‘Future of children depends on quality of literature at their disposal’
African literature is deeply rooted in oral tradition, stories that are handed down principally by word of mouth from one generation to another. They range from the mythic narratives of the world creation, to simple proverbs that relate to human wisdom and have gradually metamorphosed into what is today known as children’s literature.
This genre comprises short stories, books, magazines, and poems that are enjoyed by children. Some notable Nigerian authors of this genre, whose stories still evoke nostalgic feeling, include, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Flora Nwapa, Segun Mabel and Buchi Emecheta.
Though, the concept of children’s literature continues to be popular, the quality of some of the literary works has begun to raise concern among critics and scholars.
In the opinion of Nigerian literary critic and coach, Oluwaseun Aina, “there are myriads of challenges noticeable in children’s books. They are either not interesting, error-prone or feature poorly illustrated pictures.” However, when she met the American author, Kathy Brodsky, during a conference in Boston, little did she know that a solution was in sight.
After reading a collection of children stories written by Brodsky, she gives an objective appraisal saying, “Kathy makes use of rhymes, which help her communicate so much in a few words. She writes with the aim of building children’s vocabulary by including ‘big’ words that will form part of their word set. Her books are also beautifully illustrated; characters are featured in most of her books. These characters are typically not human beings. They can be animals and non-living things.”
In describing her own writing style, Brodsky said, “I narrate my stories using interesting themes and a pinch of humour, designed to elicit a good response from my readers. It is important to also sustain the interest of your readers. African children are like any other children – something needs to spark their interest or curiosity. My books ignite a unique passion in children of all ages and cultures. Each story I write stimulates intellectual characteristics that are inherent in all children. Some of these features are curiosity, imagination, wonder and playfulness.”
Since Brodsky came along, morale at the book club has grown even more. Children attending Aina’s Magical Books Club are already enjoying Brodsky’s books; it has opened newer vistas of knowledge and experience to them. Aina states, ‘‘Brodsky’s books are very relevant to Nigerian schools and book clubs. Children who read her books learn more about themselves, and their environment. Her books also have questions at the end to help spur discussion between parents/teachers and children. These questions are thought provoking and are uniquely woven to help children get a deeper sense of themselves, and important issues we can relate with’’.
Having recorded a huge success donating books to Magical Books Club in Ibadan, Brodsky is looking for more places to donate her books, such as libraries, book clubs and schools in Nigeria. “I find the Nigerian people to be warm, friendly, curious, intelligent and gracious. My interactions with the people of Nigeria have been a wonderful experience. For a country that is an ocean away, I realize that people are not so different from one another. We all have the same basic human emotions. We laugh, cry and love in the same ways.”
Speaking on what inspires her books, Kathy said, “my environment inspires me to write. Often, when I may see something, or hear something, it inspires me to write a poem about what I just saw or heard. As a child I read all of the time. When we read, our imagination plays a much greater role than when we’re watching a movie. A movie springs from someone else’s imagination, while when we read a book, we “picture” the settings in our own mind.”
No doubt, the impact of Brodsky’s collection of books will continue to be a reference point in Book clubs, schools and libraries. The future of children depends solely on the quality of literature at their disposal.