When I ask young children what they know about Egypt, the answer is typically pyramids and mummies. When Elaine, a library media specialist who posted a comment on one of our blogs, asks her students what they know about Africa, she hears about animals and the desert.
That is why the first week of Black History Month is Read Africa Week – an effort to change misperceptions about the African continent. And it is a continent, with more diversity among its countries than among the states of our own nation.
In 2008, Brenda Randolph, the librarian who founded the Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) and Read Africa Week, reviewed 30 children’s books about Africa and found more than 90 percent showed only rural or village life and jungles. So Brenda titled the article she co-authored with Elizabeth DuMulder in Teaching Tolerance Magazine that year, “I didn’t know there were cities in Africa.” Unfortunately, nine years later, Brenda says little has changed, even though there is more conversation about diverse children’s books and more books about African countries available.
This year’s Read Africa Week focuses on Ghana. There are bookmarks to download and lists of picture and chapter books, CABA winners and adult books – accurate, balanced and recommended by scholars. The first CABA was presented in 1992. Since then, more than 70 titles have been recognized. There are lesson plans and ideas accompanying many of the titles.
Maimunah Marah, the founder of Tutu’s Storybooks – an online and pop-up bookstore in the greater Washington, D.C. area – recommends six ways to introduce young children to Ghana -
- Read Anansi storybooks.
- Read storybooks about mythical characters from the Asante.
- Read storybooks about Kente cloth.
- Read the Ghanian version of a classic tale.
- Read storybooks set in modern-day Ghana.
- Read stories by Ghanian authors.
Maimunah suggests specific books in each category in her blog. If you know others, please add them in a comment below along with any activities or projects you work on with students.
The importance of building children’s awareness of people who live in other places and in different ways cannot be overstated. Stereotypes contribute to racism and xenophobia. As Brenda wrote in Teaching Tolerance, “If the next generation of students develops a deeper and more respectful understanding of African countries, then our foreign relations and policies will follow suit.”
A few other tips when teaching and talking about Africa -
- Use specific country names.
- Use regular language (“house” and “people,” not “hut” and “tribe.”
- Share contemporary stories as well as folktales.
- Highlight everyday modern activities.
- Don’t forget about North Africa, including Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and of course Egypt – which is why we were honored to accept a CABA award for Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books in 2013.