IBBY’s Virtual Exhibition: A Celebration of African Publishing for Children

Books for Africa, Books from Africa showcases the production of books for African children, published in Africa by Africans. The books displayed in this virtual exhibition celebrate the fact that African writers, illustrators, editors, and publishers give importance to providing quality reading material for children and promoting childhood literacy by attempting to make books available to African children in their home languages.

Today, there is a vibrant publishing atmosphere throughout Africa, because both large and small publishing houses are dedicated to this mission of making quality trade books available to African children. Over forty publishers submitted books to this exhibition, published between 1965 and 2006, covering the following genres: traditional literature, fiction, nonfiction, picture books, drama, and poetry. Textbooks are not included, although we have listed one sample entry, the Karanta Ka Rubuta (Read and Write) series, published by Spectrum Books (Ibadan, Nigeria).

The books in the exhibition represent original children’s literature written in several of the languages spoken on the continent. For instance, there are books in Kiswahili from Tanzania, Kenya, and other East African countries; Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Otjiherero, and Khoekhoegowab from Southern Africa; Hausa and Igbo from Nigeria; French from Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal; and Cibemba from Zambia and Kinyarwanda from Rwanda. The publications in the African languages cater to the needs of the entire population—not just of the urban, educated elite. This multilingual publishing is achieved in the face of numerous problems such as low readership in most of the African languages, low purchasing power of parents, high cost of production, and inadequate financial gains for writers and illustrators. Publishing in the mother tongues not only shows respect for the cultures and heritage of African children, but it also stimulates self-pride, future readers and writers, and publishing in the local languages.

While the exhibition covers representative books from the entire continent, the majority of submissions were from South Africa. (We made it a point to include at least one book from each publishing house that sent us reading samples.) The reality is that children’s publishing is most developed in South Africa, with beautifully illustrated and produced books. However, the books displayed in this exhibition also indicate that amazing publishing developments are taking place throughout the continent: in Francophone countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal; in Mauritius and Madagascar, under UNESCO’s sponsorship; and in Rwanda, with Editions Bakame. Kenya and Nigeria continue to be prolific in their book production for children; in fact, Kiswahili is the most published of the African languages.

The books have been organized according to broad literary categories— Folktales, Fiction for Children, Fiction for Young Adults, Picture Books, and Others (including biography, autobiography, epic literature, drama, and poetry)—and within each section the entries have been arranged alphabetically (by the author’s last name) under the language(s) in which they were originally published. The books were reviewed by nine specialists in African children’s literature from the various regions of Africa and the United States.

Each entry provides complete bibliographical information: author, illustrator, and translator (if relevant); original language(s) of publication; full publishing data, with number of pages; and suggested reading level. The accompanying review consists of a summary of the content and a commentary on the distinctive qualities of the book, style of the author/illustrator, and other pertinent literary or social features of the book. The books were selected for quality, authenticity, and respect for African peoples and cultures. Many of the works (such as Meshack Asare’s Kwajo and the Brassman’s Secret and Elinor Batezat Sisulu’s The Day Gogo Went to Vote) have been translated into numerous languages, and have won international awards such as the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa.

A survey of the books in this exhibition indicates that the genres and age groups that were neglected hitherto (such as picture books for preschoolers and fiction for young adults) are receiving much-needed attention. Picture books provide the groundwork or foundation for future readers, hence increasing literacy and developing a lifelong love of reading. Likewise, all issues pertaining to young adults (sex and romance, peer pressure, conflict with authority figures, involvement in social causes, identity formation, etc.) are being addressed in books such as Dancing in the Dust and Crossing the Line. Fewer folktales are being published; however, the quality of traditional tales has improved. Far from being bare plot summaries, as in the early years of children’s publishing in Africa, these stories are being developed in detail, often told with humour to engage the interest of young readers. Two outstanding examples are Akaro Gahire (The Magic Millet), published by Editions Bakame (Kigali, Rwanda) in 2004; and Milton Rwabushaija’s Hadithi za Sababu (Stories about Why Things Happen the Way They Do), a collection of thirteen pourquoi tales produced by Fountain Publishers in Uganda. In addition, African storytelling techniques are being incorporated into both folktales and fictional works, hence capturing the unique flavour of African aesthetics. While many publications for children and young adults are still highly moralistic and blatantly didactic, a number of books convey lessons on moral and social behaviour in a more subtle and artistic manner through character development, plot, and style.

We warmly thank all the publishers who sent us books to review; their contact information, web site (if available), and a brief history can be found in the section entitled Publishers.

Meena G. Khorana, Project Editor

María C. Posada, Project Director