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Telling bedtime stories boosts children’s confidence –Publisher, Aboderin-Talabi

Chairman of the Association of Children’s Authors & Illustrators of Nigeria and the Convener of the Akada Children’s Book Festival, Dr Olubunmi Aboderin-Talabi, tells GODFREY GEORGE the inspiration behind the children’s book festival and other issues in the literary space

What really was the inspiration behind the Akada Children’s Book Festival?

The inspiration behind the Akada Children’s Book Festival is to provide a platform for African authors who specialise in children’s books. It is to showcase children’s books written by African authors or books from around the world written for a diverse audience of children. The ACBF is the first and the largest Nigerian book festival specifically for children. We have some fabulous book festivals for adults but back when I started, I looked around for book festivals for children – a place that children can go to just revel in the breath of children’s books that are available for people that look, speak, live like them – and I simply couldn’t find one. So, I started one. The gathering was held for the first time in 2019 and it attracted over 1,400 attendees. This year, the ACBF will hold on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at the Upbeat Centre, Admiralty Road, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Together Again’.

You mentioned that the maiden edition of the festival attracted over 1,400 attendees. Would you say you have always known that the festival would be such a success?

In 2019, when we did the first one, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. We thought that maybe we’d get around 400 or so people to show up but well over 1,400 people showed up. By some counts, it was over 2,000 people. It was amazing. We were in awe of what was going on. There is an absolute desire for books. Children love to read; they want to read. What they need is better access to books, and it was just really encouraging to see all the schools, parents, and grandparents that turned up, bringing their children with them. The children just had fun. I remember there was one girl there who described it as ‘book heaven’, and she expressed the desire that the event is repeated again and again and again. It is because of people like her that we keep going. So, in 2020 and 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the second and third editions of the festivals were held online, and we saw a different phenomenon. This time, it attracted participants from across Nigeria and from over 23 countries around the world. We had attendees join the festival from Australia, Canada, Ghana, Belgium, Madagascar, United Kingdom, United States, Rwanda, Estonia, The Netherlands, South Africa, Kenya, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Qatar, Libya, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea and Zambia. To us, this shows that there is an interest in books. There is an interest in books for African children. There is an interest in books written by African authors. So, I would say that the reception has been encouraging. The road is hard; it is a lot of work, but the reception has been encouraging, and it is the reception that keeps us going.

What should attendees expect at this year’s festival?

The 2022 edition of the ACBF will be an in-person event. It will feature author-led book readings, book chats, book exhibition, and professional workshops for children’s books writers, illustrators and publishers. It will have fun mini workshops and activities for children. There will be music, drama and insightful sessions for parents and teachers. The theme, as I mentioned earlier, for this year’s event is ‘Together Again’. It is to give us an opportunity to celebrate being back together in person after two years of being divided by the isolation requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How are writers who participate or showcase their works at the festival selected or it is open to everyone?

Earlier on in the year, months or weeks before the festivals, depending on how much time we have, we put out a call for offers, and we advertise everywhere that the ACBF is now in the planning stage. Anyone who wants their book featured would have to send their books to the editorial board for consideration. We have a time when authors can submit their books, and we encourage published authors and illustrators to do so. This is because, for children’s books, illustrators are just as good as writers. This is because that beautiful, attractive picture in the children’s book helps to understand what the book is really about. So, we say to the illustrators, “Come and exhibit your work.”

We have an editorial board that is made up of different volunteers each year. The EB then picks the books that they think are the best books and then we fill as many slots as we can with book readings and story-time sessions. This year, we have about 23 books that will be showcased. They are all by authors of African descent. Some of them are based here in Nigeria and others are based in the Diaspora. We are also featuring three illustrators who are authors as well.

Another way that writers and illustrators can be part is by leading one or two of the workshops. This year, we have a workshop session on how to create our own cartoon characters using shapes. We have a self-publishing workshop. Finally, writers and illustrators can be a part of this by being a volunteer. We don’t have the budget, nor do we have financial sponsors, so everything is done on goodwill. We put out a call for volunteers and we select the people that we need. If we have too many, we thank them and keep their details for the following year.

