IBBY-Yamada 2007: Uganda

Workshop on writing and illustrating skills for children’s storybooks

The three-day course included context analysis, skills needed for writers/illustrators, group discussions and presentations.  The workshop took place in Kampala.


Uganda Children’s Writers and Illustrators Association (UCWIA) is a registered and Indigenous Non-Governmental Organization.

Workshop organizers

Uganda Children’s Writers and Illustrators Association – IBBY-Uganda section in conjunction with the IBBY Secretariat in Basel, Switzerland held an Introductory Workshop on Writing and Illustrating Skills for Children’s story books from 21st -23rd May 2007 at the Fairway Hotel in Kampala.

The reason

The main problem is that there has been an acute shortage of books written in local languages and illustrated using African images. The Association believes that foreign language and illustration make it difficult for African children to develop and sustain reading interests so as to develop a reading culture.

UCWIA realized that it should not wait or look towards non-African writers to write the books, but rather teach the skills of how to write children’s books to local people.

Main goal

The main goal of holding an introductory workshop on writing and illustrating skills for children's storybooks was to promote the development of skills in writing and illustrating children's books.

Writing and illustration of books in languages that are indigenous to the region are the skills needed to be developed the most.

The general aim of the workshop was to equip potential writers and illustrators, as well as the members of UCWIA, with information about the best practices that can be adopted to improve writing, illustrating, publishing and promoting African storybooks.


The specific objective was to bring together writers, teachers, librarians, children, publishers, administrators from the ministry of Education and Sports, and other concerned members to share experiences of writing and illustrating children’s books. This was done through group work discussion and presentations.

Stimulation and Promotion

The purpose of the above objectives was to stimulate the participants and promote the writing of children's books in their communities in their own languages.


The workshop brought together participants from Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda who shared their practical skills.


  • shared their experience of how to integrate ideas from their local communities into children’s books.
  • learnt that the way of preserving and understanding the culture better, is to write storybooks for children to read.
  • were shown that to develop and sustain a reading culture, written story books in local languages should be encouraged.


i. Uganda Children’s Writers and Illustrators Association (UCWIA) should strengthen linkages with other children’s writers and illustrators at the national regional and international levels and form a network of writers and illustrators of children’s books in Uganda.

ii. (UCWIA) should create more linkages with schools to promote writing to promote writing by the children themselves.

iii. Teachers should get involved in the production of children’s literature to encourage the above point ii. Including skills for writing of children’s books in the curriculum at teacher training institutions for early childhood teachers. 

iv. Children’s libraries should be established at sub-country levels throughout Uganda.

v. The Association was asked to hold more workshops of this kind from time to time to encourage writes which can ensure them that they are much needed and valued by the government and the readers.

vi. The book trade should establish closer relationships with the media.

vii. With the revival of the East African Community, the East African Literature Bureau should be reinstated.

Target groups

UCWIA invited writers and illustrators, teachers, librarians and publishers, and other people concerned with reading, including children they all came and stayed from the first day to the third day. 



Welcome speech by the Chairperson, UCWIA: Mrs. Eva Ledi Barongo

In her welcome address, the Chairperson welcomed participants and thanked them for honouring the association’s invitation to the workshop. 

She gave an outline of the Uganda Children’s Writer and Illustrators Association, which was started in 1999 with the aim of producing books that were relevant to the Ugandan child, so as to arouse interest in reading among the Ugandan child as a way of inculcating a reading culture among the children

She said that the association was now registered as an NGO in Uganda. It was also, on the international scene, registered as the Uganda Chapter of the International Board on Books for Young People, (IBBY) and on the national scene, it was a member of the National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU)

Of the activities of the Association, the chairperson explained that the main activity of the association was producing books for children, and so far they had published over 20 titles, which were being sold in Uganda and beyond. Two of their books had already won international awards. The association also engaged in other activities to promote reading. These included holding reading camps in different parts of Uganda, for both school going and out of school children and other members of the community; holding book exhibitions and hosting seminars, workshops and discussion groups for people engaged in producing book for children.

She thanked the organizations that had assisted them in their work and all those who had helped in making this workshop possible. She paid special tribute to IBBY, National Book Trust of Uganda as well as the American Centre in Uganda, who had played a big part in funding the activities of this workshop. 

She wished the participants a worthwhile time.

Special Paper

Where we have been; where we are and where we hope to be? Mr. James Tumusiime.

Mr. Tumusiime gave an outline of the book industry in Uganda. 

He traced the history of the book trade in Uganda from the 1990s, when religious publishing houses came to Africa, through to the time of independence, when Uganda, together with her neighbours in East Africa, benefited from the East African Literature Bureau and colonial support. He said that by 1986, apart from the Uganda Bookshop, we only had a few books sold on pavements in Kampala. These street vendors were selling books published abroad, by multinational publishers and with donor-supported programmes. The book trade faced many problems.

