Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe: Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

It’s no secret that the must-have children’s literacy classic, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, has captivated generations of young readers since it was first published in 1997.

This beloved story can be a valuable addition to your classroom teaching plan with its vivid illustrations, magical themes, and powerful message about strength and virtue triumphing over jealousy and pride.

This post will provide an overview of how to use Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters as a jumping-off point for meaningful student engagement while illustrating key narrative structure aspects.

We’ll look at ways to build students’ comprehension skills as they explore character development, cultural context and social issues associated with the text – all while having fun!

Related: For more, check out our planning overview of Richard III  here.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters Storyline

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale is a classic folktale in the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. It tells the story of two sisters, Manyara and Nyasha. Manyara is hardworking and kind, while Nyasha is selfish and vain. When the great King of all of the land announces that he will take a wife from among the local village maidens, the girls set out on their journey to meet him.

They face many tests and trials on their way, such as an evil spirit bathed in smoke, a giant python, and blinding fog. Eventually, each sister arrives at the King’s court, where he will decide who will become his Queen.

Despite her good looks, Nyasha fails her final test when she cannot compete with her sister’s admirable qualities. In the end, Manyara wins favour with the King and becomes his Queen.

Themes In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

The Importance Of Kindness and Virtue

Mufaro’s two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha, demonstrate the necessary qualities to succeed. Manyara is kind and hardworking, while Nyasha is selfish and vain. Throughout their journey to meet the King, Manyara displays her virtues as she helps a python cross a river, gives food to a low-income family, and shows courage by standing up to an evil spirit bathed in smoke.

In contrast, Nyasha exemplifies her vanity when she gets distracted by adorning herself with flowers despite knowing she should use her time wisely on her journey. This ultimately leads to Nyasha failing her tests when faced with the King and Manyara succeeding due to her virtuous behaviour.

The Power of Storytelling

The story of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters demonstrates how stories can convey life lessons and morals. Readers can explore themes such as class, poverty, and diversity through this folktale while learning the importance of being kind and virtuous.

The beauty of Africa

The setting of this classic folktale offers readers an insight into the culture of Zimbabwe by reinforcing its strong customs and beliefs through talking animals, magical spirits and gorgeous landscapes.

By doing so, it emphasises the beauty in Africa’s culture and traditions, making it clear why it was chosen as the backdrop for this enchanting story.

Key Characters


Mufaro is the father of Manyara and Nyasha. He loves his daughters equally but knows that only one will have the qualities to become Queen. Mufaro encourages both girls to strive for their best while showing kindness and courage on their journey.


Manyara is the kind-hearted daughter of Mufaro, who shows courage and strength during her arduous voyage to the King’s court. Despite trials such as an evil spirit bathed in smoke, a giant python, and blinding fog, she displays virtuous traits by helping those in need.

Ultimately, her kind heart wins her favour with the King leading her to become his true Queen.


Nyasha, Mufaro’s other daughter, treks like Manyara to meet the King and hopefully win his favour. However, Nyasha’s vanity often distracts her from completing tasks at hand, ultimately leading to her downfall when put against Manyara’s admirable qualities proving just how important it is to be kind over being beautiful.

Teaching Opportunities

  • Introduce students to African culture and help them become more familiar with Zimbabwe’s customs and beliefs.
  • Discuss themes such as poverty, class, and diversity in the book.
  • Help students explore the importance of kindness and virtue through participating in activities related to the story.
  • Teach students about the power of storytelling and its ability to convey life lessons and morals.
  • Please encourage students to use their imaginations when reading stories set in different cultures or times like this one from Africa.

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan 1 – Introducing African Culture


  • Students will understand the customs and beliefs of Zimbabwe, Africa.
  • Students can recall important aspects from Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale.


Begin by introducing the text, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, by John Steptoe and discuss what students can expect to learn throughout the lesson. Ask students about their general knowledge of Zimbabwe or any other African country to understand their current understanding.

Main Teaching Points

Discuss how Mufaro’s two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha, represent different aspects of the culture through their actions and choices. Please explain how essential themes such as poverty and class are presented in the story and why they are relevant to Zimbabwean culture.

Further, emphasise the importance of being kind over being beautiful as it relates to the story’s outcome between Manyara and Nyasha.


Have students engage in a reflection that encourages them to think about how these lessons apply in our society today. Discuss ways we can show kindness instead of vanity in our daily lives.

Key Questions

  • What customs do you think are related to Zimbabwe?
  • How did Manyara display courage while on her journey?
  • Why is it more important to be kind than it is to be beautiful?

Lesson Plan 2 – Power Of Storytelling


  • Students will better understand the storytelling process behind an author’s work.
  • Students will gain an appreciation for stories written in different cultures or times, like this one from Africa.


Introduce students to examples from modern-day authors exploring unique cultural perspectives through art or literature (ex: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Ask inquisitive questions about why authors are interested in exploring unfamiliar places or practices.

Discuss why stories matter no matter which country or language they come from and why they are essential when discussing cultural identity.

Main Teaching Points

Discuss how stories can teach valuable life lessons that apply outside their original cultural context (ex: John Steptoe’s message on kindness). Please encourage students to brainstorm ways people use stories now compared to when they initially used them thousands of years ago (like retellings, books, etc.)

Connect this concept back with Mufaro’s tale referring to how his daughters stepped into each stressful situation admirably due to their virtue regardless of whether it was part of their familiar belief system.


Have each student create a reflection summarising what messages from Mufaro’s story stood out most for them and any other books/stories they could think of that also held solid educational values.

Once done, have each student share what they wrote with another classmate emphasising collaboration within the learning process.

Key Questions

  • What is one thing you learned about Zimbabwean culture?
  • What message did Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters communicate about having courage when facing challenges?
  • How have our methods for sharing stories changed over time?

Books with Similar Themes to Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale

  • The Storyteller’s Beads by Jane Kurtz
  • I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité
  • Manzano, Manzano! Little Apple by Mary Lyn Ray
  • Baobab by C. Aston & M.J. Lynch
  • Roses and Wings by Kristina Evans
  • A Princess of Great Daring by Nadia L. Hohn

Links to Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters Resources

Learning to Give : This resource is a literature guide for John Steptoe’s book, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale. It contains an array of classroom activities and project ideas to develop students’ knowledge of Zimbabwean culture and the themes found in the story.

TeachersPayTeachers: This website provides various teaching activities for teachers looking to incorporate the story into their lesson plans. Activities include reading comprehension worksheets, character comparison charts and creative writing assignments exploring the themes found in Zimbabwean culture.

Playhouse Square: This comprehensive resource guide offers a selection of inspiring videos, activities, books and articles all related to Zimbabwean culture and the characters found in Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe. It is specifically designed for educators wanting to dive deeper into teaching this classic folktale with cross-curricular resources.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






Join our email list to receive the latest updates.

Add your form here