Illustration of a boy smiling as he counts coins in his palm with baskets of fruit in the background
Art by E. B. Lewis

My Rows and Piles of Coins

Every week, Saruni counts the coins in his box, dreaming about the day he will buy a bicycle.

By Tololwa M. Mollel (adapted from the book) | Art by E. B. Lewis

Learning Objective: Students will read a realistic fiction story and analyze how details in the story show what life is like for Saruni, a boy living in a village in Tanzania.

Lexiles: 500L-600L
Guided Reading Level: Q
DRA Level: 40
Other Key Skills: text features, vocabulary, visual literacy, inference, author’s craft, interpreting text, figurative language, cause and effect, character, compare and contrast, theme, supporting details, narrative writing
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Before Reading

This story takes place in Tanzania, a country in East Africa. The main character, Saruni, mentions some terms you may not know:

Yeyo (yeh-YOH): what Saruni calls his mother

Murete (moo-reh-teh): what Saruni calls his father

chapati (chah-PAH-tee): fried, flat bread

sambusa (sahm-BOO-sah): dough stuffed with spiced vegetables, meat, or both

Before Reading

This story takes place in Tanzania, a country in East Africa. The main character, Saruni, mentions some terms you may not know:

Yeyo (yeh-YOH): what Saruni calls his mother

Murete (moo-reh-teh): what Saruni calls his father

chapati (chah-PAH-tee): fried, flat bread

sambusa (sahm-BOO-sah): dough stuffed with spiced vegetables, meat, or both

Think and Read: Setting

As you read, look for details that tell you what life is like for Saruni in his village in Tanzania.

My family grew fruits and vegetables in our village in Tanzania. On Saturdays, we sold our food at the local market. The market was a large, outdoor space filled with people. Some people sold food they’d grown or cooked. Others sold items they’d made. And others were there to shop. It was an exciting place to be.

I helped my mother, Yeyo, carry our food to the market. Yeyo carried some food on her head, and I pushed some in my old wooden wheelbarrow. After a good day, Yeyo gave me five whole ten-cent coins. She smiled and said, “Saruni, go and buy yourself something.”

I raced through the market. I saw delicious things to eat: roasted peanuts, chapati, and sambusa. There were toy trucks, kites, slingshots, and marbles. I wanted to buy everything. Then I saw several new bicycles in a row. One of them was red and blue. That’s what I would buy!

My father, Murete, had been teaching me to ride his bike. But it was big and heavy. If I had a bicycle of my own, I could help Yeyo carry more items to the market. How happy she would be!

That night, I dropped the coins into my secret money box. It held other ten-cent coins Yeyo had given me for helping with market work. I couldn’t believe it was all mine!

I emptied the box,

arranged all the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about the bicycle

I wanted to buy.

After a good day at the market, my mother, Yeyo, gave me five whole ten-cent coins. I gaped at the money until Yeyo nudged me. “Saruni, what are you waiting for? Go and buy yourself something.”

I plunged into the market. I saw roasted peanuts, chapati, rice cakes, and sambusa. There were wooden toy trucks, kites, slingshots, and marbles. My heart beat excitedly. I wanted to buy everything, but I clutched my coins tightly in my pocket.

At the edge of the market, I stopped. In a neat sparkling row stood several big new bicycles. One of them was decorated all over with red and blue.

That’s what I would buy!

For some time now, Murete, my father, had been teaching me to ride his big, heavy bicycle. If only I had a bicycle of my own!

A gruff voice startled me. “What are you looking for, little boy?”

I turned and bumped into a tall skinny man, who laughed at my confusion. Embarrassed, I hurried back to Yeyo.

That night, I dropped five ten-cent coins into my secret money box. It held other ten-cent coins Yeyo had given me for helping with market work on Saturdays. By the dim light of a lantern, I feasted my eyes on the money. I couldn’t believe it was all mine.

I emptied the box,

arranged all the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about the bicycle

I longed to buy.

Like a Cheetah on Wheels

Every day after school, I helped Yeyo make dinner. After dinner, I practiced riding Murete’s bicycle. He held the bike while I rode. Whenever he let go, I fell off or crashed into things. But I was determined. Soon I would be like a cheetah on wheels, racing on errands with my very own bicycle!

