‘Musa and the Incredibirds’ is a children’s book set in The Gambia, written by author and illustrator Shirley Cherry, which celebrates West Africa’s diverse birdlife.
The story is about Musa, a young Gambian boy brought up by his grandmother, who inspires him with her love of birds.
Here's what happened when Shirley brought Musa back to The Gambia to share his story with some very enthusiastic nursery school children...
Musa goes to school
In February of this year I was given the chance to visit The Gambia and take Musa with me. If you haven’t met him yet, Musa is a little boy living in The Gambia who has a special gift; he can talk to the birds and they talk back to him!
The birds invite Musa to help judge the 'Incredibirds Talent Show' where the winner gets to take home a trophy... or so the story goes!
I was very grateful to Lady Kira Dalton from the African Oyster Trust who helped make all the arrangements. Kira accompanied me on the school visits and arranged for Kemo Bah, an experienced Gambian teacher and educationalist, to come along too. We all got into Kira’s trusty jeep and set off on our school visits together.
Inspiring the young
Did you know that despite its small size, The Gambia is home to an incredible 550 bird species (which increases to 668 if you include neighbouring Senegal)? I really want to tell children about these incredible birds, so they can come to know and love them just like Musa in the story.
As the decision-makers of the future, they are the ones we need to influence to help protect the habitats which are essential to the birds’ future. No habitat means nowhere to nest and nowhere to feed.
Using copies of the original book illustrations, bird masks, colourful costumes with a dash of drama, dance and music, helped to bring the story to life for the young audience.
Bringing the story to life
There are many African dialects spoken in the Gambia – Mandingo, Fula, Wolof/Serer and Jola amongst them. However, all children learn to speak English when they start school. We focused on sharing the story with older children aged 6-7 years and used an easy-to-read version of the copy. Having Kemo plus Pah and Alimamo, the other form teachers, present meant they could translate some of bird names into the local languages.
Black Winged Stilts are dressed for their part
Active participation encouraged
Hands shot up to volunteer for different roles in the dramatized story. All the children were really keen to take part.
They relished the opportunity to try on the vibrant bird costumes. Here is a group of performing red ringed parakeets practising their acrobatics.
In the story the Glossy Starlings look amazing in their wonderful glossy plumage but when they open their beaks to sing they make a terrible noise. Hence all the musical instruments which the children shook, rattled and rolled to create a screechy racket.
A trio of hooded vultures stand on each other to make a tower but then they wobble and fall down with a crash!
The teachers were equally enthusiastic and willing to become characters in the story too.
Kemo Bah made a very convincing Bateleur Eagle who plays a pivotal role at the end of the story. You need to order a copy to find out what happens!
Research for the next book
As well as book readings I was able to visit some spectacular Gambian nature reserves, like the Kartong Bird Observatory, as research for my next book - ‘Musa and the Incredibirds Diving Competition.’ The story is already written, and the illustrations are well underway.
You can expect to see Sacred Ibis and White‐Faced Whistling Duck, meet contestants the Kingfishers, Darters, Herons, Pelicans and Esme the Osprey.
Gunjur Project Summer Scheme – Environmental theme!
Thanks to a grant from the Scott Bader Commonwealth Fund, 100 copies of ‘Musa and the Incredibirds Talent Show’ were shipped to The Gambia for a Summer School run by the Gunjur Project Association in August.
Plus, a further 30 large scale/A3 books were printed in The Gambia for a teacher training conference about the importance of the Gambian avifauna.
‘Musa and the Incredibirds’ was used as the basis of a presentation at the end of a summer
school. The children were supported by a group visiting the Gunjur Project from Belgium.
How to get your copy
If you would like to purchase a copy of Shirley’s book they cost £9.99 plus post and packing, Orders can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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