Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation
by Jan Reynolds
Lee & Low Books, September 01, 2011
I’ve always been fascinated by the Maasai, so I was pleased to see this book about their culture written for children, and this book didn’t disappoint. Straightforward text is combined with Maasai proverbs and beautiful photography to give us a detailed glimpse at modern-day Maasai life. This is a balanced representation: Reynolds isn’t afraid to show the less pleasant (biting bugs!) or shocking (drinking cow blood!) aspects of Maasai life, but she also reveals the peace and togetherness it brings. Especially relevant to her young readers is how she focuses on what the Maasai boys and girls do at different ages.
One pleasant surprise was how Reynolds shares with readers not only the historical Maasai culture, but also how the Maasai way of life is changing due to outside pressures and how they are adapting to this new world, giving the story context in the broader world.
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that there were a few minor drawbacks for me. First, it bothered me not to have pronunciation guides for the Maa words embedded in the text (but there is one at the end). Second, although the Maasai proverbs were lovely, I wanted more of them and to have them appear more regularly throughout the text. As it is, with 10-14 pages between proverbs, they sort of surprised me each time and felt more like interruptions than the embellishments they should have been. Finally, I would have liked to get a little closer to the main family throughout the whole book. Sometimes the text seems to move way out to the Maasai in general for a long time, then it zooms in briefly to the main characters, then goes right back out again. I would’ve liked more connections to have been made between the general way of life and the specific family.
On the plus side, the back matter includes an author’s note, a glossary and pronunciation guide, a web site for more information, and source notes and acknowledgements. There’s also a very interesting interview and book talk with the author available here, which should make it ever more appealing for teachers hoping to use it in the classroom.
This is a wonderful book for introducing a unique and fascinating African culture to upper elementary students.