plural 'Ohingni' means "a large fortress"
in (Dholuo)


 1Inhabitants and architectural style

 2Etymology
 3Location
 4Conservation
 5References
 6External links

Inhabitants and architectural style[edit]

A people who spoke a Bantu language possibly proto-Luhya/ Gusii inhabited the area for a time
before they mysteriously vacated sometime right before, during or after the expansion of the Luo into
the area. The Kisii (who live near Thimlich Ohinga) and the Maragoli, Bunyore (two branches of
the Luhya people) descend from three men called Gusii, Mulogoli and Anyore respectively. These
three men were the sons of a man called Andimi. The Maragoli, Kisii and BaNyore people settled
this part of South-West Kenya sometime in the 13th or 14th century before the arrival of the Luo
people 300 years ago.[2] After the expansion of the Luo into the area, who were more numerous at
the time, the three ethnicities formally split into three, with the Kisii heading south and the Maragoli
(or Valogooli/ Balogooli) and the Banyore (or Vanyole) heading back north.
Migrants from Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and Burundi are believed to have also made their way
through the area, some of whom ended up going south into Tanzania. It was vacated for the last
time during the first half of the twentieth century.[4]
The architectural style of the Thimlich Ohinga mirrors the building style of the Great
Zimbabwe Empire, 1,900 miles / 3,600 kilometres to the south in Zimbabwe, albeit smaller in size.
Another difference is that Great Zimbabwe architecture was built with shaped stones, however, like
Thimlich Ohinga, the utility of mortar appears to have been avoided. Thimlich Ohinga is an example
of defensive savanna architecture, which eventually became a traditional style in various parts of
East and Southern Africa. It portrays stone-built homesteads practices and a communal, centralized
system of control, which became prevalent in the Lake Victoria region. Later forms of this stone-
walled architecture can be seen on some traditional houses in Western and South-Western Kenya.[5]
Oral histories suggest that Thimlich Ohinga was constructed by the then-inhabitants to serve as
protection against outsiders in Kadem, Kanyamwa areas, as well as from neighbouring ethnic
groups from what is now Tanzania - but as the names suggest, (Kadem is an example of a Luo
name) the present names came about after the Luo began to inhabit the area. For reasons yet
unknown, Thimlich Ohinga was abandoned by the original builders. Over time, other communities
moved into the area in the period between the 15th and the 19th centuries and those who lived
within the complexes maintained them by repairing and modifying the structures. The re-occupation
and repair did not interfere with the preservation of the structures. Aside from being a defensive fort,
Thimlich Ohinga was also an economic, religious, and social hub.[citation needed] Archaeological research
carried by the National Museums of Kenya has unveiled the manufacture of goods like pottery, and
also yielded human and animal bones.[citation needed]
Inside the structures, are partitions of various kinds like corridors, smaller enclosures and
depressions. Some of the compartments include games sections where men played games like
‘ajua,' and grinding stones where women ground grain.[citation needed] Livestock pens for cattle, sheep,
goats, chicken, ducks, guinea fowl and retaining walls for gardens were also built.[citation needed]
The entryways were purposefully made small, so that potential intruders would be quickly subdued
by guards in a watch tower near the entrance. It is easy to scan the whole complex from the
watchtower built from raised rocks.[2]
Inhabitants of Thimlich Ohinga also had smaller side forts which had houses, meal areas, animal
pens, and a granary.[6]

Neville Chittick, the former Director of the British Institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa,
documented the site in the 1960s. Researchers from the National Museums of Kenya commenced
work on the site in 1980. Once called “Liare Valley” after a valley to the north-east of the area,
Thimlich Ohinga was gazetted as a Kenyan National Monument under its new name in 1981. The
name was changed because 'Liare Valley' did not describe the exact location of the site.

