The reality is that, across Africa, there just aren’t enough books for children to read. Books in whatever form.
We don’t publish enough children’s literature or young adult literature. The publishing industry is a harsh environment for African writers of literary fiction (the most popular genre), and even more so for writers of children’s literature.
Most of what’s considered story books for children wouldn’t excite nor hold the attention of a child. The problems are many and include: boring stories, dull illustrations, poor cover and book designs. Most publishers in Africa focus primarily on the lucrative textbook market and are not inclined to publish children’s literature on a continent of so many millions of kids. Imagine!
I’m not going to rant here. The women of Baobab, Deborah Ahenkorah and Nanama B. Acheampong, have both written about the issue in ‘Where are the Stories for African Children?’ and in ‘Celebrating Ghanaian Literature Week with Children in Mind‘.
A few African writers have sustained a career in children’s literature and one of them is the Ghanaian writer Meshack Asare. Like most Ghanaians who grew up in the 1950s, Asare had no access to children’s book with African or Ghanaian characters. He recalls that books he had access to where those in his father’s collection. Later, he would discover that there were indeed books for children when a friend asked him to illustrate a story from Brazil.
I introduced Meshack Asare’s books to my seven year old when he was four. We started with Sosu’s Call, the story of a physically challenged boy who saves his village-by-the-sea from a storm’s devastation. Sosu’s Call is one of four children’s books included in the list of Africa’s best 100 books of the twentieth century. It has also won a UNESCO prize. The story is gripping, and the illustrations are vivid and wonderful.
Asare’s stories are inclusive and depict the lives of Ghanaian children who reside far away from the neighborhoods and halls of power and privilege. And that delights this mother’s heart! He ventured out of Ghana and has retold a number of tales from other African countries, notably from Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Asare’s works form the foundation of my child’s library. Although the situation is improving, it’s still not easy to half-fill a child’s library with books about African children or stories that are informed by their experiences. Luckily, Meshack Asare’s books are still in print and also available in e-format so we’ve been able to get as many as we can.
Meshack Asare, A Selected Bibliography:
- Sosu’s Call (my review)
- The Canoe’s Story (review at Geosi Reads)
- The Blue Marble
- Noma’s Sand
- Meliga’s Day
- Nana’s Son
- The Cross Drums
- The Magic Goat
- Cat in Search of a Friend
- Chipo and the Bird on the Hill: A Tale of Ancient Zimbabwe
- The Brassman’s Secret
- Tawia Goes to Sea
- I am Kofi
“It is essential for children, especially children in developing countries, to be helped by every means possible to be able to read, to have books to read, and to have books that tell them about themselves. It’s also important to make a ritual out of reading …and to have the ability to look at symbols and words and form meaning from them. It is as important and necessary as eating and as brushing one’s teeth’ – Meshack Asare in an interview with Worldreader.
Do check out his work ,some of which are sold on Amazon Those in Ghana can get his books from Sub-Saharan Publishers and from bookstores nationwide.