By 2007, Uganda Publishers and the booksellers formed associations. Over 20 fully-fledged publishers have registered with the Association and there are over 50 other organizations operating quietly; there are over 250 booksellers; the National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU) had been formed as an umbrella organization and the Government of Uganda is now friendly and willing to attend to the affairs of those in the book trade. He said that the journey is still difficult but at least people can now write and produce their books.

He outlined the obstacles still facing the book trade, chief among which were lack of a sound library network, and cosmetic support to the book trade. Most donors would rather support Coca Cola Co., MTN etc rather than the book industry. Even the Media do not cover much about the book industry; they concentrate more on the manufacturers. 

He called on people in the book industry to reassess and see how to conquer the existing barriers.

Official opening of the Workshop

The occasion was presided over by Mr. William Otim, Commissioner for Youth and Children in the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, who attended as representative of the Rt Honourable Prime Minister of Uganda Professor Apollo Nsibambi.

Mr. Otim read the speech sent by the Prime Minister.

He congratulated the Uganda Children’s and Writers’ Association (UCWIA) on having gone out to meet the need of providing reading materials suited to the unique needs of Ugandan children and bridging the gap left by foreign books.

He noted that he was very satisfied with the goals and activities of the association, which answers the national goals for education.

He pledged Uganda Government support to the Association and to the book trade in general as they played a vital role in Government programme of Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), especially in the area of Education for All (EFA), Universal Primary Education (UPE), Universal Secondary Education (USE) and Functional Adult Education Investment Plan (FALSIP).

He expressed gratitude to the international community, and particularly the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) for their collaboration with UCWIA.

He disclosed that Government was committed to sustaining the existing and enabling environment in which the book industry can prosper in order to facilitate long-term investment.


Children’s Literature in the Multicultural Ugandan Context: Dr. Austin Bukenya

The paper addressed three areas of challenge to the practioner of young people’s literature. The first is the challenge of “children’s literature”. It reminds us of the implications of this concept: writing for children, writing about children and writing by children. A strong call is made to all practioners to take the last implication more seriously than appears to be the case at present.

The second challenge is the “culture” challenge. The presenter emphasized that culture should be viewed more and more as an all embracing way of life than as a few decorative accessories to the “serious business” of society. An attempt is then made to place writing and literature within the cultural matrix, suggesting how writing should emerge from it and how the writing might influence the culture.

Arising naturally from the above is the challenge of Uganda’s “multicultural context”. Starting from the realization that Ugandan society is in a process of formation, it is suggested that Ugandan culture is itself in a formation process. Since it will, of necessity, have to be cobbled out of the diversity of our 56 (and more) ethnicities, a high level of cultural engineering is expected. Literature and especially literature for people in their formative years will, if properly approached and handled, contribute significantly to this engineering process.

Sources of Children’s Literature: Mr. Gacheche Wairungi

The paper discussed the main sources of children’s literature.

  • Folktales – Traditional stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Within this broad genre are fables-animal based stories, trickster stories of ogres and other superhuman creatures etc.
  • Stories of origins of man and of natural phenomena; attempting to explain why, how, where and if.
  • The modern story teller is increasingly influenced by and sourcing raw materials from recent technological and philosophical developments, as well as what one may call “world literature”. Science fiction especially of the time machine variety, as well as spooky mystery borrowed more from the Arabian nights than from Harry Porter.
  • Bibles stories and morally didactic stories are the favourite bedtime stories for children.
  • Fables and parables: stories that have moral lessons, especially ones with characters that are animals. A parable is a short story with a moral and spiritual lesson especially the ones told by Jesus as recorded in the Bible.
  • Legends are also key sources of children’s stories. These are about events in a historical context within a particular community. 
  • Trickster stories are more humorous and light-hearted in nature than most of the other categories. Often, smaller characters e.g. hare and tortoise are preferred as tricksters rather than bigger animals. Often in such tales we see triumph of brain over brawn.
  • Other sources of children’s literature are human stories. Here characters are easily visualized and children can identify with them. It is a reflection of the everyday activities ordinary human beings in a certain context go through. 

Many of these stories tend to overlap, for example legends and Bible stories e.g. the Bible story of David and Goliath can also be categorized as a legend, a trickster narrative can also be a fable; and so forth.

The presenter drew examples and discussed specific titles in each category and drew a lively discussion from the experiences and experiments of the participants. 

Developing Children as Author: Mr. David Ssengendo

The presenter gave the definition of authoring as ‘originating a document’. He noted that an effective author should be a good reader with the ability to read and appreciate written works. He / she should be a writer, with good penmanship and composition.

He identified the factors that govern the authoring process as follows: the expected audience, the writer’s position, writer’s skills, an extensive vocabulary, as well as patience or ability to invest in time.

On strategies for developing children as authors, he used examples to explain how teachers could use the following activities: free conversation, guided composition, story telling, nature description activities, debating, summarizing news stories, forming reader clubs and engaging in voluntary or recreational reading, picture reading, as well as performing and designing art pieces.

Mr. Ssengendo suggested that parents, on their part, could do the following: provide children with things to read; encourage them to write, give the children time to write and read, encourage them to read aloud to others what they have written; keep a record of what has been written by the children, edit and improve on what the children have written and motivate them to write better.


