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On July 26 2013, there was a press release from Golden Baobab announcing the end of its call for submissions for the 2013 Golden Baobab Prize. Golden Baobab has undoubtedly established itself in the literary sphere as the voice of African children’s literature. As the Executive Director, Deborah Ahenkorah says, “African children deserve to grow up surrounded by stories that reflect their cultures and experiences.” This statement has been the driving force in the Golden Baobab key objective of pushing African stories to the forefront of the literary world.

Considering the number of stories received this year, 180 stories from 13 African countries, is it untoward to ask, “Does Africa not care for the intellectual growth of its future citizens?” A continent with 54 countries and 1 billion people (as at 2009) and only 180 stories from 13 countries! Stories are the repositories of culture. In my opinion, I think we can do better than this. It is true that all the 1 billion people cannot write stories for children and are doing other worthy things but I still think we can expect more.

True, our continent has been beleaguered with circumstances (low literacy rate, coups, etc )hat have stunted our growth and development but how long are we going to pull up this card anytime the issue of not doing enough is raised? The Golden Baobab Prize was established to inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by gifted African writers. Currently In its 5th year, the Prize has received a little over a thousand submitted stories. A little over a thousand stories in 5 years, in the world’s second largest continent with its over 1 billion people scattered all over the world.  This is not good enough.

I am not in anyway  discounting the invaluable contribution to African Children’s Literature other organizations have made.  The Junior African Writers Series (JAWS) by Heinnemann and the Pacesetters books by Macmillan may be mentioned as the stimulant of African writing for children. The bustling publishing industry of South Africa and Nigeria is something to be proud of.  However, Africa is more than just these 2 countries ; there is so much we can do.

It is about time we had a serious conversation about the African children’s literature industry and space that Golden Baobab occupies with other well-meaning organizations on our continent. The children’s book publishing in India is estimated to be worth $1.15 billion growing at the rate of 25% per annum.

According to IBIS World’s Market Research on the Children’s Book Publishing Industry over a period of 5 years (2007 to 2012), the industry (in the US) accounted for:

  • 487 businesses
  • $3 billion in revenue
  • 9, 307 people employed and
  • An annual growth of 0.7%

These are positive statistics that should set investors on a scrambling spree yet you and I know that is not the case. This is a billion dollar industry waiting to be taken over by writers, illustrators, publishers, marketers and anyone you can think of within this space. South Africa may be considered as the hub of African children’s literature.  To paraphrase the title of NoViolet Bulawayo’s  famous book, “We need new countries.” We need new countries to be known for African children’s literature so that Africa can have a fair representation in the sphere of children’s literature. We need new names, new authors, new illustrators, new readers.

So why aren’t our African writers writing for children?

A publisher friend once told me that that the “literature” (fiction and non-academic material)  market itself is not considered profitable enough that is why many of the publishing houses lean towards the publication of academic/educational materials that has a steady market. What other reasons are there? We would like to know. Upon interaction with some writer friends, the issue of money was mentioned as a reason why African writers aren’t writing for children.  Money to “motivate” them to dedicate their time to churn out stellar literary pieces for African children, money to attend conferences and writing workshops which will keep them updated on happenings in the writing and publishing world. If the Golden Baobab Prize had more money, I believe it would offer more than the $1,000 dollars that winners are given but like everyone else, only more money will make that happen. Money is not the panacea to the problems of the African children’s book publishing industry but it will go a long way in alleviating some of the problems facing it.

African writers need publishers (neither vanity presses nor academic/educational publishers) who will be willing to place quality over expenses. This is not to say academic or educational publishers cannot do it. Heinemann and Macmillan are at their core,  academic/educational publishers but they set aside different departments dedicated to literature.  African writers need publishers interested in the growth of their clientele and what they represent; publishers who will explore ways of making books available to as many consumers as possible.

I understand that we need more of everything, more writers, more stories, more illustrators and more publishing houses who want to print excellent material . Parents must read to their children, especially the pre-literate ones so that the love for reading can be inculcated at an early age.  Books generally simulate readers’ emotional responses and children can acquire compassion for others and insight into their own behavior and feelings from reading. Reading about story characters’ feelings and actions also help to develop children’s ability to understand and appreciate other’s feelings. More African children reading would lead to more consumers patronizing African children’s literature.