Thimlich Ohinga is located 181 kilometres south of Kisumu in Migori county, on a gentle sloping hill
46 kilometres north-west of Migori town near Macalder's Mines. The other 137 sites that resemble it
are concentrated in the areas of Karungu, Kadem-Kanyamkago, Gwassi, Kaksingiri Lake headlands,
Kanyidoto and Kanyamwa.[7]

Thimlich Ohinga, an archaeological site in Migori County some 180km southwest
of Kisumu City, is an important historical landmark in East Africa but is barely
known beyond the immediate vicinity.

Built in the 14th century, Thimlich Ohinga is one of the few examples of the early
defensive savannah architecture that became a traditional style across East
Despite having been built without mortar, the expansive structure, on a 52-acre
piece of land, is still standing, except for a few sections that have been destroyed
by weather, human and animal activities. The dry stone-wall structure was
gazetted as a national monument in 1981.

This 600-year old historical landmark is now a candidate for listing in the
prestigious World Heritage List of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (Unesco).

Thimlich Ohinga’s walls consist of meticulously arranged stones, with lintels supporting
the entrance. PHOTO| FRED OLUOCH
Being on the World Heritage List means that a cultural site or landscape has been
recognised for its unique universal value to humankind.

Once listed, sites cease to be the property of the host country and become a global
property, benefiting from funding from Unesco and other donors.

Kenya would gain financially as well as technically through programmes in

education and conservation, publicity and international assistance.

According to the former director of the British Institute of Eastern Africa, Paul
Lane, who is also a professor of Global Archaeology at Uppsala University,
Sweden, and is assisting the excavation team, it was necessary to build such large
enclosures with walls one metre thick to act as a defence against hostile
communities or wild animals.
Prof Paul Lane at Thimlich Ohinga. PHOTO: FRED OLUOCH
The walls also acted as a symbol of authority, marking the fort as a centre of
political power and wealth; leaders of those days competed among each other to
come up with the biggest enclosures.

“The stones signifies that a lot of labour was required and took years to build. So
either the communities had a good food producing economy to sustain the labour
force, or the political system could force people to work on a communal effort
where there was a consensus that such enclosures were necessary,” said Prof

Archaeological records show that Thimlich had two phases of occupation. The
Thimlich Ohinga landscape is a living testimony to a unique cultural tradition.

The magnificence and layout of the site point to the evolution from simple to
complex structures.

The influence of this development went beyond Thimlich to neighbouring areas.

As a village complex with a symbol of leadership, it became the centre from which
territorial conquests into neighbouring areas were conducted. It also developed
as an administrative centre where leadership consultations and labour
organisations were carried out.

Other important activities also took place at the site including exchange of goods,
farming, and veneration of the gods. The site therefore functioned as a small
urban centre, combining administrative, social welfare and economic activities or

These functions continued until the last groups occupying the site broke from the
traditions when colonial rule interfered with their systems.

The abandonment of the site then became inevitable, leaving it as a place for
occasional visits to commune with the ancestral spirits.

Indigenous architecture
Thimlich Ohinga is an outstanding example of local architecture characterised by
a three-phase dry stone laying technology that is not known to exist anywhere
else in the region. The complex is composed of four main enclosures — Kochieng,
Kakuku, Koketch and Kolouch.

The walls consist of meticulously arranged stones of irregular shapes and sizes.
They were constructed in three phases that ran concurrently where the outer and
inner phases of the walls were joined together using a middle third phase
consisting of smaller stones that pressed down the ends of outer and inner

Due to the lack of distinct shapes in the stones used, the walls do not exhibit any
course line, as is common in modern stone walls.
The walls range in height from 1.2m to 4.2m. They were built without mortar and
have many complementing features that have made them survive for several
The stones were simply put together using an interlocking system that enhanced

The average thickness of the walls is approximately one metre, increasing at the
entrances to about 2m to 3m. This was a stability technique used to create
maximum strength at the gates.

The walls had no foundation but this was mitigated by use of buttresses for
protection of the enclosures from strong winds as well as the effects of slope,
humans and animals.
Further, purposely selected elongated slabs were used at the gates as lintels to
support the weight of the stones above the entrance.

