Teaching Ancient Civilizations with Children’s Literature: Sundiata

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“Listen to me, children of the Bright Country, and ear the great deeds of ages past. The words I speak are those of my father and his father before him. Listen, then, to the story of Sundiata, the Lion King, who overcame all things to walk with greatness.”

Passed down through oral tradtition and rooted in truth, this dramatic story recounts the story of Sundiata, the prince of Mali, who overcame diversity and his physical handicap and saved the kingdom of Mali. Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali written and illustrated by David Wisniewski is a charming tale of courage and strength appropriate for all ages. Readers will fall in love with a young Sundiata who, unable to walk, is taunted and ridiculed by the very people he is fated to lead. Sudiata is loved and protected only by his mother Sologon, his father the King, and his friend and griot Balla. With only the kindness in his heart, Sundiata survives many attempts on his life and ploys for his throne.

 After the death of the King and the banishment of his only friend Balla, Sundiata decides to flee Mali in hopes of returning when he has become stronger. Sundiata makes many friends and allies in his journey and they help him grow in strenth and in stature. When word comes to Sundiata that the Kingdom of Mali has been taken over by an evil sorcerer king Sassouma, he gathers an army of his allies and rides to take back Mali. Sundiata takes back his title as King of Mali and spreads his kindness through the land for many years.

“Now I return as your king. Henceforth none shall interfere with anothers destiny. You, your children, and your children’s children shall find their appointed place within this land forever.”

Curriculum Connections

The tale of Sundiata: Lion King of Mali along with the vivid paper cut illustrations, is a perfect supplement for the Third Grade Social Science curriculum. Relating directly to the SOL 3.2 students will learn all about the South African kingdom of Mali. Sundiata’s tale is told by an elder explaining how the story has been passed down for generations allowing students to learn all about the rich oral tradition of the people of Mali. Sundiata’s struggle to keep and gain back his title gives a lot of insight into Mali’s government and along with the map at the beginning, students will get a better picture of Mali. Although relating directly to 3rd grade curriculum, the strength and patience of Sundiata can be an uplifting story for any age.

Virginia Standards of Learning 3.2, 3.5

Additional Resources

  • ARTSEDGE: this site provides many different lesson plans that follow along with Sundiata and his story. Lessons include making and African mask, a play, and video resources.
  • Africa for Kids: this website is kid friendly and allows studnets to learn fun and interesting facts about the African Kingdom of Mali as well as further information on Sundiata.
  • The Art of Ancient Mali from the Virgina Museum of History: this site includes background information on the true story of Sundiata, activities and lesson plans to be used in the classroom, and a glossary of terms used in the story.

 Book: Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali
Author and Illustrator: David Wisniewski
Photography of paper cut illustrations: Lee Salsberry
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: 1992

Pages: 28
Grade Range: 3-5
ISBN: 0395613027