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Africa: Storybooks in African Languages
April 9, 2018 (180409)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The African Storybook project, which launched only five years ago to make books
available to teachers and students in African languages, already has made available
903 storybooks in 136 different languages, including English, French, Portuguese,
Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, and a host of other languages spoken on the continent.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two articles on the project published in
Nigeria's Daily Trust after a recent workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, at which
participants worked together to create new storybooks in West African languages. One
of the participants, who was writing in English and his home language Hausa, reported
on his own experiences and interviewed one of the project's founders, Dorcas
Wepukhulu of Kenya. In a third short article, Ms. Wepukhulu describes one of her
experiences using the storybooks in a Kenyan school in the Rift Valley.
The African Storybook website (http://africanstorybook.org/) includes a comprehensive
search for all the project's storybooks, which can be explored by language and by
reading level. Each storybook can be viewed on-line or downloaded for viewing off-line
and for printing in different formats. The site also contains guides for using the storybooks
as well as for authors, illustrators, or translator who want to create their own and
submit them to the site (click on "Help and Notes" in the upper right-hand corner of
the site). Clicking on the "Use" button at the top of the page will bring up links to
case studies of using the storybooks.
Related resources on Africa children's books
The Africa Access project (http://africaaccessreview.org) is a unique resource,
aimed particularly at U.S. teachers and parents, providing regular reviews of
children's books with African topics. It also co-sponsors the annual Children's
Afrcana Book Awards (http://africaaccessreview.org/caba-2017/), which celebrated its
25th anniversary last year.
While featuring published rather than on-line books, Africa Access is not limited to books published in
the United States. It often features books published in Africa. One such book is one
of last year's award winners, Gizo – Gizo! A Tale from the Zongo Lagoon, authored
by Emily Williamson and Students and Teachers of the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Cape
Coast, Ghana, and based on a traditional Hausa story (http://tinyurl.com/y7mcy84d).
It is published by Sub-Saharan Publishers in Ghana, and available at
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on education and culture visit
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Why we create storybooks in African languages – Dorcas Wepukhulu
Interview by Nathaniel Bivan | Daily Trust, Mar 31 2018
https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/ - Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/yc4zqx52
Dorcas Wepukhulu (Kenya) is co-founder and Partner Development Coordinator of African
Storybook, an organisation that creates storybooks in indigenous African languages
and English, French, and Portuguese. She was recently in Abuja for a workshop where
writers and illustrators gathered from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia.
Here, she talks about the reason for the project, challenges they face across Africa,
and more. Excerpts:
Bookshelf: How was the project, African Storybook born?
Dorcas Wepukhulu: It started with sharing my experience as a teacher with someone
from the United States who was passionate about literacy in Africa. I shared with her
the struggles I had as a teacher in High School, how children leave Primary School
with a poor foundation in literacy, and the fact that one of the contributing factors
was lack of reading materials for them to practice reading and to develop and acquire
skills in literacy and feel comfortable through High School. Some of these children
were forced to drop out because of poor performance. So, this person, who is
passionate about literacy and is based in the US started talking about what we could
do with Saide organisation, which stands for South African Institute for Distant
Education. Saide, together with this person, developed a concept, and I made some
input, on how African Storybook could turn out to be. From that moment, we thought of
a digital solution that will enable communities develop stories in languages they are
familiar with and have them on a website where educators can access and use them with
children to develop their literacy skills.
So, in 2013 the African Storybook started. The initial work involved mapping out
partners in four pilot countries, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Lesotho. And out
of those four countries we identified partners, including governments and ministries
of Education. In 2014 we launched the website and brought together some of the
partners we identified, and basically started working on developing the website and
looking for how to populate it with stories in local languages and other languages of
wider communication like English, French and Portuguese. So, it has basically been
growing and in 2017 we decided to expand out of the four pilot countries to Ethiopia,
Rwanda, Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria.
In some of the countries, our storybooks are being used, although we aren’t there.
People have come to know about African Storybook, and on their own, access and use
them, and from time-to-time we get feedback.
Bookshelf: What are those early challenges you faced with the project?
Wepukhulu: Some of those we faced was that of power and internet connectivity. The
partners we identified, like schools and libraries, some of them didn’t even have
power. They were located in rural areas, and we didn’t have any specific criteria.
