KidLit Book Chat | with founder of Booksie, Edem Torkornoo

Children’s literature is a genre I rarely blog about. I don’t have any children yet, so kid literature is almost never on my radar. But there are sooo many African/Black authors writing phenomenal books for children nowadays. Last year, Edem Torkornoo founded BOOKSIE, which is a pan-African child-focused company on a mission to inspire young African readers by intentionally giving them access to books that tell African realities.

This week in celebrating Ghanaian excellence, I chat with Edem Torkornoo as we discuss Booksie, the Booksie Box (which ships worldwide!), African children’s literature + some recommendations for children aged 3-12!

(note – ‘ET’ represents Edem Torkornoo’s responses)

[image via mybooksiebox.com]

•••

  • Booksie as a pan-African company primarily focuses on making children’s literature more accessible. Why did you decide to focus on kidlit?

ET: It’s something that came to me naturally. I’m a huge bookworm and I’ve always loved working and playing with children. I enjoy their company so kidlit allows me to bring my two loves together.

Looking back though, I think my interest in kidlit piqued when I heard about Deborah Ahenkorah and the Golden Baobab Prize in my first year of college, so that would be 2009. I found it fascinating that Deborah had started a prize to promote African literature for children and it stuck with me.

As I went through college and started working, I explored my interests and realised that I want to create entertainment (books and TV shows) for African children and I want that entertainment to have characters that look like the children they are for. I want my nephews Ian (5) and Joel (3) and cousins Nana Araba (5) and Afua (2) to see themselves in books and on TV. You can call them my muses. There’s something very powerful about representation and it may not always be obvious but seeing images of people who look like you in the media you consume does something to your confidence.

 


  • What’s My Booksie Box all about? How does it work?

ET: My Booksie Box is Booksie’s flagship product. It’s a subscription service that curates children’s books written by African authors and/or with primarily African characters and delivers it individuals and schools on a regular basis. The books are categorized by age (3-5; 6-8; 9-12 years-old) and subscribers can choose how often they want to receive books (monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly).

My Booksie Box has three main goals:

  • make children’s books written by African authors easily accessible
  • nurture a love of reading
  • give authors and publishers on the continent a channel to sell their work.

We’ve also created the Afterschool Book Club, a community for young book lovers that runs from 3-7pm weekly. We work with children who are just learning to read and help them to improve their proficiency. On one hand, children get to read a good book, do their homework and explore their passions through engaging in creative activities. On the other hand, parents are able to bridge the gap between school and home time by leaving their children in a safe environment. We call it a win-win situation.

Finally, we host book club events on the weekend so that children who can’t make it to the weekday one are still able to join the community.

[images kind courtesy from Booksie]

 


  • Are books selected for the subscription box primarily by African authors or other Black authors? Will Booksie include children’s books by other Black authors?

ET: Yes, the books are primarily by African authors but we’ve discovered some amazing books with African characters or based on African cities that are written by non-Africans so we will include them. There are also African writers who have written fantastic books with non-African characters so we’ve started to relook at our selection criteria.

We’re open to books by Black authors but the primary focus is those written by Africans.

 


  • How do you select the books & genres featured in the Booksie Box? Is there a plethora of writers and books to choose from?

ET: There are 3 main criteria:

  1. Is the book written by an African author and does it have primarily African characters?
  2. Is the book telling a fun, engaging and memorable story that children can relate to?
  3. Does the book have beautiful, eye-catching illustrations? This is particularly important for books in the 3-5 year-old and 6-8 year-old category.

The last ‘secret’ criteria is, will my nephews Ian and Joel be drawn to the book or will they snob it?

There are a plethora of books to choose from in the 6-8 year-old age category. I’m discovering that when it comes to children’s books many writers cater to that age group. However, there aren’t many to choose from in the 3-5 and 9-12 year-old age groups so we’re always on the lookout for them.

The African kidlit space is also missing board books for babies and toddlers. I haven’t come across any yet so please let us know if you know any.

 


  • Do you remember the first children’s book you read as a child? If so, was it by an African author? How was the experience?

ET: I remember some lines from the first book I learned to read by myself. I memorized it. But I don’t remember the title. Haha. It says something like “the sky is grey and it is pouring, sitting here is very boring, I’d like to go out to play …”

It wasn’t by an African author. In terms of experience, I think I felt accomplished reading that book because I could read it by myself. I read it over and over again. That’s why I can remember some lines.

My vivid reading memories though are from the time I discovered the Baby Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton and Sweet Valley. Those were magical times and all I’d do on the ride to and from school was read. I think this was in class two or three.

 


  • For beginners of African kidlit, where should one start? Could you give three of your favorite books for children aged 3-12?

