Today, literature for the Nigerian child has evolved from oral tradition/stories told by parents at night under the moonlight to modern-day storybooks, videos, television series and animations. Traditionally, these moonlight stories, whose characters were humans, animals and non-living things, served a vital role in inculcating values and life lessons to our children as well as created an avenue for family bonding while having fun.
In contemporary times, the essence of folklore as a tool for nurturing and instilling discipline in children has been eroded. Children are left to read storybooks (if they can), watch videos and decipher content by themselves. With the advent of cable TV and the internet, busy present-day parents have wholly embraced them as a way of engaging their children and have further relegated reading to the background. This has cast a strain on interest in reading and largely is traceable to the absence of a reading culture in Nigeria and Africa at large.
Ms 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”.
According to her, “struggling readers abandon reading all together because it’s such an effort for them with no one around to make the reading process enjoyable.” It was at this point, that it dawned on her that the notion that most people have of children not loving to read might just have been misconstrued.
Her experience in the field gave birth to Magical Books Club in November, 2012, with the intent of providing an avenue through which “children can enjoy the art of reading and use the knowledge gained to empower themselves and those around them.” Her belief is that when “children fall in love with the art of reading, this in itself will spur them to be better readers.”
Ms Aina’s quest to ensure that children “fall in love” with the art of reading, took her to the 2016 International Literacy Association Conference in Boston, where she met Kathy Brodsky, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Psychotherapist, Multiple Award-winning American Author and Poet.
Kathy had given Oluwaseun her newest book at the time, – High Wire Act, at the Conference in Boston.
Back home in Nigeria, the response of the children at the Magical Books club to Kathy Brodsky’s beautifully illustrated and engaging book, had spurred Oluwaseun to contact Kathy several months later through an email, asking if Kathy would Skype with her literacy program students.
Kathy Brodsky noted that “when we Skyped, it was so much fun to see how excited the kids were when they were reading High Wire Act and discussing the questions that, I decided perhaps she would like the rest of my books for her program.”
This meeting culminated in the donation of eight more of Kathy’s children’s books to the Magical Books Club. Kathy Brodsky’s Children’s books make use of rhyming poetic verses and lovely illustrations drawn from her childhood and many years of social work experience as a psychotherapist. These books include Moments in Our Lives, The Inside Story,Just Sniffing Around, Purrsnikitty, A Horse Named Special, Stover, The Winner Is, My Bent Tree, and A CatFish Tale.
For Kathy, the fact that her books have transcended borders, nations and cultures and are being found relevant in Ibadan, Nigeria is profound. It enforces the universalism of literature. Therefore, she was thrilled to donate her visually exciting, entertaining, educational and fun books to Magical Books Club to help Oluwaseun establish reading as the foundation for advancement for children in Nigeria.
In order to establish reading as a foundation for advancement in Nigeria, Oluwaseun through her Magical Books Club has worked with over 200 children since its inception. She is constantly motivated by the feedback from parents on how her literacy “programme has impacted upon their children’s love for and attitude to reading, academic performance, entrepreneurial awareness, and social skills.”
She noted that Nigerian Children’s literature is plagued by a dearth of books for babies and toddlers, and indigenous authors who specialize in children’s literature can draw some lessons from Kathy Brodsky’s books.
Nigerian authors, according to her, “can learn the art of presenting their books in such a beautifully illustrated package like Kathy’s books. They should not also limit the capability of children and include few “big” words they can learn” to build their vocabulary.
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, teachers and children that will entrench values in children such as compassion, self-control, contentment, etc.
This medium can be used to recreate the essence of folklore as a tool for nurturing values, instilling discipline in children and gently promoting conversations about the issues facing children and families today like self-esteem, responsibility, etc.
Kathy also fosters a deep connection with her readers by sharing events that led to the development of each story; this Oluwaseun believes will encourage her readers to write too.
Kathy Brodsky’s venture into writing in her mid-fifty’s challenges Nigeria’s writers to translate thousands of our verbal stories handed down from generation to generation into exciting stories that can captivate the “curiosity, imagination, wonder and playfulness” in the Nigerian child.
These unique African oral stories if effectively captured in writing with appealing graphic designs have the potential to place Nigeria children’s literature on the global pedestal.