Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale
|Author: Verna Aardema
Illustrator: Leo Dillon
Summary: A retelling of a traditional West African tale that reveals how the mosquito developed its annoying habit.
Unit Study created by Wende
Western Africa –
This story takes place in Western Africa. Africa is the second largest continent in the world. Locate Africa on a world map. Africa has deserts, mountains, grasslands, and tropical rain forests. Western Africa includes countries along the Atlantic coast, the largest of which are Nigeria, Congo, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon. The equator runs through Western Africa, making it one of the hottest places on earth. Because most of these countries were once ruled by European nations, the majority of people speak English, French, or Portuguese, but there are also some groups that speak a number of African languages including Swahili. Important crops in Western Africa are cocoa, coffee, palm oil, and rubber. People grow yams, cassava, millet, and corn for food. While there are areas that have been modernized with factories, schools, and hospitals, many of the people living in Western Africa are living the same way as their families have for centuries, in huts made of bamboo or grass, with no electricity or running water, and are telling the same folktales that their great-great-grandparents told.
What did each and every animal in the story do? They blamed another animal for their actions. Do you think this was right? What should each animal have said? Do you think that only the mosquito was to blame? Why or why not? Read the Bible story about Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:1 – 13). Who did Adam blame? Who did Eve blame? Who did God punish? God wanted a simple, honest confession, but what He got was a bunch of excuses. Through these stories we can learn that all of our actions have an effect on those around us, and also that we should take responsibility for our actions.
A folktale was a story that was traditionally told by adults to their children to teach the children how to behave and/or explain why something is. When a story is designed to teach you something, it is called a moral. What do you think the moral of this story is? Can you think of any other stories that have morals? Read some of Aesop’s Fables to discover more stories with morals.
Choose at least two of the animals mentioned in the story to study further.
Mosquitoes are bothersome insects. What makes them an insect? All insects have three body parts, a head, thorax, and abdomen. All insects have six legs, and some have two antennae on their heads. And all insects reproduce by laying eggs. A female mosquito lays her eggs in water. A wriggler hatches from each of the eggs and it eats the tiny plants in the water. After a week, the wriggler changes into a pupa, which floats just underneath the surface of the water. A few days later the pupa’s skin splits down the back, and a winged mosquito comes out and flies away. The mouthparts of the female mosquito are designed for piercing and blood sucking. The male mosquito feeds on plant fluids and does not bite or suck blood. Mosquitoes can pass diseases onto their victims when they inject them with their infected salivary fluid. Mosquitoes only live in areas with water, such as a moist African rain forest, or near pools, swamps, or marshes. It is important to not leave containers outside that can collect water, as this is where mosquitoes will breed and multiply.
Iguanas are reptiles in the lizard family. What makes them a reptile? Reptiles have backbones, are cold blooded, breath with lungs, and lay eggs. Iguanas can reach up to 6 feet in length and can weigh up to 20 pounds. They have rows of leathery spikes from the neck to the base of the tail, which they sometimes use as a whip to protect themselves. An iguana’s tail can regenerate itself after being broke off. An iguana’s diet consists of fruit and vegetation, and some will even eat small rodents, birds, or bird eggs.
Pythons are reptiles in the snake family. Like the iguana, pythons have backbones, are cold blooded, breath with lungs, and lay eggs. Most are about ten feet long, but they have been seen up to forty feet long! Pythons live in trees near water, in tropical climates. They eat small mammals such as rabbits after strangling them in their coils.
Rabbits are mammals. What makes them a mammal? They have backbones, are warm blooded, and breath with lungs. They have live births and give milk to their babies. Rabbits’ bodies are covered with fur. Rabbits live all over the world in underground burrows. Rabbits have three to eight babies in each litter, and up to eight litters a year. They feed off of herbs, bark, and other vegetation, and can be a nuisance to farmers.
Crows are black birds that are found in nearly all parts of the world. Birds have backbones, are warm blooded, breath with lungs, and lay eggs. Crows are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat. Crows are known for their loud caw.
Monkeys are mammals that live in groups called troops high in the tropical forest trees. They eat plants, birds’ eggs, small animals such as owlets, and insects. Monkeys have long tails, which they use to swing from and for balance. A female monkey usually has just one baby, but sometimes she will have twins.
Owls are birds of prey that live all over the world. They hunt animals such as mice and rabbits at night. Owls have large eyes, very sensitive hearing, and soft feathers that allow them to fly silently. They can swivel their heads almost completely around (180 degrees).
Lions, called King of the Beasts, are the largest predators in Africa. They live in the grasslands, and will sometimes venture into the jungles. Like rabbits, they are mammals. Lions live in groups called prides, which are made up of many females and a few males. The lioness (female lion) does most of the hunting, its prey of which includes antelope, zebra, and buffalo. The male lion’s job is to protect the pride.