ET: I love Dela Avemega’s Lulu Series and Niki Daly’s books about Jamela. I’ve also heard amazing things about Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus series but I’m yet to read any of them.

I’ll give one favourite from each of the age categories that My Booksie Box caters to:

ages 3-5: A is for Accra by Ekow and Nana Afua Pierre

 

ages 6-8: Where is Jamela? by Niki Daly

 

ages 9-12: The Necklace of Relur: Kagim Chronicles by Linda Masi

 


  • When should we be expecting a children’s book written by you, Edem?

ET: Fingers crossed, soon!

 


P.S – If you haven’t checked out Booksie’s #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition where nine Ghanaian children’s writers & their books are highlighted, what are you waiting for?

For more information on how to discover amazing African children’s books, kindly check out Booksie’s website for more information; where all FAQ’s are answered!

Also, be sure to contact Edem / the Booksie team via WhatsApp – +233 24 131 6433 | Instagram | Twitter

 

 

 

 

Edem Torkornoo is the Founder and chief bookworm at Booksie, a pan-African book subscription service and book club for 3-12 year-olds. Prior to Booksie, she served as a Teaching Fellow at MEST-Africa and was on the Founding Team at the African Leadership University (ALU) where she managed all things digital. Edem is a child at heart and likes to make people happy through food.

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#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 mini book/author collage + LIT links

Once again, the month of March is here! Ghana gained independence in March (TODAY, March 6th 1957), so I like to dedicate this month to celebrating Ghanaian excellence! As a reader of Ghanaian heritage, I enjoy discovering new Ghanaian writers and learning about our pioneer writers. If we don’t celebrate our own, who will?

The #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge is well underway and it’s great to see lots of folks participating in the challenge of reading at least 5 books by writers of Ghanaian descent! Below is a mini collage showing a snippet of some of the Ghanaian books and writers highlighted two years ago in the GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books series ~

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 1

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 2

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 3

While the 3-part series is not exhaustive by any means, it highlights over 80 Ghanaian writers & their books! With the plethora of Ghanaian writers and books highlighted in the series, there is no excuse if anyone claims they don’t know (m)any writers from Ghana!

Check out: #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition

by Edem Torkornoo, founder of Booksie.

 

•••

Below are lit(erature) links I’ve been enjoying lately. These are links to some great short stories, poems and articles on the interwebs, showcasing Ghanaian EXCELLENCE:

I was stuck in a position where I had to learn.



How I came to possess the name of the boxer who was once the most famous and baddest man on the planet happened by accident.



  • I add the leaf of the cocoyam plant to dried mudfish, mushrooms and snails, and think of my indomitable ancestors.


[This story was published as the winner of the 2018  AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. + Maame Blue is one of the 20 Black British writers who will have work published by Jacaranda Books in 2020!]



Raised by a single, independent mother, one young woman struggles with her familial inheritance and the relationship between self-sufficiency and social isolation.


The links between knowing history, media and political agency in northern Ghana.


 

Book Chat | Tampered Press – A Ghanaian literary & Arts magazine

According to the dictionary, to tamper is to ‘interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations,’ and that’s exactly what Tampered Press is here to do!

[image via Tampered Press]

Tampered Press is a new Ghanaian literary and arts magazine with the goal of publishing the work of emerging and practicing writers and visual artists – with a bias for Ghana, and Africa. The magazine launched during the summer – July 14th, with it’s first issue: The Future Present. I wasn’t able to attend the launch, but I did buy two copies of the first issue and fell in love with the overall stellar quality of the magazine.

What I enjoyed most about the first edition is how unapologetically Ghanaian it is: from the illustrations, to the poetry, short stories and the essays – it’s just really exciting to witness great work being produced by creatives in Accra.

I simply love the overt advocacy for the arts ingrained into every page of this magazine and had to catch up with the editor & creative director – Ama Asantewa Diaka, also known as ‘Poetra Asantewa.’ In this book chat, Poetra Asantewa gives the gist on Tampered Press’s conception, the magazine’s intended audience and more. Enjoy the mini conversation I had with her below!

(note – ‘PA’ represents Poetra Asantewa’s responses)

 

•••

  • Before we get into talking about Tampered Press – Poetra Asantewa, what are you known for? What is your passion?

PA: I am known widely for poetry. But I am passionate about writing – which takes the form of poetry, fiction or non-fiction.

 


  • How did the idea to create this Ghanaian literary & arts magazine come about? Who was involved in the process? Why the name – Tampered Press?

