The Spirit of the Maasai Man

Grade Level: 
K, 1, 2
Civil Society
Philanthropic Literature
by Laura Berkeley and Virginia McKenna; A literature guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of generosity, community, and service to others.

Reading Level: Ages 4-8

This moving book juxtaposes the reality of captive zoo animals with their ancestral spirit homelands. Every zoo animal has a spirit that remembers its life in the wild. Once regal lions dream of days on the grasslands. Wise gorillas yearn for the comfort of family. This book encourages us to see the spirit of captive animals, to remember, as they do, the life they were meant to lead and how our part in the world has affected them. The next time you visit the zoo, will you hear the song of the Maasai Man?


Before Reading

ASK: Have you been to a zoo? What wild animals did you see there? Have you ever seen any of these animals out in the wild? Have you seen a lion on the grassland or a polar bear on the ice?

SHOW: Look at the cover. Name each animal you see and tell where that animal lives.

CONNECT: The book we are going to read talks about captive animals and wild animals. Look up the words captive and wild and make sure you understand the difference before you begin reading.

During Reading

ASK: As you read, think about the differences between the two animals you see. Do the animals seem: sad, happy, proud, tired, intelligent, scared, or excited? Why do you think there is a difference between the picture on the left page and the one on the right?

SHOW: Compare the pictures on the left page of each spread to the pictures on the right page of each spread.

CONNECT: Have you ever had to have a time out because you had misbehaved? This is when you have to stay in one place and can’t play with your favorite toy or do what you love best. It probably made you feel bad not to be able to do what you want to do, or have any fun. This is what it can be like for animals in captivity, except they weren’t naughty and they have to stay in a “time out” for a long time. Talk about what it must feel like to be in captivity. Can you empathize with these animals?

After Reading

ASK: After reading this book, do you think zoos and aquariums are good places? Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Zoos and aquariums may help people learn about animals and their habitats through their exhibits and/or educational programs.
  2. Zoo animals often live in very small cages.
  3. Some zoo animals live alone, which is contrary to their nature.
  4. Zoo animals can be taunted and injured by zoo visitors.
  5. An alternative to zoos are wildlife preserves that require a large amount of land and people to work on them.

SHOW: Look at the pictures of the captive animals in the book. What can you see in the pictures that tell you the animals are in captivity or are injured? How could a zoo solve these problems by taking better care of the animal? How might the animal be better off in a wildlife preserve?

CONNECT: Before you go to a zoo again, think about the animals there. Is it a zoo where animals have space to roam free? Does the zoo provide food, water, and fun for the animals? At the zoo, don’t forget the spirit of the Maasai man.


  1. Choose your favorite wild animal, either one you’ve seen in the zoo or one from a place near your home. Then use the Internet or the library to find out all about how your animal lives in the wild. Find out what it eats, how it sleeps, how it has babies, where it lives, etc. Then make a poster to show what you’ve learned. Color or cut out a picture of the animal and then fill your poster with facts.
  2. “Adopt” a real wild animal, living at an animal sanctuary. Go to the Born Free site and choose from the animals pictured. You can read a biography of the animal to find out how it needs your help. Adopting an animal costs about $50 a year.
  3. Choose an animal (either the captive one or the one in the wild) from this book and put yourself in the animal’s place. If your animal could talk, what would it say? With the animal’s “voice” in your mind, write a journal entry and tell what is happening around the animal, how it feels, and what it hopes for.
  4. Many zoos and aquariums do important work to conserve wildlife and educate the public. However, not all zoos maintain the same standards for how they treat their animals. To take a stand, do not visit a zoo or aquarium that doesn’t meet the standards set by the ASPCA (see ASPCA's Policy and Position page). And if you know of a zoo, aquarium, or circus that does not meet these standards, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper asking others in your community to stage a boycott.
  5. The treatment of animals differs from country to country. If you are on vacation and see a captive animal being mistreated, you can do something about it. Go online to Born Free's Traveler Alert page or call the Born Free Foundation’s Travelers’ Alert Hotline at 0845 003 5960 (this is a UK number).
  6. Volunteer to become a zoo checker for the Born Free Foundation. You can help this organization keep track of practices at zoos around the world. Go to Born Free's Take Action section to find out more.
  7. The author of this book both wrote the words and drew the pictures. Find out more about how she created the pictures.