Children's Stories That Tell a Different Tale

Article excerpt

Touring last year's Zimbabwe International Book Fair, an annual event in Harare, I was dismayed by the prominence of children's titles on African themes that were written by whites, and the dearth of such titles by African writers.

Poking around at the back of the exhibition spaces, I did find several works by Africans. But most are rather grim affairs, as in the Grimm fairy tales outlawed in the nurseries of modern families who don't want those violent, sexist, gory old tales scaring their children at bedtime.

In contrast, the stories by English and German writers looked safely sanitized, designed to appeal to parents in the first world. Politically incorrect as some of these well-written books by African authors may be, they do offer North American parents the chance to discuss with their children the often tough circumstances of African childhood, as well as African spiritualism, which weaves through most of the stories. For the youngest children, a few of the books are sweet tales of wildlife. Getting these titles will take some extra legwork, but they provide a rich first-hand experience of African culture. The Lost Headband, by Mpho Moloko, is an irresistibly pretty book for the under-fives. The maiden Zodwa despairs when her younger brother loses the beautiful beaded headband she created for her Zulu wedding day. This is a lovely look at traditional African village life. Stories from a Shona Childhood uses drought and competition between animals as the starting points for these Zimbabwean tales by the award-winning Charles Mungoshi, deservedly well-known for his adult fiction. Comrade Elephant and the rest of the animals have to work together to survive in the drought-prone areas of Zimbabwe where Mungoshi's Shona people live. Particularly moving is a story of slavery and loneliness and the magic that sets the world right. More disturbing is the tale of a father who denies food to his starving family, hoarding it for himself. How Thopo Became a Great N'anga, by Stephen Alumenda, is suitable for older kids in that it discusses society's attitudes toward those who are different and indifferent to authority. …

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