A Spotlight on Nigerian Literature for Children 

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By Olubunmi Aboderin Talabi

Growing up in Nigeria is definitely interesting. Nigerians are natural storytellers, who pass tales, myths and fables across generations; shaping mentality, building morals and forming the unconscious blocks that help children decipher the difference between right or wrong.  The stories however, are not self-generated content, they are developed from content written in storybooks and novels; while some were developed by the exaggerations of elders while telling tales by moonlight.

Research has shown that reading and listening to book reading play a key role in enabling early learning experiences. It is linked with academic achievement, mental retention and oral development for enhanced productivity in adult life.
Over the years Nigerian authors have written standard fictional story books, most of which have helped to form the basis of early child growth across most secondary and primary schools from different generations. Books like Chike and the River; Eze Goes to School, The Passport of Mallam Illia, The Drummer Boy, Ajapa the Tortoise, to name a few, are some of the books that resonate with children’s literature in the minds of Nigerians. While storybooks have continually remained in the market, it is pertinent to note that there has been little or no production of children-focused picture books for preschoolers.
The lack of flexibility and adaptability of elementary school curriculum has resulted in the same types of books being recycled. Nigerian children literature has therefore been limited to book sequences that have been written many years ago.

Oluwaseun Aina, Nigerian literary critic once said, “there are myriads of challenges noticeable in children’s books. They are either not interesting, error-prone or feature poorly illustrated pictures.” It is important to change this because reading is the only foundation for knowledge acquisition and expansion.
As Nigerians, the need to portray our culture, locale and food through literature is important especially for children as the first form of learning for them is through books. While several authors  like Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie have successfully told some of the stories from our history, cultural heritage, heroes past through books either serving  as a means of entertainment, education or social reforming, these books are written for adults with no specifics to children.
Children in Nigeria often have to rely on oral legends and mythic narratives, rhymes and poems that have been handed down from generations on end. Others who have access to written literature have to read foreign books, limiting the opportunity to read stories that portray realities that they can identify with. Most Nigerian parents give priority to textbooks over books that do not fall within the curriculum.

It is important to emphasize that good children’s books contribute to the upbringing and can form a module for learning. It is also necessary for a child’s mental development because of the use of clearly and beautifully illustrated pictures which depicts the content of the books. Publishing houses like Clever Clogs Books, which recently launched a series of Nigerian themed children’s picture books, show insights to the relevance of these books for children.
Clever Clogs has just released three unique books: The Tobi Series, Diary of a Toddler and Kob the Antelope. These highlight family values and the need for children to understand the environment in which they live; food and necessary health habits to cultivate.
The Tobi Series is about the urban adventures of a happy-go-lucky, three-year-old girl living with her parents in modern day Lagos, Nigeria. Kob the Antelope is a cautionary allegory that can help parents teach children about predators and how to identify predatory behaviour.  Diary of Toddler shows a day in the life of a city dwelling preschooler. Clever Clogs Books are deliberately light-hearted, linguistically simple and perfect for children under eight. The books are also colourful and well-illustrated in ways that will spark, strengthen and support visual thinking.

The niche publishers focused on children’s picture books, understand the importance of developing the perception in the minds of toddlers and young children that reading is interesting. They do this by producing exciting, inspiring and well-illustrated picture books, as opposed to text-heavy chapter books.
In exploring ideas about what Nigerian literature is, it is necessary to look at some of the things that make it important. Nigerian literature mirrors our society; it makes us think about ourselves and our immediate environment; allows us to enjoy our language and its beauty; and it reflects and changes ideology.

It would make a lot of difference to have children in Nigeria experience all these through age-appropriate literature, and help them understand that reading can be enjoyable.