Saturday after Saturday, we took our items to the market to sell. We sold corn, pumpkins, spinach, and bananas. Yeyo gave me coins each time for helping. My money box grew heavier.

I emptied the box,

arranged the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about

the red and blue bicycle.

Every day after school, when I wasn’t helping Yeyo to prepare supper, I asked Murete if I could ride his bicycle. He held the bicycle steady while I rode around, my toes barely touching the pedals.

Whenever Murete let go, I wobbled, fell off, or crashed into things and among coffee trees. Other children from the neighborhood had a good laugh watching me.

Go on, laugh, I thought, sore but determined. Soon I would be like a cheetah on wheels, racing on errands with my very own bicycle!

Saturday after Saturday, we took goods to market, piled high on Yeyo’s head and on my squeaky old wooden wheelbarrow. We sold dried beans and maize, pumpkins, spinach, bananas, firewood, and eggs.

My money box grew heavier.

I emptied the box,

arranged the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about

the blue and red bicycle.

After several more lessons Murete let me ride on my own while he shouted instructions. “Eyes up, arms straight, keep pedaling, slow down!” I enjoyed the breeze on my face, the pedals turning smoothly under my feet, and, most of all, Yeyo’s proud smile as she watched me ride. How surprised she would be to see my new bicycle! And how grateful she would be when I used it to help her on market days!

Heavier and Heavier

After several more lessons, Murete let me ride the bike on my own. He shouted instructions as I rode. “Eyes up, arms straight, keep pedaling, Saruni!”

I enjoyed the breeze on my face. I enjoyed the pedals turning smoothly under my feet. Most of all, I enjoyed Yeyo’s proud smile as she watched me ride. How surprised she would be to see my new bicycle! And how happy she would be when I used it to help carry our food to the market!

The heavy March rains came. The ground became so muddy, nobody went to the market. Instead, I helped Yeyo with house chores. Whenever I could, I practiced riding Murete’s bicycle.

It stopped raining in June. Our food—corn, peas, sweet potatoes, and fruits—had grown well. There was so much food that we went to the market on both Saturdays and Wednesdays. My money box grew heavier and heavier.

I emptied the box,

arranged the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about the bicycle

I would buy.

The heavy March rains came. The ground became so muddy, nobody went to market. Instead, I helped Yeyo with house chores. When it wasn’t raining, I helped Murete on the coffee farm. We pruned the coffee trees and put fallen leaves and twigs around the coffee stems. Whenever I could, I practiced riding Murete’s bicycle.

It stopped raining in June. Not long after, school closed. Our harvest—fresh maize and peas, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and fruits—was so big, we went to market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. My money box grew heavier and heavier.

I emptied the box,

arranged the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about the bicycle

I would buy.

The Richest Boy in the World

I decided to try carrying one of our pumpkins while riding Murete’s bike. Murete helped me put a giant pumpkin in the basket on the back of the bike. I tried to pedal. But the bicycle wobbled so much that Murete had to grab it.

I practiced daily with smaller items.

Slowly, I learned to ride a bicycle while carrying more and more items.

One Saturday in July, we went to the market as usual. I put on Murete’s old coat to stay warm. July is one of the chilliest months of the year in Tanzania.

After we sold our food, I ran off into the crowd. All my precious coins were in my coat pockets. I must be the richest boy in the world, I thought. I felt like a king. I could buy anything.

I walked up to the man who sold the bicycles. “I want to buy a bicycle,” I said. I brought out my piles of coins. The man watched as I placed the money carefully on his table. “How many coins have you got there?”

Proudly, I told him. “Three hundred and five.”

He shook his head. “That’s not enough to buy one of my bicycles.” I walked away with my head down.

A few days later I grew confident enough to try to ride a loaded bicycle. With Murete’s help, I strapped a giant pumpkin on the carrier behind me. When I attempted to pedal, the bicycle wobbled so dangerously that Murete, alongside me, had to grab it.

“All right, Saruni, the load is too heavy for you,” he said, and I got off. Mounting the bicycle to ride back to the house, he sighed wearily. “And hard on my bones, which are getting too old for pedaling.”

