Children’s books are mirrors and windows. A good children’s book serves as a window to an unfamiliar world, or as a mirror for self-reflection, or, ideally, both. But for all the potential, Kenyan children have access to very few books that reflect their realities.
“For us to entrench a reading culture in Kenya, we need to tell Kenyan stories, in a Kenyan way, using characters that Kenyan children can identify with,” says Nganga Mbugua, an award-winning author who has several children’s books under his belt.
A love of reading is sparked when children see themselves in stories and relate them to their lives. A recent poll conducted by Mondelez International, Cadbury East Africa’s holding company, indicated that two-thirds of Kenyan parents believed that Africa is not truthfully represented in children’s books.
“Cadbury Dairy Milk is rooted in generosity, driven by the genuine desire to improve lives. We know the ability to read for meaning empowers children to succeed and although there is a myriad of hurdles that may hinder this, a significant one is the sobering lack of children storybooks that are locally relevant or that they can relate to,” asserts Lorna Kamemba, Category Brand Manager Chocolates CEA Mondelez International.
To shine a light on the issue and help where they can make the most impact, Cadbury Dairy Milk has launched their latest campaign, #InOurOwnWords. The campaign marks the first phase of a long-term initiative called Read To Succeed. It aims to ignite a love for reading among Kenyan children by creating a library of enchanting children’s stories in a Kenyan context. To achieve this, Cadbury Dairy Milk, in partnership with a publishing partner, Sisi Afrika, aims to publish 150 original storybooks working through the generous intent of Kenyans to help, by sharing their original Kenyan tales which will then be turned into books for kids to fall in love with.
Cultivating a culture of reading
“In a world where wide reading is often a prerequisite for success, it is important that we condition our children to start reading from an early age. Reading makes a world of difference to our children’s future, and it is our collective responsibility to secure that future by donating stories to this campaign. Read to Succeed is anchored on our global generosity campaign and we are confident that the Kenyan spirit of generosity will see us deliver on our promise of giving more African stories to our children,” notes Edward Nderitu, Country Manager for Cadbury East Africa.
A survey conducted by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), the industry lobby for publishers in this country, in 2016, described the state of the reading culture among children in Kenya as “troubling” and blamed it for poor language development among them.
“We urgently need to incorporate reading to our children and provide them with locally written books. This gives them an opportunity to read books that they can relate to and in return makes reading enjoyable. If children can see themselves in a story and read in a language, they easily understand they will most likely not see the act of reading as a foreign activity. It is imperative that we inculcate this culture while they are young. We also need to strengthen parental involvement as it will go a long way in enhancing the child’s literacy development,” says Kate Wanjira, an award-winning children’s book author.
According to UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), the global agency that protects the welfare of children promotes literacy among children in Africa faces many challenges which require more innovative solutions. In Kenya, for instance, first languages are not part of the school curriculum, which promotes English and Swahili. The UN body’s global education strategy calls for a new, more radical approach that focuses on enhanced learning to tackle the crisis.
Richard Oduor Oduku, CEO of Sisi Afrika notes that “Modern stories in diverse languages are important for children’s literacy, enjoyment, and imagination. African writers and publishers working to increase the number of books and variety of titles, in different languages, suitable for different age groups, play an invaluable role. Cadbury’s ambitious Read to Succeed campaign is laudable and will increase access to relatable, modern, and enjoyable storybooks for Kenyan children.”
“In line with Cadbury’s strategic purpose to inspire a ‘little goodness’ in the world, we want to shift this paradigm by creating a platform where our children can read literature that tells their stories, in their own words. We’re excited about working with Sisi Afrika to edit, illustrate and transform stories into storybooks that Kenyan children can relate to, understand, enjoy and feel empowered by,” added Ms. Kamemba.
To bring this campaign to life and drive the messaging, Cadbury has partnered with Biko Zulu, Janet Mbugua, Abigail Arunga, Shiko Nguru, and Brian Ngatia among other content creators.