The entry of a new set of children-focused books authored by Kathy Brodsky, an American writer, into Nigeria, has brought about a high level of interest in the appreciation of children’s literature. The author, in this interview with Mary Ekah, says her books ignite passion in children
Tell us about your childhood experience?
I had Polio as a young child. My mother worked with me, helping me exercise, and enrolled me into many fitness activities. That became the basis for my book ‘My Bent Tree’, but I didn’t realise that until I had written the story. Growing up, I lived in a house, with my family and grandmother. I went through high school, and moved away to go to college and graduate schools. My life growing up was very different from most children growing up in Nigeria. I grew up outside of New York City where most fathers commuted to work. My father took the train while my mother and grandmother took care of all of the household tasks. In most families, the man drove, but in my family my mother was the driver. My parents and grandmother were from Germany, so I’m first generation American.
What inspires you to write and who are your role models in the literary world?
I may see something, or hear something, and then the next thing I know I’m writing a poem about what I just saw or heard. As a child I read all of the time. I think all of the hours and hours I spent reading were the basis for what I write today. When we read, our imagination plays a much greater role than when we’re watching a movie. A movie springs from someone else’s imagination, while when we read a book – we “picture” the settings in our own mind.
Do you think age restricts one from veering into writing?
A person can start writing at any age. Even little children can tell a story to an adult, who will write it down. That becomes a story. In the same way – older people can write as well. Writing is really an oral story that is written down – and anyone can do that. Graphic novels are basically pictures with words. Writing has no age restrictions.
Have you won awards so far?
Brodsky’s books have won multiple awards, including Book of the Year from Creative Child Magazine in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016. She was also voted into the Top 10 in the International Literacy Association and Children’s Book Council’s Children’s Choice Reading List. Each year, 12,500 school children from throughout the United States read newly published children’s and young adult books and vote for their favorites — Brodsky was selected for this elite list in 2014. Additionally, her books have won several national citations from the Green Book Festival, which honours books that contribute to greater understanding and positive action on the worldwide environment. ‘Girl Scouts Magazine’ also awarded a Brownie Badge to Brodsky under the category ‘My Best Self’ for promoting self-esteem awareness.
Can you share your other achievements and recognition so far?
I’ve won several awards for my books: My Bent Tree, The Inside Story, The Winner Is…, Stover, A Horse Named Special, A Cat Fish Tale, High Wire Act, and A Cat Fish Tale Spanish edition – El Cuento de Don Gato Pez. Creative Child Magazine recently announced El Cuento de Don Gato Pez won 2017 Book of The Year.
How does your book address the issue of illiteracy in reading among African children?
When you tell an interesting or funny story and people are captivated by it, that’s the beginning. You have to get people interested. African children are like any other children – something needs to spark their interest or curiosity. My books ignite a unique passion in children of all ages and cultures. Each story I write stimulates intellectual characteristics that are inherent in all children. Things like curiosity, imagination, wonder and playfulness.
Do you have a book club or belong to other literary organisations?
I have been a member of a Writers’ Group, and the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators and the Children’s Literacy Foundation. I feel that getting feedback from other writers is an important aspect of writing. In a Writers’ Group, writers help one another become better writers. The Children’s Literacy Foundation helps bring books and programmes to low-income populations. As a presenter for the Children’s Literacy Foundation I help bring books and reading programmes to low-income populations in my state. I talk about writing and read my stories to these groups of students because I realise how important it is to reach people at a young and impressionable age.
How do you get feedback from your readers?
I get feedback mostly through letters and in person at book signings. Readers or their parents may tell me that my books are their child’s favourite, or that their children request my books over and over. Grandparents and parents, as well as children themselves, have told me they love the discussion questions that follow each story. Teachers are especially interested in that aspect because the questions help them with their lesson plans, and they also get to know students better after they engage in the questions.
Why did you donate books to the founder of Magical Book Club, Oluwaseun Aina?
I met Aina at the International Literacy Conference in Boston in July 2016, and gave her my newest book at the time – High Wire Act. Several months later, she emailed me and asked if I would Skype with her literacy programme students. We did, and after that, I decided perhaps she would like the rest of my books for her programme. That was how it all began. When we Skyped, it was so much fun to see how excited the kids were when they were reading High Wire Act and discussing the questions. Since then she and I have stayed in touch. What Aina is doing is really remarkable because reading is the foundation for advancement everywhere, and Aina is helping this become a reality in her own country.
What is your interest or motivation for donating books?
I felt this programme was especially important, because it’s bringing something about literacy to a population that is underserved. Also, reading is the basis for every type of learning, and if a person can read, “the sky is the limit” in terms of their knowledge.
Do you also donate books to other book clubs in Africa?
No, I haven’t yet but I am certainly open to the possibility of donating books to other book clubs in Africa.
What are your other areas of interest?
I’m a psychotherapist, specifically, a clinical social worker. I help people deal with many different problems in their lives. I love to write, read, get together with family and friends, and I feel fitness is important. I try to swim almost daily, I walk with my dog, and I work out at the gym. I love movies and theater, and I’m very interested in people.
What are your impressions about Africa and Nigeria?
I find the Nigerian people to be warm, friendly, curious, intelligent and gracious. My interactions with the people of Nigeria have been a wonderful experience. For a continent that is an ocean away, I quickly came to realise that people are not so different from one another. We all have the same basic human emotions. We laugh, cry and love in the same ways. I feel like my books help build a bridge of understanding and in turn, transcend geographical and cultural boundaries. Interestingly, my son Jeffrey Brodsky interviewed former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo in 2011 in New York City. Jeff shared his insights from that interview with me and I learned so much on a personal level about the people and the government of Nigeria than I ever imagined possible. Jeff was working on an oral history project at Columbia University where he was interviewing Heads of State from around the world. President Obasanjo was one of the many fascinating leaders Jeff spent time interviewing.
How can African narratives become more appealing to global media?
I think the more people understand other cultures, the more peaceful the world will become. It’s up to each country to work on this as well as it can. Africa has a rich history of storytelling and that needs to be shared with the world. In particular, more children’s stories need to come out of the nations of Africa. There are thousands of verbal stories handed down generation to generation that need to be captured in writing as the continent of Africa is unique to the world in so many ways.