The reason why we wanted to test out delivering models was to find out how and in
which context we can deliver books digitally and where we will need to include print
and maybe combine both. So, in some cases, teachers didn’t have power in their
schools and so they took laptops given to them to charge in their homes and bring it
back every morning to use. But then, in doing that, they could not use the standard
projector which needs direct power. We gave them some hand-held projectors. This did
not work. We gave them solar charging panels like suit cases. Some of them didn’t
know how to take care of them, so they broke. Eventually, we couldn’t work with some
of those anymore. Some we helped to get power and work continued. In the case of
internet, we gave data to some partners to be able to access the website.
Another challenge we encountered was the slow pace of, for example, ministry of
education picking up the project and helping us work with them, so we had to keep
going back and forth in some of our pilot countries before the ministries or
departments of education came on board. Without their support there’s no way it could
The last thing was getting feedback from those using our storybooks so we could know
what was happening, the extent of use, challenges encountered and so on.
This story is about a trickster spider, also known as Anansi in Akan folktales.
Nase the spider and the village women’ is available in Themne and English.
from the Abuja workshop.
Bookshelf: What was the very first experience developing the African Storybook
Wepukhulu: I can only speak about Kenya because that was where I was. There were
three Primary Schools and one of the schools was located in the North-West, in a
remote and arid area. My experience was a sense of joy. These people didn’t have any
book in their local language and most of the children were monolingual, so they
didn’t know how to speak in English. The only resource they got in their mother
tongue was the African Storybook they could access. The joy also came from the
children who had dropped out of school and returned because they were fascinated with
the way teachers were projecting the stories on the wall and reading. Some of them
thought they were reading storybooks from a television. So, for me there was a sense
of accomplishment that a remote area previously cut off were benefitting and started
telling other schools around about the availability of African Storybook.
Another experience was when I made a breakthrough with the Kenyan ministry of
education in charge of materials development and rating, when I was able to get them
to understand that African Storybook was an open education resource, and that they
could use them for free and have students use them in schools. They were excited.
Although the process was slow, the fact that they saw the value and were prepared to
work with us, in terms of assuring the quality of the stories in Kiswahili in
particular, was very important to me.
Bookshelf: Has the African Storybook team come to Nigeria before 2018?
Wepukhulu: One of our colleagues came here in 2017 and met with Teacher Development
Programme (TDP) staff. He introduced the African Storybook and some translations.
Some storybooks were translated from the meeting. He and I came back in November that
year to run a story development workshop, but it was mainly to quality-assure the
Hausa storybooks that were translated when he came the first time. We met with TDP
and they called in some participants, mostly Hausa speakers, to quality-assure the
Hausa storybooks that were on the website. So, we had that workshop in November.
The only challenge we had was when we were editing and couldn’t succeed in inserting
the Hausa characters. That is a struggle we have been having, trying to find a Hausa
expert to complete that task so we can actually be confident that the Hausa stories
on the website are properly rendered.
Bookshelf: For someone who hasn’t been part of your workshop, who just happens to
learn about your website and knows how to write in English and an indigenous
language, how would you advise him or her on how to contribute or use African
Wepukhulu: On the website is a place where you can send an email and seek for
assistance. Somebody who comes to the website and is unable to navigate can drop us
an email. When they do, we always follow up, either people who desire to use our
books or contribute. There’s always somebody available to respond. My work is Partner
Development Coordinator, and so once I get a request like that I always follow it up.
If they are from a country we visit, when I am there I try to alert the person so we
can meet face-to-face, otherwise, I work with that person, and if I am unable to
answer a technical question, I refer them to the technical team.
For example, there’s somebody in Cameroon who has been using our books and
translating. I have been on the phone, email and skype, guiding her on how to
translate, edit and quality- assure them. Once she has them ready, I approve them.
So, remotely, we can support a partner like that to contribute or use. But one of the
things we request from people using our storybooks is to give us some feedback, tell
us whether they are good or not, suggest changes and so on so we have an idea of the
number of people using our books.