Considering the statistics on the children’s literature industry in the US, we must believe that building a booming African children’s literature industry is doable. We know some characters from the American children’s literature because they did not stay in books. They travelled around the world as stuffed toys, we watched them on TV shows and in movies. How many of the African children’s books already published have been turned into movies or characters? We know Cinderella and can relate to her because we know other people with wicked stepmothers whose existence dwells on ensuring that they don’t progress in life while their children prosper. We can write about our own Cinderellas who live in our neighbourhoods and sell grapes and plantain chips in traffic.

Let’s get talking. Why don’t you join us in this conversation about the children’s book industry in Africa? What can Golden Baobab do better to ensure that we get more stories from the 54 African countries? What can publishers do? What can investors do? What can we all do to ensure in some years to come, anyone can walk into a bookshop and buy a beautiful African story to read to his or her child? It’s our Africa!

Join us in a discussion about the future of the African children's literature industry on Friday, August 16, 2013 at 16:00 GMT. Follow Golden Baobab on twitter (@GoldenBaobab) and on Facebook.com/GoldenBaobab. Feel free to repost this on your blog and spread the word. We would love to hear your views on this important topic!

 

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Dorothy is a publishing coordinator at Golden Baobab. She is passionate about African literature, food and culture, human rights and dogs.  She wishes she could tweet more if she had more things to tweet about. She is forever plagued with wanderlust.

 

 

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In December 2012, friends of Golden Baobab joined hands, with the soulful sounds of Jojo Abott and Kunle for entertainment, to raise funds for an important cause: a children’s library at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) Children’s Ward. After the successful night at Republic Bar and Grill and months of endless correspondence back and forth, Golden Baobab in partnership with IBBY-Ghana has completed the project and presented over two hundred enthralling African children’s books, a furniture set and a colorful bookcase to the KBTH Children’s Ward.

 

The Korle Bu Library Project was initiated by Audrey Destandau, a former Golden Baobab team member and Ashlie Bernhisel, a former research intern at KBTH. The project was to bring to life Golden Baobab’s vision: a world filled with wonder and possibility, one African children’s book at a time. KBTH was identified as a strategic partner because as the biggest hospital in Ghana, it has a regular influx of children, some of who spend months on admission.  It was identified that although the hospital has a room where these children can study and play, there were no books for them to read. Golden Baobab decided to help out by stocking the room with books, particularly books whose cultural settings and content children can relate to.

This wonderful project has been completed in partnership with IBBY-Ghana and with the kind support of Ghana Book Development Council, Smartline Publishers, Sub-Saharan Publishers and African Christian Press. Golden Baobab made a formal presentation of the completed library to the KBTH staff on Monday, 29th July, 2013.

 Dear friends who came out to support us at the Republic Bar and Grill, the completed library is the direct result of the funds you helped us raise last year. Golden Baobab is truly grateful for your kind support!




 

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International Children’s Book Day, April 2, is celebrated worldwide to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books. April 2 marks the birthday of Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen who was a prolific writer well-known for his fairy tales, some of which include The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling and many others.

The Street Library Project in partnership with Golden Baobab and Sub-Saharan Publishers celebrated this day on July 12, 2013 in Damang Ahwerase on the Nsawam Adgoagyiri to Adeiso Road. Dignitaries who graced the occasion were Akoss Ofori-Mensah, founder and Managing Director of Sub-Saharan Publishers, Jane S. Obeng, a director from the Ghana Education Service and Mark Amoako Dompreh, the Municipal Chief Executive of the host community.

There was a full turnout from the five schools which were in attendance. The enthusiasm the children projected was commendable. They came fully prepared for the activities and were very exuberant. The programme started with an Azonto performance, a popular Ghanaian dance that got the children excited and engaged. This was immediately followed by a quiz competition which involved a reading session with the primary school children after which they were questioned about the reading. The winning school received book donations from Sub-Saharan Publishers whilst the participants received GeeBee book bags from Golden Baobab. Five students received prizes for excelling in a creative writing competition. The children were passionate about the motion they argued for and against in the debate, “Books are more important that computer.”

It was insightful to get up close with our targeted readers and audience and see how our work impacts them. 

