Lovemore Ranga Mataire The Reader
One of the areas that I think the new curriculum failed to fully capture is the issue of children’s literature in local languages.
In a presentation at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Writer’s Workshop way back in 1998, South African author Elinor Sisulu made a compelling case for the deficiency and lack of appreciation of children’s books in the school curriculum.
Author of “The Day Gogo Went to Vote”, Sisulu noted that while there seem to be a surge in global interest of multicultural literature, Africa particularly Southern Africa was still behind in retelling and contextualising its stories in the form of children’s literature.
Sisulu recounted how her book, which was published by United States’ Little, Brown and Company in 1996 and was selected for the 1997 Notable Books Lists of the American Library Association, the International Reading Association and the Smithsonian Institute, won the Best Children’s Book Award of the African Studies Association and the Smithsonian Institute was not even known in South Africa.
“I thought that if Americans liked the book so much, South Africans would like it even more. I soon realised that this was not the case. Compared to the response in the US, the book caused barely a ripple in South Africa,” Sisulu lamented as she said this problem was not just peculiar to South Africa but Zimbabwe as well.
Children’s books barely receive any attention in Zimbabwe.
Very few publications actually take time to review the books and even when they do they rarely focus on local books by local authors.
Even bookshops still operating in the country focus more on imported children’s books that have little relevance to the children’s immediate environ- ment.
Many pictorial books available at pre-schools and early primary years have pictures of Barbie and other such characters eating apples and constantly inquiring about how lovely the weather is.
This is despite the fact that in their daily lives they barely exclaim about the weather in the almost perennial savannah sun.
While it is true that the market for children’s books is much smaller in South Africa and worse in Zimbabwe than the US, there is a serious negative attitude towards children’s books that needs to be dealt with especially towards picture books.
One of the saddest developments of post-colonial Africa is that some people have used our local resource historical material to make thousands of dollars while our writers feel disillusioned by lack of recognition when they use the same material.
Having said that, our education system needs to move away from the textbook and teacher driven approach.
The focus seems to be on the mechanical act of reading and writing and not on the story.
The attention of the young child is surely first captured by the story and the reading and writing skills will follow.
If children have access to fascinating and attractive books when they start reading, they are more likely to become lifelong readers who will seek knowledge for its own sake and not just because they want to pass their examinations.
A good picture book stimulates the imagination of the child.
While it is true that one can become educated without using imagination, one surely cannot create or initiate without imagination.
When asked by a parent what one ought to give a child to turn her into a scientist, Albert Einstein remarked: “Fairy tales, fairy tales and more fairy stories.”
It is also important that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education realise the importance of interaction between writers and school children by removing bottlenecks preventing writers in visiting schools.
Visiting schools demystifies the book and widens the bounds of possibility for children.
In some countries schools always invite writers to visit and the writers are treated like celebrities.