To celebrate the Read to Feed campaign this March, Send a Cow spoke to Ifeoma Onyefulu, author of 'The Goat That Vanished' and asked her to tell us why she feels it is important that school children in the UK discover African Literature…

It was my first child who inspired me to start writing books for children. I wanted him to know about my country of birth, Nigeria, and to have some idea of what it was like growing up there. At the time there were very few children’s publications about our people and our culture. The only books the local library had on Africa were about safaris and giraffes, and I could see how bored he was with them. I wanted him to explore a more realistic picture of life there and so I decided to start writing.

A is for Africa

Of course we have economic difficulties and political problems in Africa, but we also have weddings, births, parties, christenings, people laughing. Through my books, I wanted to show a positive image of Africa that would allow Western children to make comparisons and draw similarities with their own lives. I wanted to balance the pictures we see on TV of war and famine. People in Africa are very resilient, they are still going about their business – whether they’re selling tomatoes or growing their own vegetables, they’re trying their best.

Some have accused me of painting too good a picture; they say 

I bet you’ve just photographed your own family, who are healthy.

But not everybody is starving; it’s important that children get the whole picture of African life. My first book was A is for Africa, and I have since written 22 more. Each book takes me several months to research and involves travelling to various African countries. These trips are hugely important and special to me – they allow me to observe and be inspired by incredible people going about their everyday lives, often against stunning backdrops. Taking along my camera and notepad, I’m able to capture the best of Africa and my stories begin to take shape.

From here to Timbuktu

One of my favourite trips was to Timbuktu in Mali. I remember standing by the roadside waiting for our broken down 4 x 4 to be repaired. I was watching children rolling old bicycle tyres along the road and they reminded me of my own childhood in my village in Nigeria. We’re constantly bombarded with images of sad looking children in Africa but here were children having fun. Timbuktu is an old town with lots of history and a grand mosque, which I loved photographing.

Every day I’d walk around the small town, taking photographs for my new books. There were children everywhere playing happily, which was great! But every Friday afternoon, the children would vanish from the streets; the boys would be at Islamic schools studying the Koran, while the girls stayed at home.

Many children’s books fail to give young people a realistic world view – choosing to show other countries and continents as an ‘exotic other’. But that’s not to say there aren’t some great examples out there of publications that get it right. Some of my personal favourites about Africa include The Golden Baobab Tree by Nkiacha Atemnkeng and Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe.

Read to Feed

There are also some great initiatives, such as Send a Cow’s Read to Feed campaign (of which I’m proud to be a supporter) that encourages UK schoolchildren to read more African-inspired literature. A sponsored reading scheme that celebrates some of the wonderful and diverse stories the continent has to offer, whilst raising money to help more families in rural Africa build themselves a better future.

As the world becomes a smaller place and schools in the UK become increasingly multicultural, it’s imperative that children learn and understand more about each other as well as other cultures and backgrounds. I believe reading is key to achieving that. By giving children greater exposure to a range of literature, we can break down barriers and start to become part of a global community.

To find out more about Read to Feed and access an excellent range of supporting resources, go to sendacow.org/read-to-feed

To find out more about Ifeoma or to purchase one of her books, go to http://Ifeomaonyefulu.co.uk