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The Oasis Book Project

A record of our work at The Oasis Book Project. Our Mission is to better the reading and writing culture in Uganda by fostering local authors and providing Ugandan children with educative, entertaining and relevant stories.

WHY AFRICAN WRITERS DON'T WRITE CHILDREN'S STORIES

Quite a number people, all of them Ugandan, have asked me why I am only focusing on Children’s stories, and wondered when I will publish my first novel for adults. Some have even insinuated that children stories are easier to write and that writers can only be taken seriously after they write a full length novel.  What these people do not know, is that children stories are the most difficult stories to write, and that it is because of the same fact, that many African writers either fear to tackle them or deliberately refrain from doing so.

 Children ideally look out for entertainment in their books. They want to be sucked into the story with the first sentence and they want that attention to be held all the way to the last page.  As thus, children’s stories require much more than good punctuation, flawless grammatical skills and rich descriptive language. They require powerful characters, simple but exciting plots, sharp dialogue, and great story-telling techniques. Which is exactly why stories by Enid Blyon, Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss, The Brothers Grimm, Rudyard Kipling, to name but a few, have for years appealed to children from all over the world, including those from Africa.  

 You should note, however, that none of the aforementioned writers for children is from Africa. And neither have I left them out deliberately.  The fact is there are very few, if any great children stories written by African writers. I personally am a voracious reader and I have read all the above mentioned writers, and many more. And while growing up I read many great children’s stories from Arabia (Alladin), America (The Cat in The Hat), Europe (Cinderella) but not even one from Africa. At the time it never struck me as odd. The stories from abroad were really good and that is all I cared for, never mind that all the characters and the author’s names were exotic.

 But those stories had an effect on me: the unfortunate effect that to date  even though I still remain a voracious reader, and have read thousands of books, I have a negative attitude to books by African writers, have only read less than ten books by my colleagues,  and liked only three. Its not that I consider African literature as bad: it’s the fact that I was introduced to African stories very late in life, in O’level to be exact, and by this time, my brain had already been wired to prefer stories from abroad.

Which must be the case with many others readers in Africa, who, like me, grew up reading the likes of Rapunzel, Charlie and the Chocolate factory and the Famous Five series,  for I know many people who actually love to read and buy lots of books  but never buy books by African writers, except as a requirement for academic study. This is exactly  why I felt that if I was to get more people to appreciate African literature, I had to start by creating great children stories, featuring powerful characters dealing with issues that they can relate to, to help prepare the African Children who read them for adult African literature when they grew up.

 Before I set out write this blog post, I set out to find and read some children’s stories by African writers that I could have missed growing up. I visited several bookshops, but aside from the Moses series by Barbara Kimenye, the rest of the stories I came across were less than impressive.  I wanted something as good as the stories I had read growing up, and since the bookshops were not being very helpful, I turned to the internet. I first Googled the words “African children’s writers’, and the topmost link that came up led to a list of ‘African writers by country, but, unsurprisingly, they are all writers for adult literary fiction. The second link led me to a list of South African writers, and the rest, to list after list of African-American writers.

 I didn't want to give up at the first hurdle. So I played around with words and Googled the search words ‘African children story writers’: The same links as above turned up. Next, I Googled the words ‘African children stories’, and was led to a page on amazon, titled children stories from Africa, which had the following books: Anansi and The Pool by Grace Hallworth, Bury My Bones But Not My Words by Tony Fairman, African Activity Book by Winky Adam, Adventures of Spider by Joyce C Akhurst, Anansi and The Talking Melon by Eric Kimmel, Anansi and The Spider by Gerald McDermott, Sosu’s Call by Meshack Asare and Memuna’s Baby by Adwoa A Bele. A list that struck me as odd because of the fact that only the last two, out of nine books, were actually written, by African writers, the rest, well just re-read their authors’ names. I moved on to  the Amazon America store and found the following books: African Folk Tales  by Hugh Vernon Jackson, The Five Children: A West African folk tale by Eric Madden and Frank Lessac,  The African Animal Tale series by Mwenye Hadithi( Swahili penname of an American writer) and Adrienne Kennaway, African Fairy Tales by Richard Ben Martin, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter, African Adventure Stories by J. Alden and Theodore Roosevelt, African Myths and Folk Tales by Carter Goodwin Woodson, and African Short stories – The adventures of Kalulu the Hare by Lina Clay and Kate Plum. Over twenty children’s books all together; not even one written by African writers.

 Not wanting to believe what I was confronted with as the truth, I Googled the words ‘children’s stories’ by some of the African literary giants I knew: Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, Nurrudin Farah, et cetera. Only Chinua Achebe turned out to have written some children’s books, but his titles (How the Leopard got its Claws) and themes (folklore), even though excellently written according to reviews, paled in comparison to his stories for adults. No wonder I, and presumably many people, were unaware that they even exist.  

Finally, I followed a link to Africa’s Equivalent of Amazon, Kenya based Ekitabu.com, which only sells books from Africa, and was shocked but not surprised to find that in their category list, there is no section for children’s stories(the closest they have is one for teens). This confirmed my long held suspicion that African writers either fear to write them because they are difficult to write convincingly, or deliberately refrain from writing children stories because the Caine Prize and Commonwealth Prize do not award this category, yet the better part of African writers write more for awards than they do to entertain.

Posted 471 weeks ago

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