Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Children's Books About Mali

Take a peak into Mali, its culture and village life with these books. This list includes a legendary king, traditional folktales and stories based on real life experiences growing up in Mali. Some of these books are no longer in print, but you might be able to find them at your local library (like we did) and I've linked those to Better World Books, a site that sells second hand books (I am not affiliated with them).

"Words must go from old mouths to new ears" - Malian proverb

Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski. This is the story of Sundiata, the prince of Mali, credited as the founder of the Mali empire in the 13th century. It's told based on the stories and legends passed down through the oral traditions of griots. Sundiata overcomes disability, adversity and exile and returns to save the kingdom of Mali from an evil sorcerer with an army of allies. The papercut illustrations are gorgeous. 

Mee-An and the Magic Serpent by Baba Wague Diakite. This is a Malian folktale about a young, vain woman who is looking for a perfect husband, without any physical flaws, and doesn't deem any of her suitors to be good enough. One unblemished man, who heard of her search, comes calling - however, this man is in fact a snake, luring her into his home as a future meal. She comes to understand her mother's wisdom that "Seeing a person is not the same as knowing him" and with her sister's help, escapes.

The Magic Gourd is another folktale retold by Baba Wague Diakite. This is a great story about kindness and generosity. A magic gourd that can refill itself with whatever its owner desires is given to Rabbit when he frees Chameleon. It always stays filled with food and water, until one day a king steals it to make food and gold for himself. With Chameleon's help, Rabbit recovers the gourd, but lets the King keep his gold and food. The King, surprised by this act of kindness, begins to realize its importance. 

I lost my Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakite. This charming story is based on the author's childhood experiences visiting her father's family in Mali when her sister lost her tooth. Can you guess what's done with a baby tooth once it falls out in Mali? You put it under a gourd, and the African fairy will take it and replace it with life chickens! Life in the village is described as part of the story and Bambara (one of the main languages in Mali) expressions and words used throughout the book. This is a great book to introduce kids to Malian culture because it also adds an element that is really relatable: losing a tooth. 

A Gift from Childhood: Memories of an African Boyhood by Baba Wague Diakite. We really enjoyed this book that taught us about traditional Malian village life.This is a story book memoir of the author, who has also written and/or illustrated four of the books on this list. He recounts growing up in a rural village in Mali where nighttime storytelling by the fireside influenced his future decision to be an author. There are many joys and hardships about navigating the village life, the occasional dangers of wildlife, cultural traditions, disease and poverty. It's fascinating to read his own grandmother's fables and family history, as well as about the month long rite of passage into manhood and ritual circumcision. This book is better for older kids 11 and up who will better appreciate the writing and subject matter. 

Yatandou by Gloria Whelan. This is the story of an eight year old girl who lives in a Malian village. Told from her perspective, we learn about how she works with the village women every day pounding the millet for three hours. Through hard work and sacrifice from everyone, including herself, the village women raise enough money to purchase a grinder, which frees up so much time it gives them the opportunity to begin learning to read and write. The oil painting illustrations are gorgeous, and the story short, but between the two you get a feel for village life in Mali. This is also an important look at how what may seem to us a simple machine can make a critical and long lasting impact in poverty stricken rural areas. 

You can find all of our posts with children's books about West Africa here.

Find West African Folktales here.

Find folktales from Liberia here.

Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at
Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website. 


  1. I'm itching to start Africa, and I don't even know when that will be! Thank you so much for providing all the ground work for me. The selection of books you have chosen look really good (as always!)

    1. Thanks Claire - we haven't touched much on the history of the area, I'm looking forward to reading all about it from you!

  2. You realize my country studies board is almost completely filled up with your posts? I always enjoy reading your book recommendations.

    1. I hope your country studies board gets a lot of views! :)

  3. You always pick out the best books!


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