Making the most of government tablets in a Kenyan school
I brought a flash drive loaded with 61 Kiswahili storybooks quality assured by the
Kenyan Institute for Curriculum Development and 41 English translations of the same
(total of 102). Together with the teacher librarian and the IT teacher, we
successfully loaded the storybooks on 88 of the 92 tablets and on two teachers’
laptops. For easy location and identification, we created a folder on the tablets
called ‘Storybooks for school’ inside which there isa folder for Kiswahili and
English. Each tablet that had African Storybooks loaded, had a sticker at the back
The school has a library lesson for each class held after official class time. As we
loaded the storybooks onto the devices, children from across the classes kept coming
to the door to check if they could come in to read. The tablets had only five
Kiswahili and 12 English audio storybooks to which children listen on their own.
Usually, they would come to the library for their library lesson after lunch. On this
day, they must have taken less than 10 minutes for their lunch. As soon as they were
allowed to enter, the children from different classes, hurried in and took their
seats at the tables. Since they are used to the audio, they waited but didn’t hear
the audio so one asked ‘when the story would start talking’ and their teacher
librarian had to explain to them. We managed to open as many tablets as possible so
that at least each one had their own. Majority wanted storybooks in Kiswahili and it
quickly became evident that many wanted to read ‘Chura na Nyoka’ – ‘Frog and Snake’.
At one table where there were about 10 kids, you could hear, ‘Teacher! Teacher! Open
‘Chura’ for me. There was a beautiful buzzing sound of little voices from around the
library as the children read different storybooks.
The teachers said that with availability of ASb storybooks on the tablets and on the
two teachers’ laptops, they will be able to have library lessons with all the
children including those in upper classes. They will also be able to use projection
Before leaving, I discussed with the teacher librarian about how she could collect
data on usage including the number of storybooks read and children reached as well as
the classes and the teachers’ as well as children’s views about the storybooks. We
also thought it would be important for her to introduce the ASb to others at the Rift
Valley Reading Association (which comprises of educators in the larger former Rift
Valley Province). The teacher has already been advocating for ASb whenever she gets
an opportunity. Due to her passion for literacy, she has managed to revive the school
library which won the 2017 Maktaba Kenyan Library of the Year Award in the Special
When African Storybook came to Abuja
By Nathaniel Bivan | Daily Trust, Mar 24 2018
https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/ – direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/yc7om8py
It’s one thing to know how to write, it’s entirely another to think, talk, and laugh
in a child’s voice. What does it take really, to create stories for children?
Date was March 11 and I was in a taxi bound for Bon Hotel Stratton in Asokoro, Abuja.
There I was to meet with nineteen other writers and five illustrators. Mission: to
create stories for children in English and an indigenous language. I was excited, and
Earlier, I had tried to pack as light a luggage as possible. A small traveling bag
had my clothes and other things. My backpack, dear ancient companion, had my laptop,
notebook, pen and several other items.
The application that earned me participation at the writing residency had been an
interesting one. It was a workshop called Story Making West Africa, sponsored by the
British Council in collaboration with African Storybook. I was asked questions that
took me back to two books my mum had bought for my seventh birthday. One was bright
red, about a baby elephant who hated to bath. The other was about an antelope who
loved to dance. I still remember the central characters of these two books. Baby
elephant learned to keep clean the hard way and little antelope had to learn to be
patient for the party to begin.
On my first day at the workshop I discovered how privileged I was. About a thousand
applications had been received and twenty-five of us had sailed through. Two wonderful resource
persons, South Africa’s Lisa TreffryGoatley and Kenya’s Dorcas Wepukhulu, both from
African Storybook, tutored and guided us till the very end.
Abuja African Storybook workshop
Learning and writing
One of the first things we learned at Story Making West Africa was that we certainly
couldn’t write for ourselves. Also, that our work would have to fit into different
levels for children. Hard as some of us tried, it was just difficult not to think
about that at the creating process. But our tutors were patient. While Wepukhulu
showed us how African Storybook website functioned, TreffryGoatley chiselled at our
work. I mean, I had never written with an editor at hand to give me immediate
feedback. This was the case here.
After putting finishing touches to our rough work, we read aloud, one writer to the
other, and it was interesting hearing how awkward some words were and how
punctuations were missing. We sometimes instantly found reasons to pause and make
corrections, or brood over our handwritten or typed stories. Was it ever going to be
By Wednesday, we were all set to read our stories to the entire room. There were
folklores with animal characters and stories about how the rainbow came to be. It was
interesting listening to everyone read aloud. Then the comments, contributions and
arguments poured in. One of the things we had to do before then was analyse other
books from the African Storybook website. We were quick to see the flaws, strengths
and weaknesses of what others wrote. Now it was time to examine each other’s’ work,
and we did, bearing in mind that writers and readers after us will also pore over it.
