I know an old Mzee who swallowed a Fly

Origin of the story: The verse first appeared in print in Indiana, USA, in the journal Hoosier Folklore Dec 1947. Stories are dynamic and change and adapt to cultures. The verse was used and changed with permission of the Hoosier Folklore Society.

Here are the lyrics and music for the original folk poem from the book, Sing Along Stories “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” by Mary Ann Hoberman and Nadine Bernard Westcott:
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

Problem Solving Unit: the Mzee accidently swallows a fly and then tries to solve the problem by swallowing a lizard, not a good idea. The solutions to the predicament end up being much worse than the original small problem- a lesson in not letting problems get out of hand!

Habitats Unit: This book shows a variety of habitats- Uganda also has the Rwenzori mountains in the west and Mt Elgon in the east.

Geography Unit on the Nile River: As a literature segway into the study of the length of the Nile.

Wildlife/Conservation Unit: The old Mzee is swallowing endangered species – the picture at the very end of the unit shows that he did not really eat the animals that it was just a nonsense verse. The Mzee is friends with the animals.

Predictions: read several version of ‘Swallowed a Fly books’ all with different endings. When you are at the “swallowed a horse” page, stop and ask kids what they predict will happen to the man. For this book, he swallows the hippo while by the river so he could, drown, swim, burst, vomit …etc. Rarely do the kids guess that he will float up the Nile to Egypt!

Double Z words: Lizard v/s Gizzard

Scientific names of animals: Hippopotamus is a Greek word- means River Horse

Literature Unit: Nonsense Rhymes, repetitive text, sing along, or old folktales that are dynamic and change. 
Variations of “Swallowed a Fly books”- write your own! Notice that for each repetitive sentence to ‘bounce’ it should have 8-9 syllables in it.

Food Chains: it’s a stretch, but all ‘swallowed a fly’ books have animals that go from small to large

Real and not real: swallowing a fly could happen, and does happen sometimes when riding your bike and you would not die of course. But then at what point does the story turn to the impossible? And becoming totally ridiculous?


Plot 37, Kololo - Acacia Avenue, Kampala - Uganda


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