I practiced daily with smaller loads, and slowly I learned to ride a loaded bicycle. No more pushing the squeaky old wheelbarrow, I thought. I would ride with my load tall and proud on my bicycle—just like Murete!

On the first Saturday after school opened in July, we went to market as usual. Late in the afternoon, after selling all we had, Yeyo sat talking with another trader.

I set off into the crowd. I wore an old coat Murete had handed down to me for chilly July days like today. My precious coins were wrapped in various bundles inside the oversize pockets of the coat.

I must be the richest boy in the world, I thought, feeling like a king. I can buy anything.

The tall skinny man was polishing his bicycles as I came up. “I want to buy a bicycle,” I said, and brought out my bundles of coins.

The man whistled in wonder as I unwrapped the money carefully on his table. “How many coins have you got there?”

Proudly, I told him. “Three hundred and five.”

“Three hundred and . . . five,” he muttered. “Mmh, that’s . . . thirty shillings and fifty cents.” He exploded with laughter. “A whole bicycle . . . for thirty shillings . . . and fifty cents?”

His laugh followed me as I walked away with my bundles of coins, deeply disappointed.

On our way home, Yeyo asked what was wrong.

I had to tell her everything.

“You saved all your money for a bicycle to help me?” she asked. I could tell she was amazed and touched. “How nice of you!” As for the tall skinny man, she scoffed, “Oi! What does he know? Of course you will buy a bicycle. One day you will.”

Her kind words did not cheer me.

My Very Own Bicycle

On our way home, Yeyo asked what was wrong. I told her everything.

“You saved all your money to buy
a bicycle to help me?” she asked.
“How nice of you! One day, you will buy a bicycle. I know you will.”

Her words did not cheer me up.

The next day, I came out of the house and saw something astonishing. Murete was sitting on an orange motorbike. He laughed at my excited questions. Then he walked into the house. He came out moments later with Yeyo and his bicycle. “Now that I have my new motorbike, I want to sell my bicycle to you,” he said. “For three hundred and five coins.”

I was shocked. How did he know about my secret money box? And about my dream to buy a bicycle? Murete smiled at Yeyo. And Yeyo smiled at me.

Suddenly, I realized the wonderful thing that had just happened. Yeyo had told Murete about my dream. And now Murete would help it come true.

“My bicycle, I have my very own bicycle!” I said. It didn’t matter at all that it wasn’t red and blue. I brought Murete my money box.

Murete gave Yeyo the box. Yeyo, in turn, gave it to me. Confused, I asked, “You’re giving it . . . back to me?”

She smiled. “It’s a reward for all your help to us.”

“Thank you, thank you!” I said happily.

The next afternoon, the sound of a pikipiki filled the air, tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk. I came out of the house and stared in astonishment. Murete was perched on an orange motorbike.

He cut the engine and dismounted. Then, chuckling at my excited questions about the pikipiki, he headed into the house.

When Murete came out, Yeyo was with him, and he was wheeling his bicycle. “I want to sell this to you. For thirty shillings and fifty cents.” He winked at me.

Surprised, I stared at Murete. How did he know about my secret money box? I hadn’t told him anything.

Then, suddenly, I realized the wonderful thing that had just happened. “My bicycle, I have my very own bicycle!” I said, and it didn’t matter at all that it wasn’t decorated with red and blue. Within moments, I had brought Murete my money box.

Murete gave Yeyo the box. Yeyo, in turn, gave it to me. Puzzled, I looked from Yeyo to Murete and to Yeyo again. “You’re giving it . . . back to me?”

Yeyo smiled. “It’s a reward for all your help to us.”

“Thank you, thank you!” I cried gleefully.

The next Saturday, my load sat tall and proud on my bicycle, which I walked importantly to market. I wasn’t riding it because Yeyo could never have kept up.

Looking over at Yeyo, I wished she didn’t have to carry such a big load on her head.

If only I had a cart to pull behind my bicycle, I thought, I could lighten her load!

That night I emptied the box,

arranged all the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about the cart

I would buy . . .

