What we’re reading: Swahili books!

A reader contacted me recently to ask if we read to Claire and Heidi in Swahili. Indeed, we do! We have a whole stack of Swahili books to read to the kids.

Watermarked Photo Swahili books 01

We do one parent, one language (OPOL) in our household, so Jesse speaks to the kids in Swahili, while I speak to them in English. It’s not a perfect system – Jesse and I speak English with each other, so sometimes he also speaks English with the children. But it works really well – Claire has understood Swahili for ages now (her first words were in Swahili!), and recently she  has actually started to speak in Swahili as well.

The only Swahili books we can find are educational books that are used for school and tutoring. Most of our books are from the Visa na Vituko series, with a few from the Mradi Wa Kusoma / Kiswahili Sanifu series. It can be difficult to find books that are suitable for bedtime stories, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • Safari ya Angani – The story of the once-beautiful tortoise, who wished to fly with the crows into the sky and eat the clouds. One day, the crows carry him up into the sky, as the tortoise sings, Tunaenda kula mawingu!” But the crows lose their grip, and the tortoise falls down to Earth, landing on his back and cracking his beautiful shell…
  • Kuku Mrembo – The story of a boy who has a beloved chicken, Kuku Mrembo. One day, his father is sharpening his knife, saying that he wishes to slaughter the chicken for dinner. Kuku Mrembo runs off into the forest, followed by the boy. In the forest, the boy finds all sorts of animals. A pig chases a cat up a tree, and then chases the boy, who falls and loses his shoe.  (Okay, this story is totally weird, but I love that the chicken is called “Kuku Mrembo!” Haha!)
  • Opulo Aenda Safari – The story of the rat, who used to have a beautiful, fluffy tail and a nice shuka to wear. But he stubbornly refuses advice from friends, and winds up walking straight into a thunderstorm, and ultimately loses both…
  • Shambani kwa Babu – The story of a young boy who goes upcountry to visit his grandparents. While helping his grandfather in the garden, he shoots at a bird’s nest with his slingshot, and disturbs a nest of bees…

Claire loves her Swahili books, though she balks at the idea of Mommy reading them. “No, Mommy. You speak English. Daddy speaks Swahili!” When I try to protest, saying that I do speak some Swahili, she just laughs and shakes her head. Hmph.

It’s really important to us that both Claire and Heidi grow up speaking and understanding both Swahili and English. Our Swahili book collection helps encourage that!

Do you read Swahili books with your children? What are some of your favorites?

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4 Responses to What we’re reading: Swahili books!

  1. debby says:

    I commend you for the good work that you are doing as parents. where can i get this swahili story books? my son loves to read anything from bible stories to fiction big books mostly but the swahili books sound interesting.

    Thank you


  2. Siaji says:

    My wife and I are raising two daughters out of Africa in a similar way. I try to buy books whenever I visit Kenya, but I find that most books are, as you say, educational.
    I just find myself reading the English books and translating them page by page. At first I thought it was weird reading ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ in Swahili while my wife read in English.
    Now, the two lovelies seem conversant in both languages and I can’t help but feel proud.
    Well done to you, Mama Mgeni!

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      That’s wonderful! I tried to encourage hubby to read the basic English books in Kiswahili, but it was really hard for him! We do have good supply of good Swahili books now – flip through the educational books next time you’re here! Some of them are better than others, but there are several that have a good “story time” feel! Congrats on making it work and raising your girls in a bilingual household! I know it’s not easy!

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