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Children are incredibly perceptive, amazing

Olubunmi Aboderin Talabi is an author, publisher and the founder of Clever Clogs Books, a niche organisation that specialises in the production of Nigerian-themed children’s picture books. Her published works include: Tobi Visits the Conservatory, Kob the Antelope and Diary of a Toddler. Her fourth book, Why Do You Wash Your Hands? is scheduled for release in 2019. In 2017, her passion for writing developed into collaborating with talented artists to create beautifully-illustrated children’s picture books designed to make reading attractive, inspire innovation and excite children, parents and teachers. Chibuzor Ihegboro spoke to her recently.

 Tell us about your latest work, “Why Do You Wash Your Hands?”

There are many diseases that can be prevented just by washing hands. It’s a simple, comparatively low-cost method for reducing your chances of landing in hospital. My new release is an illustrated children’s book that shows young readers and their caregivers, at least, 13 different occasions when they should wash their hands. This is all in answer to a little girl’s question, “why do you wash your hands?” It’s also the first Nigerian children’s picture book to come out simultaneously in four languages: English; Igbo; Hausa; Yoruba. Furthermore it’s the first Nigerian children’s picture book to have stickers in four languages too.

 You have spent quite a number of years in the media. What inspired the decision to become a children’s book author?

The desire is to see more culturally-relevant children’s picture books readily available in Nigerian bookstores. It’s important for all children to see people, who look like them and live in similar environments as them, portrayed in good quality books. It boosts their self-esteem when the hero of a story or the place where the story is set bears relevance to them. Some think-tanks refer to it as here and now realism. Children love to read entertaining, well produced books with age-appropriate “here and now realism”.

 What would you say are the differences in the dynamics of Children’s books and other types of books, such as adult fiction, biographies, etc?

Pictures. Children’s books and books for new readers tend to be filled with pictures. Books for adults, that is, chapter books, tend to be predominated by text. The most popular children’s books tend to have shorter sentences too. This helps to enhance comprehension. In short, simpler words, colourful pages, attractive fonts, rhymes, puzzles and stickers at the end. Finding that magical balance between detail and brevity is the winning formula.

 How do you get inspiration to write these children’s stories and has it been a lucrative journey for you thus far?

From spending time with children; taking care of them; organising playdates and such. I mainly write about present day, urban family situations from a child’s perspective. Children are exceptionally inquisitive and say the most unexpected things at times. I also read a lot and get inspiration by association too. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have access to books and various libraries. I had great English teachers who encouraged me to read and compose my own work.

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As to your question about if this has been a lucrative journey so far, what I can say is that it is certainly not a get rich quick scheme. You write children’s books out of love, or because of a passion for the subject. It’s a time-consuming endeavour that requires patience; a good sense of humour; as well as a strong sense of purpose. Very few children’s picture book authors make it to the big time, but some do. You never know. You just have to keep trying. All things are possible.

 What is your assessment of the reading culture in Nigeria?

They say Nigerians don’t like to read but I beg to differ. Almost every week, I am invited to book readings in different parts of the country, and I come across people asking me for more titles or if I write for older age groups as well. People want to read. Children want to read. What needs to improve is our access to books. Our public libraries are full. We need to build more. Reading spaces can be encouraged to pop up in conducive locations. People will come because people want to read.

Sometimes, parents ask me how they can get their children to read more. I answer, start by reading in front of them. If they see you reading, they are more likely to read too.

 As an author in the children’s niche, how best can society, including the government, inculcate good reading habit in the younger generation?

As I answered in the preceding question, parents can read in front of their children. Parents can further develop a love of reading in their children by actually reading to their children regularly. Start with bedtime stories when they are young and keep it up for as long as they are interested. As they get older, encourage your children can start reading to you too.

This helps you gauge their reading ability and gives you topics to discuss with them. Join a book club or start one of your own. Have a home library. Just books on a shelves will do. Let your children see you switch off the TV, pick up a book and read. Bring your children to book festivals like the Akada Children’s Book Festival at the end of this month. Take them on field trips to libraries. Relevant government departments can have reading initiatives like the #EkoReads promo or the Mobile Library Bus, done in Lagos State last year.

 In this age of digital publishing where children are becoming better acquainted with the smartphones and other digital devices, how do you think this affects your art as a writer of children’s literature?

It encourages me to up my game. Producing for print is not enough, now books have to come out electronically too so that those with various electronic devices can download the books to read. It’s simply means that all publishers have to stay ahead of the game to stay relevant. Though this is a lot easier said than done, but we are working on it.

 As a children’s literature writer, what insights have you gained about the psychology of children readers?

I am still learning about them but what I can say so far is that children are incredibly perceptive. They notice everything. They have amazing minds unsullied by toxins or stress so they are able to reason rapidly and grasp basic concepts clearly explained. What they read, see, hear, repeatedly trains their behaviour. This is why it is important to have positive books with happy, helpful and healthy content created specifically for developing minds.

 You are the convener of the Akada Children’s Book Festival (ACBF) where your latest book will also be launched. Tell us what motivated you to organise the ACBF and what are the modalities of the festival?

ACBF is designed to showcase children’s books written by African authors, or books written by authors from around the world for children of colour. As far as I am aware there isn’t yet a fully developed platform specifically for this audience in Nigeria. The festival is an event for children, their parents and teachers, as well as for those who create child-appropriate content. It is a fun, family, one-day event taking place in Lagos and it will feature a pop-up kids’ library; author-led book readings & book signings; a book exhibition; author meet and greet; writing competition; information forums for parents; workshops for upcoming authors; soft skills master classes for teachers; interactive and engaging workshops for children; a play area and more. Entrance to the festival is free but registration is required at bit.ly/akadafest. The new book to be launched is Why Do You Wash Your Hands?The book festival holds 27thApril 2019.

 Who are your partners and stakeholders in the upcoming book festival?

This book festival is supported by Clever Clogs Books; CoolFM; LagosMums; ReadingCorner; BellaNaija and it is done in partnership with the British Council who are hosting the event at their Lagos office.

Some popular book festivals have been known to take place in the country, what is unique about the ACBF? And, what impact will this festival have on the book sector in Nigeria?

The other popular or high profile book festivals are for adults. The Akada Children’s Book Festival is for children. We are hoping that it will encourage a love of reading in children. We are hoping that it will give self published authors a platform to be seen, read and appreciated. We are hoping it will give parents and children a productive avenue for bonding.

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We are hoping that it will start the reversal the notion that Nigerians do not like to read. We hope that it will set off a chain reaction that will lead to Lagos becoming the reading capital of the world.

In a nutshell, what advice do you have for parents, who are looking to nurture their children’s reading habits and potential writing skills?

Create a reading space in your home and place books there for your children. Read to them at any opportunity, for example bedtime; snack time; playtime. Convert random time to reading time ie in the bus on the way to school, take out a book and read. Read any where it’s safe to do so and encourage your children to do the same. The more you read, the wider your vocabulary. Having a wide vocabulary boosts your confidence and your ability to communicate verbally or in writing.

Set up a reward system for your children when they read books. Ensure that after school hours, they dedicate a certain amount of time to reading academic and non-academic works and ask them questions to ensure that they understand what they read. This would go a long way in helping your children develop and maintain good reading habits.