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Victory for young readers

Victory for young readers Author Daniel Mutendi at the 2016 NAMA Awards
Author Daniel Mutendi at the 2016 NAMA Awards

Author Daniel Mutendi at the 2016 NAMA Awards

Beaven Tapureta –  Bookshelf

The winning title of the 2016 NAMA Outstanding Children’s Book is Daniel Mutendi’s “Tsuro naGudo: Misi Yese Haifanani” which, by virtue of its creative design and well-presented content, is destined to illuminate reading culture among children in Zimbabwe.

The book, illustrated by Wilbur Kandiero, was published last year by DanTs Media Publishing and is one of the titles in the publisher’s Dzavapwere series which has more than five children’s folktales. Mutendi’s high-spirited love for the young readers ignites every parent’s hope for a creative, informed and cultured future generation.

In his acceptance speech at the NAMA awards ceremony last week, Mutendi said he wrote the book mainly for his children after he discovered the dilemma that most local parents face when choosing story-books for their children.

In an interview with Bookshelf, a happy Mutendi explained his concern for children, said when he started looking for books for his daughter he was disappointed by the lack of children’s literature in mother languages in the bookshops.

“When my daughter was born, I began to look for storybooks to read to her at bedtime. There was an abundance of English fairy tales such as ‘‘Beauty and the Beast’’, ‘‘Cinderella’’, ‘‘Alice in Wonderland’’ to name a few. I could not find books about ‘Tsuro naGudo’ and many other ChiShona folktales that I grew up listening to at night. I was saddened. I had to do something about it instead of just being sad. The result was the book ‘Tsuro naGudo: Misi Yese Haifanani’. I love my kids so much and I would like them to learn as much of the good aspects of Zimbabwean/African culture and roots as they can. Our nganos are an invaluable source of these good aspects,” said Mutendi.

Now that many children will benefit from what started as a book only for his own kids, the author says he is still very anxious as much as he feels happy about it.

“I want so much for many more people to understand my viewpoint and hopefully get a lot of support from them. Our languages and cultural heritage are some of the things that we can truly be proud of because we own them. My passion is to see Zimbabwe’s vernacular languages preserved. In ChiShona we say ‘chembere mhenzi yakabva muhupwere hwayo’. This emphasises the importance or impact of what is taught to children and how that affects who they become as adults. It is therefore prudent for me to target children, the demography that is adversely affected by the loss of their mother tongues. It is not a secret that a lot of Zimbabwean teachers and parents shun our vernacular languages and have an obscene preference for foreign languages especially English language,” said Mutendi.

The well-illustrated book “Tsuro naGudo: Misi Yese Haifanani”, written in dialect (ChiKaranga), comes with an audio-version of the story on CD. With many crèches and schools now incorporating ICT in their educational programmes, the CD is another of Mutendi’s clever means to entice the children to love and appreciate their cultural values through the art of storytelling.

It captures the spirit of oral storytelling (by word of mouth) as it was in the beginning before the stories were recorded in writing. While this traditional story or children’s folktale is captured in writing by Mutendi, on the CD a female voice excellently tells the story (just as it is in the book) as gentle mbira instrumental music plays in the background. This oral aspect adds more life to the story as the children get to hear the actual dialogue between animal characters or the sounds in a certain scene.

“When I wrote this book, I also had fellow parents in mind. In the olden times, it was mostly adults who told our ngano to us before we went to bed. I wanted parents to read this ngano to their little ones at bedtime, just as they do when they read English fairy tales to them. Now, a big number of today’s Zimbabwean parents do not know how to read ChiShona properly. The audio book therefore helps the parents as well as the children should they want to read on their own,” Mutendi said.

However, the book looks vivid. It appeals to children especially those that can read on their own. Like another writer Ignitius T Mabasa who has modernized his Shona fables for children, Mutendi has also brought in the modern touch in “Tsuro naGudo: Misi Yese Haifanani”. The illustrations play a great role in capturing modern images. In one of the scenes, Gudo and his family are seen washing hands by the river using a ‘hand-washing liquid’ and in another, when at Gudo’s home during preparations for a banquet, there is a scotch cart with the legend ‘Outside Catering’ on its side.

According to Mutendi, if the children’s reading material is not monitored in this era of the internet, they are likely to fall victim to fatal obsession with sites that never teach them anything. To motivate children to read, he says, parents and guardians need to take a very active role in monitoring their children and taking part in teaching them to read.

“They should read to their children at very early ages so that reading becomes a habit to the children. Some disciplined parents actually begin to read to their unborn children during pregnancy,” he says.Children who will read “Tsuro naGudo: Misi Yese Haifanani” or listen to the CD shall indeed have some kind of merriment as the story twists the general perception of the characters Tsuro Magen’a (hare) and his uncle Gudo (baboon). In most of Shona fables, the hare normally outwits the baboon but in this story, it is the other way round. At first Tsuro wears the gown of pride as he arranges a party to celebrate his daughter’s marriage to the Njiri’s (warthog) son. Despite his uncle Gudo’s role as the go-between/middle person in the marriage, Tsuro and his wife decide not to invite him. They devise a way to bar Gudo and his family from the party. Their trick succeeds!

Time flies. Gudo later holds a much bigger party at his home and openly invites Tsuro and family. Things fall apart for Tsuro when his uncle tells him the banquet’s rules and conditions which, for Tsuro, are impossible to follow. No matter how hard Tsuro pleads with his uncle, humiliation is all he gets!

At the end of the tale, young readers are likely to feel sad at the downfall of their representational hero! The end however will generate thought around the saying: do unto others what you would have them do to you. There are many lessons for children in the story.

Daniel Mutendi is married to Tsitsi Mutendi (the Founding and managing Editor of Jewel Magazine Zimbabwe and current Editor of Edgars’ The Club Magazine). He is a father of two, Jasmine Mufaro and Daniel Djimon Mutendi.

A former Art and Religion teacher, Mutendi is a co-founder and current Managing Director of DanTs Media.

“Tsuro naGudo: Misi Yese Haifanani” is his first published book. He has been an opinion columnist for various magazines.

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