By SAMUEL ABULUDE, Lagos
Today, literature for the Nigerian child has evolved from oral tradition to new media. The era where parents entertained, educated and informed children about cultural codes through folkloric means has given way to more advanced media forms in the mould of story books, cartoons, videos games, television series and animations.
Traditionally, moonlight stories are fictitious stories woven around characters that are human, animals or inanimate objects. Ultimately, it serves a vital role for inculcating values or life lessons in children. In a nutshell, the Oral tradition created an avenue for family bonding and recreational activities in the pristine Nigerian society.
In spite of the paradigm shift from the folkloric tradition to digital literary forms, American author, Kathy Brodsky believes that by infusing folkloric style in children’s book, readers can appreciate books better while also imbibing good morals. Brodsky is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, writes and promotes quality books that are timely, visually exciting, entertaining, educational and fun.
She believes that people can understand other cultures through story telling. ‘‘Nigeria has a rich history of storytelling that needs to be shared with the world. In particular, more children’s stories need to come out of the nations of Nigeria.
There are thousands of verbal stories handed down generation to generation that need to be captured in writing as the continent of Africa is unique to the world in so many ways’’. So far, Kathy’s books include Moments in Our Lives, The Inside Story, Just Sniffing Around, Purrsnikitty, A Horse Named Special, Stover, The Winner Is and A CatFish Tale Spanish edition – El Cuento de Don Gato Pez.
Kathy makes use of rhymes which helps 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. Also, her books are also beautifully illustrated. Furthermore, they are peculiar because her characters feature in other books she writes. These characters are typically not human beings. They can be animals and non-living things.
Incidentally, Brodsky and Nigerian literary critic and coach, Oluwaseun Aina, had met at the 2016 edition of the International Literacy Association Conference in Boston. The ILA conference is a Global Reading Network for literary minds across world. According to Aina, ‘‘I was going from booth to booth networking with publishers and authors when I came across Brodsky’s booth’’.
Initially, Brodsky had donated her newest book, High Wire Act to Aina during the conference. However, she also decided to donate the rest of her books for her program after an engaging and exhilarating Skype session with children at the Magical Book Club.
Brodsky avers that ‘‘I felt this program was especially important because it’s bringing something about literacy to a population that is being ignored. Also, reading is the basis for every type of learning, and if a person can read, “the sky is the limit” in terms of their knowledge’’.
Mrs. Oluwaseun Aina, a Reading Specialist, Founder and Programmes Coordinator of Magical Books, while researching on reading comprehension in children as a post graduate course at the University of Ibadan observed that most children who had attained the stage of “reading to learn” still had difficulty “learning to read”.
In contemporary times, the essence of folklore as a tool for nurturing and instilling discipline in children has been eroded.
This has cast a strain on reading and largely traceable to the absence of a reading culture in Nigeria and Africa at large. According to Aina, ‘‘Nigerian authors can also learn from Kathy’s style of actively involving her readers by including discussion questions at the end of each book, these questions encourage children to think deeply about themselves, their environment, research, write, draw, sing and do much more, as well as, creating an opportunity for further discussions between parents or teachers and the children that will entrench values in children such as compassion, self-control, contentment’’.
Kathy’s style and approach to literature re-enforces the universalism of literature. This explains why Children who are attending Magical Book Club are already enjoying Brodsky’s books. It has opened newer vistas of knowledge and experience to them.
Aina stated that ‘‘Kathy’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’’
Therefore, it is not surprising to know that on account of Brodsky’s prolific books, there is a new lease of life in Magical Book Club as children’s literary interpretation has improved. Omolola Tiamiyu, a 14 years old member of the club shares her thoughts of Brodsky’s books. According to her, ‘‘High Wire Act is about the importance of traffic lights. Without traffic lights, there would be delay and disruption in the movement of cars and everybody would miss benefit of traffic light. Also, The winner is… is about a dog who tries to be like a cat to win a competition but the dog eventually learns not to copy anybody but to be himself. The same applies to us, sometimes we might want to be like someone else but we should be ourselves’’.
Also, 11 years old Ademola Tiamiyu, reflects on High Wire Act. ‘‘It teaches us the importance of traffic lights on busy streets and intersections. The winner is… teaches us that we should try not to be like someone else. We should be happy with who we are’’. Zahra Adesina-Aderonmu, 12, affirms that Stover is about a fit pig that eats healthy and exercises daily. This teaches us to keep fit’’. Aina shares her success story: ‘‘I am always excited when parents give positive feedback on how the programme has impacted upon their children’s love for reading, academic performance, entrepreneurial awareness and social skills’’.
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