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:
- Is the book written by an African author and does it have primarily African characters?
- Is the book telling a fun, engaging and memorable story that children can relate to?
- 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!
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.