PA: I think books (writing) are a necessity in every community. But the process of getting published in the Ghanaian community, to the best of my knowledge, is so few and far in between that Ghanaian authored books are either largely independent (and thus limited reach), or so rare when it is traditionally published. The publishing industry is a deep dark hole that deserves a ranting of its own, but I strongly believe that the best way to attempt to dismantle the vastness of it, is to create our own platforms – no matter how small and in which ever form. That is what birthed the idea for Tampered – the name was decided on because in as much as it is small – its aim is to stir the norm, – to disturb. Tampered was a very collaborative process. I may have spearheaded it but a community of writers, poets, designers, and editors brought it altogether.

 


  • From the About section of the magazine’s website – The goal is to publish the work of emerging and practicing writers and visual artists, with a bias for Ghana, and Africa.’ So is it safe to assume that the magazine’s intended audiences are Ghanaians and other Africans?

PA: YES. The magazine’s intended audiences are Ghanaians and other Africans.

 


  • Sounds good to me! The quality of the first issue – The Future Present, is very impressive. What do you look out for in the visual arts, short stories, fiction/ non-fiction pieces and poems you accept for publication? What would you like to see more/less of in the submissions?

PA: In the spirit of collaboration – I think marrying the arts together increases its individual reach, and especially for a country that is not privileged to have an industry for each of the arts, it makes more sense to pair up visual artists with writers, or essayists with musicians – or any other pairing that widens the audience reach.

So every submission is going to have these markers – a combination of different genres and art.

 


  • I hope Tampered Press receives lots of submissions in the future, so that forthcoming issues are thicker! I know it’s quite early, but what’s in store for the future?

PA: Consistency in both quantity and quality is my first goal – to be able to create enough interest so artists submit for every issue – both digital and print. To create a reliable platform that also serves not only as a publishing hub but an archive for Ghanaian artists.

 

Guidelines for submissions to the magazine are – here.

 


My favorite pieces from the magazine are:

 

If you’re in Accra, purchase a copy of the magazine from ANO Ghana’s office in Osu. If you’re outside of Ghana and would love to indulge in the work of Ghanaian creatives in this magazine, download Issue 1 via Tampered Press‘s website and stay tuned for the other issues in the coming year.

 

Familiarize yourself with Poetra Asantewa’s work via her YouTube channel; listen to her EXCELLENT 2015 Spoken Word EP – Motherfuckitude & listen to her other projects on Soundcloud as well!

#ReadGhanaian

Brunch Over Books – Sip ‘n’ Swap in Accra!

Ever since I moved to Accra in 2014, I’ve really been missing the variety of literary events I used to attend back in Boston and Middlebury. But Accra has its own selection of events I’ve been enjoying. Writers Project Ghana has been spearheading the literary scene with the plethora of events they host, like – Ghana Voices Series: where bookworms and literary fiends gather for monthly public book readings featuring African writers who visit Accra; Writers Project on Citi FM: an hour of poetry readings and updates on literature-related events in Accra on the radio waves; writers workshops, book club meetings and more! With respect to book festivals, GAWBOFEST – Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival has been a recurring book festival for 5 years now. Hopefully I’ll find time to finally attend this year’s event in September. Also later this year, the Storymoja Festival will be in Accra (not Nairobi, Kenya) – so that will be exciting!

To add to the eclectic and ever growing bunch of literary events in Accra is – Brunch Over Books! Two weeks ago, Brunch Over Books – a Sip ‘n’ Swap book exchange was inaugurated at the quaint Café Kwae, in Accra. This maiden event, curated by the lovely Nana Konamah (@nanakonamah), attracted lots of bookworms, book bloggers and page slayers to sip yummy drinks and exchange book titles and actual books! After a speed book exchange activity, I jotted down a couple of book recommendations, met some folks I had been following (or stalking) on social media – like Ghanaian bibliophile, Shika of @bookpress on Instagram (@bookpresse on Twitter) and just geeked-out over books with fellow book lovers who also recently moved to the city, and long time residents of Accra!

Images via Brunch Over Books

As per my Book Chat post on book lending – you know me! I do not lend or exchange books (sorry, not sorry). So for this event, I purposely purchased a new copy of Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko (a Ghanaian book and author I believe is seriously underrated) for whoever wanted to swap with me – but for the person to KEEP.

Its always refreshing when you can converse with book lovers and discuss why you loved/disliked certain novels. If you live in Accra, try and come to the next Sip ‘n’ Swap event! Rumor has it that the next gathering will be in August. I can’t wait to see what new activities and conversations we’ll have over yummy cocktails.

 

What type of literary events do you usually attend? Have you ever been to any book festivals, public readings (I feel like public readings are standard go-to’s for book lovers, right?), book signings, book exchanges, book blogger meet-ups? How many times a year do you attend literary events? Please do share!