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Golden Baobab is proud to introduce to you, Phoebe Prah, our very own hardworking and talented Programs Assistant. One of Phoebe’s duties at Golden Baobab is to help brainstorm for new and exciting projects that are relevant to Golden Baobab’s mission. One such project was GeeBee the Book Bag which Phoebe did an amazing job spearheading. Here’s her account of how the bag came into existence!

Hi everyone!

Although conceptualizing GeeBee was not easy, it certainly proved to be worthy! At one weekly Golden Baobab meeting towards the end of November last year, the team huddled together en “pensive” mode, thinking and brainstorming to come up with an end-of-year project that would tie together our plans for strategic corporate engagement, children-focused social impact and increased brand recognition. The flow of thinking went a bit like this:

How do we get high quality African children's books into the hands of children this Christmas holiday? How do we begin to build strong, lasting relationships with corporates and have these relationships translate into support for our organization? We came up with a great idea!

When the Christmas season is approaching, corporates give out a lot of freebies to their staff, ranging from cash vouchers to various gifts. What could our gift be? Books seemed likely but how about a book bag? Now that sounds like a Golden Baobab product! We would create an unforgettable book bag with such a cool character that it would be difficult for any company to reject it. We would call our new product: GeeBee the Book Bag.

That was just the beginning! Over the next five days, the Golden Baobab team liaised with our good friend illustrator, El Carna, to solidify the GeeBee character. We wanted GeeBee to be childish but with a quirky edge and an iconic expression that would make it recognizable any and everywhere. El Carna designed GeeBee's face. Then we partnered with some bag makers and printers and just like that our GeeBee the Book Bag was born! We loved the look of our bag’s outer character but the most satisfying part for us was the fact that the contents in GeeBee would go a long way to fulfill Golden Baobab’s vision: a world filled with wonder and possibility, one African children’s story at a time.

If you are reading this and still wondering, “so what exactly is GeeBee?” allow me to explain: GeeBee the Book Bag is an excitable book bag character who shares the joy of reading African children’s books with every child it meets. Each Book Bag is filled with three quality African children’s stories and a bookmark with a message from GeeBee that encourages the bag owner to keep reading African children’s books.

We approached various companies and pitched GeeBee as an “excitable and meaningful Christmas gift” for the children of staff and in the space of three weeks, we successfully sold over 700 books - an impressive feat!  The success of GeeBee was critical as that was the deciding factor as to whether it should be incorporated into Golden Baobab’s overall organizational model.

So this my friends, is how the much coveted GeeBee the Book Bag came to be! 

By Phoebe Prah – Programs Assistant

 In the middle is Phoebe holding a box of finished GeeBee Bags

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Golden Baobab is happy to introduce to you, Sena Ahadji, a young African Illustrator who is truly passionate about her art and puts much thought and focus into the works she produces. The Golden Baobab Prize is constantly evolving and we have placed more emphasis on the creation of African stories that will inspire the imaginations of African children. To depict this vision, we sought the help of Sena to create a poster for the 2013 Golden Baobab Prize, on which she delivered marvelously! Let's welcome Sena and see what she has to say.

Hello!

I’m Sena Ahadji, an African Illustrator. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved drawing and no bare surface ever seemed safe around me if I was holding a crayon or a marker!

In primary school, library time was sacred to me; the books I chose to read were heavily influenced by their illustrations. I was always fascinated by the different techniques the illustrator’s used to bring the characters to life. This seemed to determine whether or not it would be a good read.

Studying Illustration and Graphics Design at Coventry University gave me the platform to explore my talent as an Illustrator. It birthed a passion in me for children’s books and my characters tend to stem from unique personalities I come across. My stylistic approach is not always very conventional as I always look for ways to improve and express myself as an individual. My African background also plays a vital role in the way my characters are depicted.

I was honored to be approached by Golden Baobab to design this year’s Prize poster and so I wanted to design something captivating. After researching, brainstorming and sketching down some ideas, I came up with the concept of an African character with a big afro, fascinated with the contents of a book coming to life. The concept was refined each time after getting feedback, until the final creative solution fit the brief!

I believe the role of an Illustrator is to provoke and assist ones imagination to push its boundaries. As my skills continue to expand, I hope you will find more of my illustrations all over! There are endless possibilities and opportunities I endeavor to explore and I look forward to working on some interesting projects and making my print as an African Illustrator.

Sena Ahadji

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