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Reflections on Children's and Young Adult Literature in Ghana

abeardall's picture

My group did a presentation on children's and young adult literature in Ghana, in which I specifically focused on what was being read. It is interesting to be reflecting on my presentation on children's and young adult literature in Ghana now that I have actually visited Ghana. Before I left for Ghana, I had the opportunity to Skype with Kathy Knowles, a Canadian writer who has started libraries throughout Ghana. She spoke of how most Ghanaians don't read for pleasure because it's seen as a mostly academic endeavor and how almost all literature is written in English, usually a third language particularly for those who live in rural areas.

When we were watching the dancers perform while in Dalun, a group of three boys were trying to read a book together by the dim light. Pictured above is Manya reading it to them. The book had little cultural relevancy for the boys however, by depicting white characters dealing with situations that seemed very American. Someone wrote in the scrapbook how Mariam came up to them and said, "Books!" and then brought a book over to read with them. The preschool students at the school seemed estatic about getting to share stories with us as well. These event gave me a glimpse as how the preschool may be affecting the village (the title literally means "we are changing", particularly in terms of how the village views education) and how these children desperately want to read and learn. I can only imagine what it feels like though, to only be able to read books about "others in far off lands." The book containing Dagbani folktales was a great start to bridging the gap between literacy and culture and I can only hope that there will be more books written that will help to fufill future generations' thirst for knowledge while doing it in a way that Ghanian children can relate to (and even within Ghana, there are many different areas so no one story is representative of all of Ghana).

While researching for my presentation, I was struck by how little was written on our topic and how few children's literature books there are and even fewer young adult fiction books there are. It made me think of Rob's class, when we talked about the idea of an essential story. In the U.S, we have this idea of the essential story in children's literature: the classic, timeless tale that speaks to a universal audience. Through our presentation, we learned that this was certainly not the case. If people cannot relate to the literature they are reading, they are less likely to enjoy it and therefore won't value it as much.

I feel as though if it is impossible to understand our topic without thinking of the other topics that the other groups presented on. We found it difficult to find new things to say in our presentation since so much of our content had been touched on by other groups. Children's literature can directly be tied to the Ghanian education system. Most children do not receive any formal education before primary school so they have very little exposure to any children's literature. In school, they will really only read readers, not children's books. There are NGOs that are working to produce more children's literature (like Debbie's Golden Baobab award) as well as the controversial process of introducing e-readers into schools. Language diversity is also essential in that the language in which piece is written affects how we view a story and meanings can be lost through translastion (such as, can a story ever be truly culturally relevant if it's written in the language of the colonizer?) Storytelling was the most major connection between topics. While children may not have as much exposure to written children's literature, almost all of them will have stories told to them orally. While in Dalun, we shared stories with one another which allowed us to gain a greater cultural understanding of one another.

Similar to Kat, this presentation has made me better understand the need for cultural relevancy in literature in the schools I work at. I believe that the schools I've worked at have done a good job in including books featuring black protagonists but I believe it's important to note that these books are not ones that are well-known nor win many awards. This shows how awards like Debbie's Golden Baobab prize are essential, because although an award does not determine the quality of a story, they do change how we view and value a story.

I am considering writing and illustrating  a children's book for my final topic but it makes me wonder: as a white American woman, can I ever write a story that is genuinely culturally relevant to a culture that is not my own? As inspired by Pim's class, what is classified as African literature and who is able to write African literature? Is it better to read something not culturally relevant versus nothing at all?


alesnick's picture

reading for pleasure

I also interacted with the young boys who were reading a book together by the light of a flashlight during the evening of dancing and drumming.  They read several pages to me, in unision.  It seemed to be pleasurable to them, as were the times we read with M. and when the children in Titagya listened to Debbie and Aziz read a story in English and Dagbani.  So . . . I am wanting to push on Kathy's claim that folks in Ghana don't read for pleasure!

alesnick's picture

reading: pleasure, relevance, authorship

I appreciate the way you synthesize the presentations -- nice work!  Today discussing Malik's 3 Wishes for the BMC Coast to Coast program, we explored how Malik uses a traditional story form to advocate for himself re: going to school. He leverages storytelling as a self-agent.  

Your question who is able to write African lit reminds me of the question who is able to teach African American students.  I believe it is possible to own one's specific positionalities/identities and be in an ongoing critical inquiry ito them, AND at the same time to change, or re-author these identities, at least to some extent, so as to be al ally and a co-worker with people coming from different places.  You?