Tall and Proud

The next Saturday, I sat tall and proud on my bicycle. I looked over at Yeyo. I wished she didn’t have to carry so many items on her head. If only I had a cart to pull behind my bicycle, I thought.

That afternoon, Yeyo gave me coins for helping out at the market, and I added them to my box.

I emptied the box,

arranged all the coins in piles

and the piles in rows.

Then I counted the coins

and thought about the cart

I would buy . . .

THINK AND WRITE

Imagine that you’re planning to visit Saruni in his village. Write a letter to him describing the things you want to do and see while you’re there.

THINK AND WRITE

Imagine that you’re planning to visit Saruni in his village. Write a letter to him describing the things you want to do and see while you’re there.

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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Explore the Storyworks 3 Archives

Have students read another story that takes place in Tanzania: our paired-text article from March/April 2020, “The Boy Who Couldn’t Smile.” This article describes the life of a boy named Osawa, who received life-changing cleft-lip surgery with the help of the organization Smile Train. Ask students how the setting compares with the one in “My Rows and Piles of Coins.”

Read the Original Story

This story is adapted from a picture book. Share it with your students and point out the illustrations of scenes they’ll recognize from the Storyworks 3 version.

Learn to Save

Share this WikiHow that provides helpful tips for how to save money as a kid. Invite students to write up their own plans for saving money, whether for a specific item or for a rainy day.

Life in Tanzania

in this short video created by Plan International, a humanitarian organization focused on children’s rights and equality for girls, students can meet Matheo, a Tanzanian boy who films a day in his life, including events at home and at school. Students may be interested in discussing similarities and differences between Matheo’s and Saruni’s lives.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Close Reading

3. SEL Focus

4. Skill Building and Writing

5. Differentiate and Customize

Struggling Readers, Multilingual Learners, Advanced Readers, Creative Writing

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features/Build Background Knowledge  (15 minutes)  

  • Instruct students to look at pages 16-17. Direct their attention to the title, subtitle, and illustration. Ask them to describe the illustration and predict what the story will be about. 
  • Direct students to the Before Reading box on page 17. Look at the map together, then read aloud the text in the box. Ask students to repeat the four terms defined in the box. 

  • As a class, view the Background Builder Slideshow to introduce important details students will encounter in the story.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • We have highlighted in bold six words that may be challenging and defined each on the bottom of the page on which it appears: wheelbarrow, determined, errands, wobbled, precious, and astonishing.
  • Preview these terms by projecting or distributing our Vocabulary Skill Builder and completing it as a class. You may also play our Vocabulary Slideshow, with audio and images that help students with pronunciation and comprehension.

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

  • Call on volunteers to read aloud the Think and Read box on page 17 and the Think and Write box on page 21. These prompts and the Skill Builders support the story’s featured skill, setting.

2. Close Reading

Reading and Unpacking the Text

  • First read: Read the story as a class or have students follow along as they listen to the Read-Aloud.
  • Have students identify story details and vocabulary they don’t understand. 

  • Second read: Project, distribute, or assign the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions. Discuss them as a class, rereading sentences or passages as necessary. (Alternatively, assign all or part of the Learning Journey Slide Deck, which contains the questions as well as other activities from this lesson plan and a link to the story.)

  • Pair each student with a partner to discuss the Critical-Thinking Questions. Then ask the pairs to share their answers with the class.

  • Follow up with the SEL Focus activity.

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)