Did you come across any unfamiliar words when you read the story? Here are some you may not have known. Review the words and use each one in a sentence.
Yam – a root vegetable that is grown and eaten in Africa.
Mischief - action that is naughty or that may cause harm
Duty - what should be done because it is right or important
Nonsense- something that is silly or does not make sense
Council - a group that meets to discuss something or to make plans
Satisfied – when someone’s needs or wishes are met
Tidbit – a small bit of food
You will need Story Cards to do these activities.
First, find all the green animal cards and turn them face down. Can you recall all the animals mentioned in the story? Say them out loud and then check all the green animal cards to see if you remembered them all. How did you do? Now put all of the green animal cards in alphabetical order. Then put them in order of appearance. You can check the book if you don’t remember them all.
Now, find all the pink action cards. Match up each action with the animal that did it. Try to do it from memory, but you can check the book if you need to. Did you need any help?
Now, find all the blue onomatopoeia cards. Match each of the sounds to the animal that made it. How was your memory?
You can now play games with your cards. You can play Go-Jungle (like Go-Fish), asking another player for a sound, animal, or action card to match the ones in your hand. Lay them down when you have a set of three.
Or you can play Concentration, laying all the cards face down, and flipping them three at a time to match up the animal, sound, and action cards.
When words are written similar to the sounds they make it is called onomatopoeia. There are many examples of this poetic device throughout our story. They are most fun when read out loud. Do you think they sound like the movements the animals actually make? Listen to an animal, maybe a pet or even a bird or squirrel rustling in trees, and try to write out the sound you hear phonetically. A fun activity is to find something around the house that duplicates the sound. For instance, an animal in a tree may sound like crumpling paper, or a mockingbird may sound like a ringing telephone. After you duplicate the sound, spell it out phonetically.
The mosquito did not go in front of the council to try to explain his actions. If he had, what do you think he would have said? Write out Mosquito’s response in your best writing.
The word pourquoi (pronounced por-kwah) means "why" in French. Pourquoi tales are stories that explain why something in nature usually happens. Throughout history, different cultures have told pourquoi tales to explain things they didn't understand, such as why the sun comes up, why a camel has a hump, or how an elephant got its trunk. In our story, the author is telling a story of why mosquitoes now buzz instead of talk. Maybe your child would like to write his own pourquoi story about his favorite animal. He could start his story out "Long, long ago…" and end it with "…and this is why…" If you would like to read more pourquoi stories, Rudyard Kiplings Just So Stories are good examples.
Insects have six legs. Practice your six times tables.
How many legs do 2 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 3 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 4 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 5 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 6 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 7 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 8 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do 9 mosquitoes have?
How many legs do
10 mosquitoes have?
(If you have a younger student, work on addition or subtraction facts for the 6 family. You could use this same concept to work on the 2 family. For example, how many anteanna do 2 mosquitoes have? 3? 4? etc.)
Arts and Crafts
There is one animal that saw the whole thing happen from beginning to end. Do you know which animal it was? Look carefully at each picture. Can you find the animal that is on every page? A little pink bird saw the whole thing!
Caldecott Award Winner –
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema was winner of the 1976 Caldecott Award. Look for the medal on the cover of the book. Look through the book and decide if/why you think it should have won the award. The beautiful colors and unique contour drawings may have helped the judges to decide. What do you think?
Use of Light and Dark –
What happened to the pages of the story after Owl refused to wake up the sun? They go from a light background to a dark background, distinguishing between day and night. A fun way of illustrating a nighttime sky is using a technique called crayon resist. On a piece of heavy paper or cardstock, draw jungle animals with light colored wax crayons (white, yellow, and silver work well). Be sure to press fairly hard with crayons, and allow areas of paper to show. Then, using black watercolors, cover the entire surface with paint. The uncolored paper will absorb the paint, and the crayon will “resist” the paint.
Do you know what yams are? If you look on the title page you may see a farmer holding one. It is a tuber vegetable, like a potato. Have you ever tried them? Ask Mom to help you make a yummy yam dish. Open a can of yams and a can of crushed pineapple chunks. Drain both cans. Combine the contents of both cans into a casserole dish. With a potato masher, gently mash the mixture together. Sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar (not too much!), and top with a couple of pats of butter and a few dollops of Marshmallow Crème. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Have Mom help you get it out of the oven and let it cool a bit. Enjoy this yummy yam dish while listening to some African music.
Scholastic has put out a video adapted from this book. It also includes two other African folktales. Try to view the video this week, and compare and contrast the three stories. ISBN – 0-439-72534-8
A Story, A Story by Gail Haley (folktale from Africa)
Ashanti to Zulu by Margaret Musgrove (Africa culture and customs)
Traveling to Tondo by Verna Aardema (folktale from Africa)
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema (tale from Africa)
Materials and information on this website belong to the original composers. It may be used for your own personal and school use.
. © 2005-07 HSS