DIMP Programme and the Thematic Curriculum: Mr. Deus Monday

The paper highlighted the following:

  • What DIMP – Decentralized Instructional Material Procurement – is and the necessity for an alternative to central procurement;
  • The need for instructional materials;
  • What the thematic curriculum is all about and the necessity for it: A curriculum arranged according to themes chosen to reflect the interest, experience and needs of specific groups / areas. It is meant to address the problem of varied levels of competency in literacy, numeracy and life skills;
  • The thematic curriculum and local languages;
  • Materials relevant to the thematic curriculum;
  • Tips on preparing material for the thematic curriculum.

Publishing for Children: Challenges and Opportunities: Mr. Alex Bangirana

The paper defined children’s books and discussed types, categories and genres of children’s books available in Uganda then. It also outlined what goes into drafting books.

For every aspect outlined above, the presenter pointed out the opportunities and challenges prevailing.

Generally, the challenges dwelt on included: language of delivery; transcending culture specific content and values; accuracy of translations; conflict between language and content; availability of able printers and publishers and illustrations versus culture.

Writing Skills: plot, Characterization and Grammar: Ms. Lydia Nakijoba

The presenter pointed out that the purpose for which we often write dictates our diction, plot and choice of character. We must therefore think through what we want to say, to whom and how before we put pen to paper. Before the writing starts, the writer must have a story idea. The writer then must also ask herself the question: What will keep my readers turning the pages? Finally the writer must take good care of package her story in a language that the audience will understand well.

Practical Session

Participants divided themselves into groups and got involved in developing stories under the guidelines of the facilitators for this session. The stories were in both English and in several Ugandan local languages. This demonstrated to the participants how a story could be expanded and how it could have different versions.


Skills in Illustrating Children’s Books: I Ms. Grace Bithum; II Paul Lubowa and Ms. J. Mukasa

The two papers took participants through the principals of illustrating.

They defined ‘illustration’ as a pictorial representation of an object or action, or an artistic or pictorial expression of ideas. Illustrations aim at decorating, visually representing, amplifying or enhancing the text.

They discussed the concept of illustrating children’s books, outlined various categories and forms of illustrations, and pointed out that the most important requirement for an illustrator to do a good job are: interest, imagination and critical analysis of what has to be illustrated. They emphasized that illustrations for children must be simple, colourful and very imaginative.

They zeroed in on picture books and their benefits. They explained the process that takes place before illustrating children’s books can begin, and demonstrated the use of lines and colours.

Practical Session

The workshop participants divided into groups and had the opportunity to try out some of the steps outlined by the presenters. The practical session demonstrated that everybody naturally has a sense of art within himself or herself. It also clarified the part that authors should play in guiding the illustrators whom they engage to illustrate their works.

IBBY: Liz Page

Ms. Page, from the secretariat of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Basel, Switzerland, was unable attend the workshop. Her paper was read by Mr. Deus Monday.

It covered what IBBY is, its history, objectives and activities. IBBY was formed in 1953 in post World War Germany, when Jella Lepman, its founder, observed that what children needed was to be shown the world of imagination, so as to escape from their every day world of fear, hatred and destruction.

IBBY aims at bringing children and books together. By today, 2007, it is operating in 72 countries of the world.

The paper outlined the many activities of IBBY in support of reading promotion, including its annual awards.



Discussion on community Libraries

Participants held the final session at the American centre where they had a presentation by Professor Kate Parry, Patron of Kitengesa Community Library, in Masaka. Kitengesa community library was started through partnership between the local community and friends from the USA.

Ms. Kate Parry, in her presentation, said that Kitengesa library served as a school library, public library and community library for the people in Kitengesa and the neighbouring villages. She explained that local individuals and groups used the books at the library; others were using them to read to their colleagues, some were borrowing and taking them home to read and to exchange with each other.

Participants took a big interest in community library centres and engaged the presenter in a very lively discussion on the topic.

She outlined several ways through which pupils could be encouraged to read, such as: having time set aside in the school timetable for reading; having students read in shifts of forty minutes; letting students borrow books for reading in their free time; and letting pupils be allocated books to take home to read and discuss at a later stage.

Other ways which she discussed include organizing reading tents for the communities, organizing special days for specific types e.g. for children, for younger brothers and sisters, as well as for parents 

Digital video conference

The American Centre had organized a Digital video-conference session with Christopher Paul Curtis, an author for children from the United States of America. Author of Bud not Buddy, 2000 winner of the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Author Award, among others. The discussion with Mr. Curtis was relayed from Detroit, USA. 

The conference participants were able to hold a discussion with him about his writing, as well as writing for children in general, both in the USA and at the international level. They exchanged experiences with him and most of them found him very interesting and enjoyed his company.

The presentation was very relevant to the participants most of whom were writers and many were participating in a video-conference for the first time.

The session at the American Centre concluded with light refreshments, kindly offered by the American Centre in Uganda. 

It was an interesting way to conclude the workshop