How can one access the creative writing boot camps, which is also planned in the festival?

The ACBF is coming up on Saturday, October 29, 2022 in Lagos. The writing boot camp is available to anyone that has registered for the festival and has signed up for the workshop. General admission is free but there is a small fee for attending these workshops. The workshop is being led by one of the co-founders of Narrative Landscape. It is a session that I would say is not to be missed. To register, go to

What are some of the most profound discoveries you’ve made on this journey in relation to the African reading ecosystem, especially among children?

I would say that children love to read. What they need is better access to age-appropriate books. Every time I do a book reading, the children invariably ask me when my next book is coming out. Right now, my focus is on the youngest readers who are kids under five, although I have found out that children above 10 love to read my books. I do children’s picture books, early reader books, chapter books and things like that. I will eventually write those books but I am focused on writing those picture books first.

In terms of the reading ecosystem, some people say that Nigerians do not like to read, but I always say to them, “I don’t agree with you and I don’t know the Nigerians you are talking about.” This is because the Nigerians that I have met love to read; they just need age-appropriate books for them to read. We shouldn’t just force children to read textbooks. Nigerian parents are very good at having the kids do their homework but they don’t encourage children to learn how to read for pleasure. To do that, parents have to have fun books that will encourage them to read. That is what we try to do at the Akada Children’s Book Festival.

Do you think there are enough children’s books to cater for the Nigerian market?

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The Nigerian market is huge but the challenge that indigenous authors and publishers face, especially for children’s picture books, is that they are exceedingly expensive to operate. The margins are so high that it is very difficult to make a living as a children’s books author in Nigeria. So, it doesn’t encourage very many people to write books for children. So, the authors are more likely to go to a book that will yield a steady income for themselves and their families. We cannot blame anybody for that. We can have a lot more books if the industry were more favourable to the producers of these books. In some countries, the government has a policy where they purchase at least 1,000 copies of any books published by self-published authors. They buy those books and give them to libraries across the country. It would be so great if we could have a policy like that in Nigeria where the government would support self-published authors and publishing houses by buying the books that they publish and distributing those books free of charge.

In terms of whether or not there are enough books to cater to the Nigerian market, I would say, “Are there enough good quality books or culturally-appropriate books for the Nigerian market?” and I would have to say that there are a lot of books available in Nigeria but majority of those books are published abroad and created with other children in mind. So, we need to have more books that are created for the Nigerian child in this culture and environment, with us in mind. There is a lot of room for improvement and growth in that regard.

What qualifies a book to be termed as a children’s book?

There are different types of children’s books. There are board books for the youngest readers. They tend to have pictures and no words or very few words. They are made out of board paper to make it very uneasy for children to destroy them. They are more durable and will last longer. This is for children between zero and two years, for example. There are also picture books. They are children’s books with lovely illustrations and a few words on every page; less than 500 words in total. Those are for children, maybe two to five years old. It is for children who are just starting to read by themselves. They are excellent as bedtime storybooks. We have books that can be referred to as early reader books, and those are books that have one illustration and a whole page or two pages of text. Sometimes, these books are known as early readers chapter books. There is more text. Maybe the words will be around 1,000 or 1,500 words, but every single chapter has an illustration to support the text and aid understanding. Then, there are young adult books. These are the books aimed at teenagers. There is also the Diary of a Wimpy Child kind of book. Those are for younger teens. The YA books are for older teens. Any of these books can be classified as children’s literature. It depends really on how one’s society defines a child, really.

I know that there is a very major children’s award given every other year by a leading company in Nigeria, and one of my complaints was that, even though they call it a children’s award, sometimes, the books that they give the awards to are majorly on chapter books, even though they may have illustrations here and there. This, to me, will be books for older teens, perhaps. But they typically are the type of books that win the award they refer to as a children’s books award. If they were true to form, the children’s books award should go to authors who write for young children. As of now, I am not aware of any indigenous book prize for children’s picture book authors or for people who write for younger readers under the age of 10.