By this time, the illustrators were already getting anxious. It had mainly been about
us, the writers, from the onset, how to write, and later, make page breaks for them,
the illustrators. So, when they were handed in three stories to start working on, it
wasn’t short of a herculean task. They were to produce twelve pages of illustrations
for, at least, five stories. Some of them stayed shut in their hotel rooms for almost
an entire day.
Okay, I must confess, I had not written a whole article in Hausa for years. Most of
my writings included brief text messages and chats on social media. But speaking and
writing in the language had always been part of me. So, when the templates (where we
could write in both English and an African indigenous language) were emailed to us, I
was excited. I simply copied and pasted my work in English and went on to translate
into Hausa. This was easier to do now that I had the template. There was my story in
English on the right side, and my translation space on the left.
My work, just above a hundred words, was ideal for level two readers, based on
African Storybook standards. Level one stories (known as First words) required a word
count of one to 11 words per page.
Level two (First sentences) needed 11 to 25 words per page. Level three (First
paragraphs) 25 to 50 words per page. Level four (Longer paragraphs) 50 to 75 words in
a page. Finally, Level five (Read aloud) should consist of 75 to 150 words in each
page. This was how it worked.
It was amazing discovering how I could cut down on text or add some to meet the
requirements for a Level two story. For me, this was one of the most exciting parts
as I sort to find words in Hausa that could sufficiently serve as translations from
English without changing entire meanings.
Friday, our last day at the residency included a number of activities. First was the
race to finish work on our final drafts in both English and an African language. Our
deadline was one o’clock that afternoon, Treffry Goatley had said. There was also a
lot of photographing going on up till the time the official closing ceremony began.
Dignitaries from the British Council arrived and so did the press, and it was soon
underway. Three writers were chosen to read from their works, alongside their
illustrators. The artworks were still a work in progress by this time and the
projector showed sketches as they read.
Mohammed Sale (Nigeria) read in English, Fulfude and French. His tale was a cry for
unity and involved animals swallowing each other as they made the rigorous journey to
‘the river of blessing’. This writer pointed out in his story, how humans can learn
from animals and live in unity to achieve a common goal, After all, in the end, each
animal vomited the other when they got to their destination.
The other two writers, Mimi Emelia Werna (Nigeria) and Gyening Agnes (Ghana), aside
English, read in Pidgin and Ashanti Twi respectively.
The birth of African Storybook
African Storybook was founded out of a need to provide open access to picture
storybooks in a variety of African languages for children. Today, on its website,
there are stories in tongues such as Acholi, Hausa, Igbo, Afaan Oromo, Afrikaans,
Alur, Arabic, Asante Twi, and many more.
When the African Storybook concept was developed by South African Institute for
Distant Learning (SAIDE) with some input by Wepukhulu, a digital solution was
reached. “In this way, educators and thereby children, could access materials to
develop their literacy skills,” Wepukhulu said. So, in 2013 the African Storybook
started with partners in South Africa Kenya, Uganda and Lesotho, and in 2014 the
website was launched. In 2017 there was an expansion out of the four pilot countries
to include Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria. In some of these countries,
African Storybooks are being used, even though the facilitators are not there.
Why the project is relevant
British Council’s Director of Programmes, Ms. Louisa Waddingham pointed out that the
council works to support schools, teachers and students learning in schools. “One of
the issues we have discovered in our work, is that there aren’t many books in schools
for the children to learn to read from, and for teachers to teach,” she said.
Ms. Waddingham explained that there’s also a perspective that children learn better
when they are taught in a language they already understand, usually their mother
tongue. “That doesn’t exclude introducing English later on in their education, but we
believe in this way, they would have a good foundation. So, there are two things
combined that drove us to look for innovative ways to help children learn. We like
the idea of creating books and telling stories.
“The success of the programme has proved that it’s actually quite simple to do. It
was a five-day workshop and we saw three stories illustrated. we needed specialists
to introduce the concept to us. I am not saying it’s easy, but it is not as difficult
as we might think. It has also shown that it’s possible to get the stories published
in a very cost-effective way. This is really important because many writers put off
writing because they can’t publish. Story Making West Africa shows us that you can do
it in a very accessible and efficient way. It encourages more people to write and