The structures include gates 1m wide and 1.5m high, which was a defensive and
technological innovation. One had to stoop when entering the gates and there
were watch-towers adjacent to the gates.

A similar style of construction is found in the Great Zimbabwe, a stone structure

from which the Southern African country draws its name. It can also be
compared with the walled cities of the Middle East in Jordan, Iran and Saudi
Arabia, and the Surame Cultural Landscape in northern Nigeria.

Charles Otieno, Thimlich Ohinga’s site manager. This 600-year old historical
landmark is now a candidate for listing in the prestigious World Heritage List of Unesco.
When The EastAfrican visited the site recently, a team of archaeologists from
Kenya and Sweden were busy trying to meet the conditions of the Unesco World
Heritage Committee, which requires more excavations in order for the site to be

Led by Dr Emmanuel Ndiema, the team includes Dr Christine Ogola and senior
researcher Wycliffe Oloo. The Unesco World Heritage committee requires the
Kenyan application to involve one international expert.

“We are optimistic that the site will be included on the World Heritage List
because archaeological data that was missing is now available,” said Dr Ndiema.
Prof Simiyu Wandiba from the University of Nairobi’s Department of
Archaeology, who carried out the first study of Thimlich in 1986, is also on board,
as is Dr Isiah Onjala from the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University.

On the site are cattle kraals that have not yet been excavated. The team is
analysing soil samples to determine whether it contains high concentrations of
phosphorous and nitrogen, associated with animal secretions. Artefacts found on
the site indicate that there were many livestock pens.

An artefact found at Thimlich Ohinga. PHOTO: FRED OLUOCH

An artefacts found at Thimlich Ohinga. PHOTO|FRED OLUOCH

Thimlich Ohinga means “frightening, dense forest” in the Dholuo language.

The stone structure enclosure has walls ranging from one to 4.2 metres in height,
built of loose stones and blocks without any dressing or mortar. Archaeological
records show some materials found on the site are more than 600 years old.
Communities that moved into this region between the 15th and 19th centuries
repaired and modified the walls, but did not interfere with the architecture and
preservation of the structures.
Dr Ndiema says that Thimlich is the only monument in Kenya that has regional
importance in terms of its historical past. There were migrations to the area from
Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Other Kenyan historical sites on the World Heritage List include Lamu Stone
Town, Mt Kenya, Sibiloi National Park in Turkana — which is rich in fossil
deposits — and the Mijikenda sacred forests at the Coast (commonly known as
the Kaya Forests).

During the first quarter of the 20th century, the Ohingnis (the plural for Ohinga)
was abandoned en masse.

No more stone structures were constructed and consequently some walls were
reduced to mere traces of circumferences or disappeared altogether. Thimlich
Ohinga is one of the few stone structures that survived.

“We know that from 1700 to 1900, the Lake Victoria region was a beehive of
trade. We want to find archaeological remains of some of the commodities that
are not found in the region to link it to the regional economy,” said Prof Lane,
who also researched the Gunda (abandoned settlement enclosures) in northern
Nyanza region associated with the Luo migration from Sudan.

Prof Lane says that unlike Great Zimbabwe, which has four different architectural
styles, Thimlich has only one.

“The similarities are superficial and there is no suggestion that the architecture
came from the south, or that there was interaction between them. Humans are
inventive and can produce similar technology without having any form of
contact,” he said.

It is one of 138 sites containing 521 stone structures that were built around Lake
Victoria. The larger village enclosures were used by larger communities with
political authority, and the smaller ones by families.
Thimlich is the largest, and best preserved and is gazetted as a national
monument. A third of the ground is covered by enclosures.

Thimlich Ohinga is one of the leading tourist attractions on the western circuit.
Its strategic location is a perfect stopover for those on their way to or from the
nearby Ruma National Game Park, Gogo Falls or the Macalder gold mines.