How can children have improved access to reading materials?

Libraries! One of my dreams is for us to have a public library on every single street in every single one of our 774 local government areas in the country. We need more libraries. This is one sure way to improve access to reading materials for children. Of course, I know the world has gone online and everything is now digital, but not everybody has data and smartphones. So, yes, well done to all who have developed apps for children and children’s books for those who are connected; but we still do not have high saturation in this environment so families with just one device can make their kids read at different times. So, I am still full on print books. It may be because of my history as a printer, because I used to be a printer. I am very keen on actual printed books, so many Nigerians can have access to physical books as they can. For this to happen, we need more libraries and to stock the libraries with good books.

There is an argument about who an African author is. From your experience as a publisher, what qualifies one to be an African author?

Well, this must be a tricky question because I would have thought an African author must be an author either born in Africa or one who has parentage from Africa and/or who is of African descent. One could also argue that an African author is one who writes books about Africa and for the African audience. It could be a question of semantics or demography. For me, an African author is an author who is of African descent or who lives in Africa or who writes things about Africa and does so repeatedly and predominantly. I can think of one or two authors who write fantastic children’s books based in Africa.

How can parents help their kids to develop quality reading, analytical and comprehension skills?

Parents can do this by encouraging their kids to love reading, and that can be done by modelling good and healthy reading habits in front of them. As a parent, if you had the option of watching a show or picking up a book to read, if you know you want your children to develop a love for reading and to learn how to pay attention to details, pick up the book and let them see you pick up the book and read. Encourage them to read; read along with them. Read them bedtime stories. When they read, ask them to read aloud to you and talk to them about what they have read. Ask them questions about what they have read to ensure comprehension. Also, encourage them to do their English homework. Take an interest in what they do. Ask questions about what they have read. Find a time to read the books that your children are reading, and ask questions about the book; strike up conversations about the books. You can help your children develop an understanding of nuance by asking questions that are not obvious in the books. Please, do not discourage them if you find they are reading books about shows that are on TV. If that is what is going to get them to read, encourage them to read and show an interest by asking questions and listening to their answers. Encourage them when they get the answers right and help them improve on a wrong answer.

At what point should a child be taught creativity and writing?

It is never too early to start teaching children creativity and writing skills. At the festival this year, we have a workshop session on how to create one’s own cartoon characters using shapes, and that is available for children who are old enough to hold a crayon in their hands. It is never too early to encourage children to think visually, analytically, and that can be done through play. This will encourage this kind of learning. Also, try to have lots of books around the house, and don’t stifle play time, thinking it is a waste of time.

Can children be taught sex and sexuality using books?

At the ACBF we have a speaker, Dr Lanre Olusola, coming to talk to parents. It is called, “Talking to Your Children about Sex and Sexuality’. Why is this important? Many parents are faced with dilemmas that their own parents didn’t face. But because of the way things are in the world today, there are many parents who don’t know how to talk to their children about sex and sexuality. They are being presented with scenarios that they didn’t plan for and they don’t understand and do not know how to deal with them. The idea is to gather parents around to talk to them, listen to them talk about the various concerns that they may have about their children and the behaviour and patterns that have emerged and to get advice on how to be the ones to guide their children into making healthy choices rather than letting it be random or just hoping and praying that their children won’t ever find out or come across these difficult situations.

How can children and parents build trust through book-bonding?

This is a great question because one of the things I am very passionate about is bedtime story time. I believe that more parents need to take the time to read more bedtime stories to their children, particularly to their younger children. As the children get older, parents can now sit and listen to the children read to them. As simple or as mundane as bedtime stories may seem to an adult, to a child it means multiple things and has myriads of benefits. Parents reading to their children at bedtime increases the child’s sense of security and confidence.

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