Book Reviews

This review of Pearls of Wisdom is from Multicultural Perspectives: Part VI Guide to New Resources: The Official Journal of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). Copyright © 2008 by NAME. It was written by Ann Berlak, as explained below:

This issue contains reviews by Ann Berlak, a lecturer who teaches Social Foundations of Education in the Elementary Education Department at San Francisco State University's College of Education.
Opinions expressed in this column do not represent views or official positions of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). Similarly, reviewed resources carry no "official endorsement" by NAME. The authors are solely responsible for selecting and reviewing the resources featured in the column and strongly encourage readers to examine resources prior to purchasing. It has been put on the Pro Lingua website with the permission of the magazine.

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Pearls of Wisdom
by Raouf Mama and Mary Romney
© 2001 Pro Lingua Associates
Price: $12.50
ISBN: 0-86647-134-0

African Culture

Mama, R., Romney, M. (2001). Pearls of wisdom: African and Caribbean folktales. Brattleboro, VT: Pro Lingua. Text, 78 pages, $16.50 (softcover). ISBN 0-86647-134-0; Workbook, 72 pages, $15.00 (softcover). ISBN 086647-136-7; two cassettes, $12.50. ISBN 0-86647-135-9.

During my early years, I vividly recall sitting on our front porch on warm summer nights with my brothers and sisters, at my grandmother's feet, as she told us Haitian folktales. The winds would gently blow in unison with my grandmother's rocking chair as she rocked to and fro. The stories would captivate us and whirl us into worlds of make believe and morality as we sucked on our peppermint candies, as this too was a very important part of the storytelling ritual. Needless to say, we enthusiastically looked forward to both stories and candy. My grandmother has long passed away, but her memory and the stories continue to live on in our hearts.

Unfortunately, due to migration to other countries, particularly to the United States, many Haitian children have lost or never experienced the rich oral tradition of storytelling from the elders. Those who have experienced it (once upon a time) yearn for those special moments once again, and those who only know of the existence of the stories want desperately to experience this tradition. Well, Mama and Romney have captured these African and Caribbean folktales and created a masterpiece of educational material to continue this tradition.

The listening and reading book, Pearls of Wisdom, begins with an explanation of folktales as a form of literary art found in every culture in the world. These folktales are divided into four broad categories: explanatory tales, sacred tales, trickster tales, and cautionary tales. Each of 116 the tales from Benin, Nigeria,Gabon, Antigua, Haiti, Cape Verde, Puerto Rico, or Congo are placed under one of the categories stated above where readers can clearly see the fit between the categories and the tales. For example, many of the explanatory tales describe the origins, behaviors, and appearances of certain animals. In the tale, How the chameleon became a teacher, from Benin, the readers learns why the chameleon blends with his surroundings and walks slowly and carefully. An unfortunate incident with a crocodile taught the chameleon to be prudent and wise at all times. In turn, he teaches readers to "think long and hard before putting a foot forward" (p. 2).

The authors also provide a brief history of the transatlantic slave trade that took place from 1519 to 1867 (p. xi), thus creating an African diaspora. African diaspora is defined as "the phrase describing the various groups of people of African descent who live outside of Africa" (p. xi). In the new lands, the Africans transferred and continued many of their cultural traditions.

The Pearl of Wisdom set includes two cassettes featuring the voice of Dr. Roof Mama, an established Griot (a masterfulWest African story teller.), The Listening and Reading book, and the Workbook. Readers can listen to the cassettes while following along in the reading book. After each story, readers can engage in the following activities: (1) Connecting to the story by relating personal
experiences to the story; (2) Glossary by studying words identified in the story; and (3) Additional Vocabulary- assessing knowledge of new words. In The integrated language skills workbook, a variety of activities are provided for work in all skills areas (speaking, listening,
reading, and writing) and vocabulary development. The activities include: Pre-listening: listening, summarizing; Reading: vocabulary, re-telling; Writing and Speaking: reflecting, connecting, and concluding.

A unique feature of the workbook is the Writing and Speaking: Reflecting section, which includes questions on morality. Here readers are asked to reflect on the moral of each story by discussing whether or not they agree with the moral of the story or to identify the lesson that the story is trying to teach. Questions regarding comparing and contrasting cultural values are also included, along with discussion questions on related proverbs! Readers are asked to relate a known proverb to one identified in the story. Proverbs, which enjoy ubiquitous status in many African and Caribbean cultures, are seldom discussed in American classrooms. However, they can be
an effective tool in assisting students with literacy and cultural development.

This book is truly a must-have for every elementary/middle/high school classroom to adult intermediate and advanced proficiencies. It is about time that a book is written that truly captures the essence of African culture and values through storytelling. It provides readers with thought-provoking exercises to assist in language and vocabulary development. The authors need to be commended for the development of such extraordinary materials.

To order Pearls of wisdom: African and Caribbean folktales, contact Pro Lingua Associates ESL/EFL Book Publishers, P.O. Box 1348, Brattleboro, VT 05302-1348; Tel: (802) 257-7779; (800) 366-4775; Fax: (802) 257-5117; email:; Web site:

-reviewed by Ann Berluk

Pro Lingua Associates ESL/EFL Book Publishers
74 Cotton Mill Hill, Suite A315, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301
Fax: 802 257 5117 Phone: 802 257 7779
Pro Lingua HOTLINE for information and orders: call Elise @ 800 366 4775

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