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In Bright Lights, Bold Hearts, Nzelu interrogates heroism in Africa

Writers and artists that have assumed the onerous task of changing the narrative and putting things in proper perspective, with regards to the representation of Africa and Africans, have had to devise ingenious ways to achieve their aim.

Title: Bright Lights & Bold Hearts
Author: Okenna Nzelu
Publisher: Bright Lights Books 2021
Year of Publication: 2021
Pages: 86
Reviewer: Kikelola Oyebola
Genre: Nonfiction

Writers and artists that have assumed the onerous task of changing the narrative and putting things in proper perspective, with regards to the representation of Africa and Africans, have had to devise ingenious ways to achieve their aim.

This is due to the recognition that a lot has to be done to successfully engage their readers and make it worth their while.

This, particularly, applies to African writers of children books, who have had to contend with the notion planted early in the minds of young African readers that great achievers are only to be found in America and Europe. Most inspirational books that are available to young African readers usually present foreign characters that have had to perform the incredible to contribute to the success and well-being of the earth and its inhabitants.

Thus, the need to go the extra mile to deliver high quality content to their young readers, who had hitherto been bombarded and ‘brainwashed’ with such foreign works, is not lost on this category of writers. Their intention is to tell the African story the African way for Africans and the rest of the world.

The idea is to enable Africans, especially, the young ones, to better appreciate their history, culture and worth, thereby stimulating their self-esteem, which will in turn empower them to compete favourably and hold their own anywhere in the world.

And this precisely is what Okenna Nzelu, the author of Bright Lights & Bold Hearts, sets out to do. He is telling young Africans: Heroes and achievers are also found in every country in Africa. Indeed, there are so many talented and successful personalities in Africa that young Africans do not need to look further abroad for role models and inspirations.

Nzelu’s unique way of changing the narrative is by filling African children’s libraries with images of people like themselves who are successful, beautiful and who can be anything they want to be.

The author quite easily demonstrates that he is mindful of the fact that his young readers are impressionable. So, with carefully chosen words, quotes and bold, bright illustrations, the young reader is guided to fully grasp the importance of hard work, focus, perseverance and faith in his/her ability in the quest for fulfilment in any field of endeavour.

From the very start, the need to sincerely connect with the reader was established by Nzelu and Ukamaka Olisakwe, who penned the Foreword to the book. And to achieve this, Olisakwe offered an insight into what motivated the birth of the book, by using his own experience while growing up to analyse the influence and consequences of foreign literature on young Africans.

And of the author, he said: “Okenna Nzelu understands what is at stake. He knows that images were used to infiltrate the minds of young African children and pollute them, and he knows that images must be used to mend and empower them.”

Toeing this path, the author explained that, “This book will provide many ideas and illustrate what happens, when people, and specifically Africans, aim for something worthwhile…

“This book will not only inspire and provide aim, but also spark a renewed interest in our young ones to develop an early habit of reading. Of course, this cannot be done without the encouragement of parents and caregivers… There is something empowering about seeing yourself reflected in the characters profiled in this book. I expect that certain people will resonate more strongly with you than others. A shortcoming of this book is that I have unwittingly tried to tell a whole life story in only a few words…”

The 86-page book is written in simple, clear language with large, colourful illustrations children will find attractive. The stories portraying the exceptional qualities of the characters and their individual journey to success, though short, are long enough to capture the essence, while retaining children’s interest. It has been established that kids get easily bored and distracted by lengthy articles. And this must have informed the author’s deliberate preference for concise stories that go straight to the core of the subject. This format is retained throughout the book, and it is quite obvious that much effort was put in to ensuring balance between the articles and the illustrations. One did not overshadow the other.

To make things even easier, the reader is first introduced to each personality in a few, punchy sentences with larger fonts than the ones used in the body of the story. This way, the reader is able to have an overview of the character at a glance.

The 30 personalities selected from different countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Rwanda and Kenya have excelled in their various fields of human endeavour, and are acclaimed globally. Picked from different communities across Africa, these great achievers refused to succumb in the face of adversity — economic, religious or political and went on to excel. Their stories are not only relatable, they are also truly astounding.

Through these champions (males and females), the book is able to achieve its objective of urging young readers to take their destinies in their hands by following their passion, working hard, being focused and persevering to achieve their goals, regardless of obstacles that might come up along the way or discouragement from family, friends or society.

Not only this, the importance of giving back to society was equally emphasised, as the personalities are strong believers in touching as many lives as possible and contributing their quota to the development of society. This they do by establishing foundations, activism, scholarship awards and mentoring, among others.

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