It’s all very well helping a young meerkat who’s been poisoned by a scorpion.
But when you’ve made friends with the whole Duwara tribe of meerkats, and you discover that they’re at war with the Utongo, you may find yourself involved in that too, even if you’re only a little black-and-white cat.
Teaching Ideas and Resources:
- In the first chapter, we learn that Sheena is lost. Which other stories have you read in which ‘being lost’ is an important element?
- List the things that make Sheena an effective heroine in this story. Give examples if you wish. Does she show any weaknesses? If so, say what they are.
- Read aloud any of the passages of dialogue (conversation) in the book. Try to give the animals different voices from each other, and choose suitable voices for particular animals. Experiment!
- Each chapter has an African word as its title (usually the name of an animal appearing in the chapter). The riddle at the beginning of the chapter is designed to help you work out the meaning of the African word. How does that add to your enjoyment of the story?
- Think about some of the ways in which the author plays with words to produce amusing effects. How do they add to our enjoyment of a) Sheena’s character, and b) the story as a whole?
- Sheena expresses lots of opinions in the course of the story. Choose some that you strongly agree with and some that you disagree with, and give your reasons in each case.
- Examine the different ways the characters in the story speak to one another (e.g. cheekily, respectfully, angrily). What does that tell us about them and their relationships, in each case?
- How important is it for a story to reach a ‘climax’ (an exciting ending)? What is the exact point of climax in ‘The Meerkat Wars’, and what effect does it have on us as we read it?
- ‘The Meerkat Wars’ is the third book in the ‘Paka Mdogo’ series. How, in the course of the book, does the author link this story with the earlier two? How do those links help us to enjoy ‘The Meerkat Wars’?
- If a friend asked you whether or not you would recommend ‘The Meerkat Wars’ as a good book to read, what would you say? (Try to give more than one reason for your answer.)
- In Chapter Twenty-Three, Sheena wonders whether lots and lots of ants would need to be called ‘Sungusungusungusungusungusungusungu, over the horizon’. That would be a very inconvenient way of specifying large numbers. Think about the ways we do that in our own counting system, and make sure you understand the exact meaning of the words and prefixes we have developed to represent large numbers (‘billion, ‘trillion’, ‘mega-‘, ‘giga-‘, ‘tera-‘).
- Find out some interesting things about meerkats that are NOT mentioned in the story.
- List the different kinds of food the creatures in the story eat, and say how they get it. Construct a ‘food chain’ diagram and place the animals on it.
- List the different ways the animals in the story protect or defend themselves.
- Investigate the impact of infectious diseases on whole communities.
- Find out about some natural remedies for illnesses and injuries. How can we find out whether or not they work?
- Research a development project near where you live (a new housing or shopping complex, water management, road construction, a new factory) and assess its impact on the natural environment.
- Make a table in which you list (in Column 1) all the characters who appear in the story, in the order in which they appear. In Column 2 give each character a number according to how much you liked it (1 being your favourite). Then use the table options to rearrrange the list of characters in the order: most likeable first, least likeable last.
- Using the illustrations on the LitWorks.com website produce a comic-book (‘graphic novel’) version of one or more parts of the story. You will need to arrange the ilustrations on the pages of your graphic novel, and add text (narrative at the foot of the illustration, or or dialogue in speech bubbles) to explain what is happening in each frame. You may need to add some drawings of your own to fill in gaps in the story.
- Produce a graphic novel version of the story (see above).
- Choose your favourite illustration from the story. Explain why you like it and how it helps the reader.
- Choose an episode that has not been illustrated, and draw an illustration of your own to show what is happening.
- List the different kinds of environment to be found in the story and say what their particular features are.
- Research the different ways in which deep valleys like The Gorge are created.
- Imagine you have been given the job of creating a safari lodge in the Park. Where on the map would you locate it? How would you plan it, build it and run it so that it had a minimal impact on the environment and the creatures who live there? (You can download a copy of the map to help you with your answer)
- Make a map of your own for a book you have enjoyed.
- The story is set in Baragandiri National Park. Can you find the locations of other national parks in your country and other countries? Which one would you most like to visit? Why
- Read Pages 113-115, and consider the two comments Sheena makes about history. Why do you think she makes them? Do you agree with either of them?
- Create a mini-dictionary for all of the Kiswahili words to be found in the story. You can make it a Kiswahili-English or Kiswahili-any-other-language dictionary.
- Sheena meets many different creatures in the course of the story, and must make up her mind about them (whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘safe’ or ‘dangerous’). What methods does she use to make those decisions? How is she forced to change her mind about some of the creatures? What helps you make up your mind about people you meet? What makes you sometimes change your mind about them?
- Discuss with other members of the class what the story tells us about why different groups of people (from different backgrounds or with different beliefs) come into conflict with one another. What does the book suggest about the ways in which such conflicts can be avoided or resolved?
- Think about the way some of the animals the story look after, and educate, their offspring. What makes them good parents or teachers?