  • Read the first section and study the images on pages 16-17. This story takes place in Tanzania, a country in East Africa. What details show that the story takes place somewhere other than the United States? (setting, text features, visual literacy) You can tell the story takes place somewhere other than the United States because the author writes “in our village in Tanzania” In the first sentence. Also, the coins in Saruni’s hand don’t look like U.S. money. There are maps showing Africa and the country of Tanzania. Saruni goes to an outdoor market to buy things. In the United States, most people buy things at stores. Also, some of the foods that Saruni sees at the market, such as chapati and sambusa, would be unusual to find in most American stores. 
  • How does Saruni react to seeing the bicycles in the market? What decision does he make? (inference) Saruni is filled with excitement when he sees the bicycles—especially the one that is red and blue. He decides to add the money that Yeyo gave him to his secret money box to save up and buy that bicycle. 
  • Look at the final six lines of the first section. Think about why the author arranged the lines this way. What do they look like? Why do you think the author repeats these lines throughout the story? (author’s craft) The lines look like the rows and piles of coins that Saruni is stacking up. The author repeats these lines to show that each time Saruni adds money to his secret money box, he is counting the rows and piles of coins and thinking about what he plans to buy.
  • Read the next section. Explain what Saruni means when he says that soon he would be “like a cheetah on wheels.” (interpreting text, figurative language) Cheetahs are very fast. When Saruni says that he’ll be “like a cheetah on wheels,” he means that after more practice, he’ll be able to ride the bike quickly.
  • Read “Heavier and Heavier.” Why did Saruni and his family stop going to the market in March? (setting, cause and effect) Heavy rains started up in March and stopped in June. These rains made the ground too muddy to go to the market.
  • Read “The Richest Boy in the World.” How has Saruni’s bike riding improved over the course of the story? What does this tell you about him? (character) Saruni has gotten much better at riding his father’s bike. He even learns to ride “while carrying more and more items.” This tells you that he’s a determined person who doesn’t give up on something just because it’s difficult. It also tells you how much he wants to help his parents.
  • Compare how Saruni feels as he’s going to the place that sells bicycles with how he feels when he leaves. (compare and contrast) When Saruni is on his way to buy a bicycle at the market, you can tell he’s excited. He runs into the crowd at the market and feels like “the richest boy in the world,” like he can buy anything. He feels proud when he tells the seller how much money he has. When Saruni finds out he doesn’t have enough money to buy the bicycle, you can tell that he is unhappy and disappointed. He walks away with his head down. 
  • Why did Saruni’s parents give him back his money box? (theme) Saruni’s parents returned the box because they wanted to reward him for helping the family. They wanted to show him that they appreciate his thinking of his family and being selfless.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

  • What details in the story show that Saruni is someone who cares about his family and wants to help them? (character, supporting details) Saruni carries items to the market and helps Yeyo there. He is saving his money to buy a bicycle (and later a cart) so his mother doesn’t have to carry so much. While saving money, he practices riding his father’s bicycle so he can carry more market items. He thinks about how happy his mother will be when he uses his bicycle to help her. Also, Saruni does chores at home.

3. SEL Focus

Selflessness/Concern for Others

In this story, Saruni acts selflessly when he thinks of his family's needs over his own. Explain that being “selfless” is the opposite of being “selfish.” As a class, come up with ways that people can be selfless. Let your students know that small selfless acts count too, such as sharing a treat with your brother, letting your friend choose which game you’ll play, or asking to help out with a chore at home. Challenge students to do a selfless act over the next week. Ask them to pay attention to how it made them feel afterward.

4. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Setting

  • Distribute or digitally assign the Setting Skill Builder and have students complete it in class or for homework.  

  • Ask students to write a response to the prompt in the Think and Write box on
    page 21. 

Differentiate and Customize
For Striving Readers

Gather students in a group and display the Background Builder Slideshow. After going through it as a group, assign a detail from the Background Builder to each student. As you read the story together, have students raise their hands when their detail is mentioned, and (if necessary) remind the group what the word or detail means.

For Multilingual Learners

Explain to students that the author of this story is from Tanzania, and that he includes many details in his story about his home country. Provide several examples of these details: what Saruni calls his mother and father (Yeyo and Murete), the foods at the market (chapati and sambusa), the type of money Saruni is holding in the illustration (shillings), and the weather in the story (heavy March rains and chilly July days). Ask: If this story were to take place in the country where you or your family is originally from, how would these details be different? Allow some time for students to do their own research or ask a family member.

For Advanced Readers

The end of the story suggests that Saruni is now saving up to buy a cart to help his family transport things to the market. Have students work in groups to write the next section of the story, picking up where “My Rows and Piles of Coins” ends.

For Independent Learning

We’ve created a Choice Board especially for this article that offers six varied activities for students. Students can do one activity or as many as they’d like, working at their own pace. Most of the activities on the Choice Board can be done away from a computer. 

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