I PICKED up one or two things from the way the book community commemorated this year’s International Children’s Book Day last week, with the realisation leading to many other issues.
The fact that close to all literary stakeholders from the whole entourage of the Zimbabwe book industry forgot that, or rather took it for granted that there was going to be the celebration of the International Children’s Book Day is reason enough to raise concern that the state of the reading and writing child is not being put on its rightful place.
Every April 2, marks the commemoration of the International Children’s Book Day, an event supported by the International Board on Books for Young People, where works written for children are celebrated. It is clear that not much promotion and sponsorship comes to this end, and no wonder the day was missed or passed unheralded.
Mostly, commemorations take place upon an injection of monetary and legislative support from relevant bodies, such as the independent support quotas and most importantly, the government.
But as was with the Black History Month, it took mostly aid from the American embassy, but not from the government, which happens to be led by blacks, for the event to go ahead.
Had it been a case of cancer, I’m certain the narrative of my plot would have been different. Whether it’s money that makes the difference, it remains quite certain that on the level of prioritisation, literature is not way up the ladder.
As I always highlight that though there’s a “New Dispensation” and a new persona in charge of the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, no new ideas have come as a result.
Another problem emerges from the definition of children’s book, which remains blurred and torn between being a book written by children and a book written for children.
In spite of the evidence of vast talent displayed by children during assembly recitals and essay competitions, there still remains a void of books penned by children which end up published.
African contexts support the status quo of having children on the receiving end of either oral or written literature. It was not the children who made folktales, but it was them that were supposed to be the audience. This position always stood as a defining stance as it discouraged them from actively fusing their input into knowledge systems.
That perspective too affected the way most of us grew up. We were conditioned that, for us to be able to do certain things, like pursue careers in sport, music or in art, first we had to become grown-ups. But that orientation has slowed down the way Africa should have developed. In other continents, one does not have to wait until they’re grown up to be able to become stars and eventually chief executives.
Why not hear what the kids think on gender, sexuality, family or anything, instead of us stuffing it into their heads.
I highlight this against a backdrop of adult writers and poets whose work is dedicated to children; the likes of Eve Nyemba, Albert Nyathi, Aleck Kaposa and the late Stephen Alimenda, but with a gap or an absence of children who have made names for themselves in the same art.
There is no other technical reason why young blood fails to put their ideas to paper, for there is no declaration that talent only begins to manifest at a later age and time in life. Given that the modern day economy is calling for a defiance against old structural orders, kids can only believe they can if they start doing and participating in tangible projects that are put in their names. Is it not what they describe as catching them young?
What alarms me the most apart from this issue is that though not prioritised, children’s books play a great role in the ideological orientation of children, affecting cultural perspectives that inform the way they grow to perceive themselves, in the face of history, race and esteem.
Books like Barbie Doll, Dock Diaries and Room on the Broom inform the African child with western modes of life; witchcraft, dress, food and leaves the child reader alienated, resultantly detesting his or her own world and becoming a copycat of westernisation.
Books also operate as a counter measure to interference with the acculturation, inflow of cartoons and other forms of multi-media. This makes the celebration of the International Children’s Book Day a necessity, as that would have necessitated for an indaba on how Africa should handle the inflow of foreign ideological orientations on a wholesome basis.
Collaboration and fusion of works can be the first step towards empowering children. This, together with embracing and expanding events like Kaposa’s Norton Children’s Book Fair and Expo, will take the fate of not only children, but also literature towards better-sailing waters.
Unless literature and children are of no value, then my rebuttals also count for nothing. This year’s theme was: Books Help Us Slow Down.