Twin sisters Hassana and Husseina’s home is in ruins after a brutal raid. But this is not the end but the beginning of their story, one that will take them to unfamiliar cities and cultures, where they will forge new families, ward off dangers and truly begin to know themselves.
As the twins pursue separate paths in Brazil and the Gold Coast of West Africa, they remain connected through shared dreams of water. But will their fates ever draw them back together?
A sweeping adventure with richly evocative historical settings, The Deep Blue Between is a moving story of the bonds that can endure even the most dramatic change.
Review –★★★★ (4 stars)
This has been a long journey, especially for readers of The Hundred Wells of Salaga, where we are first introduced to the twins – Hassana and Husseina. Imagine the deep annoyance I felt encountering Wofa Sarpong again, at the beginning of this novel. Does anyone hate him more than me?
The deep blue sea eventually separates Hassana and Husseina not only physically, but also spiritually and mentally. Hassana and Husseina (who later changes her name to Vitória) are separated by the sea after raiders destroy their village in Botu. By fate, Hassana remains in the Gold Coast and is sold into slavery, while Husseina is taken to Lagos and later to ‘greener pastures’ in Bahia, thanks to her godmother.
In true Ayesha H. Attah fashion, this novel is character-driven, with each character’s storyline alternating in the book’s chapters. Hassana and Husseina are both well-rounded characters and readers witness their growth from their painful separation, to the journey that leads them to realizing their full selves. The oldest twin – Hassana, reminded me of the bold, fearlessness of Akua-Afriyie in Harmattan Rain and Wurche in The Hundred Wells of Salaga. While I gravitate more towards these fearless women characters, I found myself really craving more of Husseina’s/Vitória’s chapters whenever I was reading Hassana’s. It was only when Hassana moved to Accra and befriended a vibrant Ga girl, that I started to enjoy her storyline – because who doesn’t love to see camaraderie between young black girls? Their sisterhood wasn’t free of conflict, but it felt so realistic and pure.
I was soooo fascinated by Vitória’s life in Brazil. It always escapes me that Brazil is part of the African diaspora; but this book reminded me of our extended family in South America, because of the expansiveness of slavery. Even the font style of Vitória’s chapter headings show how different and somewhat vibrant her life was. Her life in Bahia brought to light similarities in our foods, like – acarajé akin to Ghanaian koose; moqueca and feijoada akin to our seafood and beef stews, respectively. It was eye-opening to learn about Candomblé, Yemanja and other orixás and how Vitória wholeheartedly leaned into her newfound beliefs. Besides the constant Googling I was doing of Portuguese words, I was also refreshing my memory on Ghana’s pre-colonial history – especially the role of missionaries and the Anglo- Ashanti wars between 1824 and 1900.
I loved that Attah shed light on some of the (women-led) organizations that had been fighting for the rights of native Ghanaians during colonial times, like – Native Ladies of Cape Coast and Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society. Mainstream history will have anyone thinking that Ghanaian women activists did not exist, which is far from the truth. Introducing young readers to this fact is commendable.
What propels The Deep Blue Between forward is how each and every character Hassana and Vitória encounter help them draw closer to finding each other. It reminded me of how real life operates, in that, by Divine order things work out how they are supposed to (at least that’s what I believe). While I really loved reading and experiencing Hassana and Vitória’s journeys, I wanted the story to be a little more exciting. I wanted there to be more plot twists to keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve read and enjoyed all of Ayesha H. Attah’s novels and I love that her writing style is primarily character-driven, but I’d also like to read a story with a different style.
Since this is Attah’s first YA novel, I thought it would be corny and rife with unrealistic happenings within the story – as some YA books are (this is my opinion, sorry). But this evenly-paced novel is really laden with so much history and wisdom! If anyone new to Ayesha Harruna Attah’s work is wondering which of her books to read first, The Deep Blue Between is a good place to start. Young Ghanaian readers will feel proud to read this novel, as they would see themselves reflected in the characters and smile at the great showcase of our history and culture within the book. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for my little cousin who’ll be 12 years old in October, when The Deep Blue Between will be published!
Any fans of Frances Mensah Williams’ work in the house? I’ve been slowly working my way through some compelling Black Brit reads and Williams’ work has been on my radar for a hot minute! Frances Mensah Williams is a Ghanaian-British author of many books. If you remember, back in 2017 she was one of the 80+ Ghanaian writers highlighted in the 3-part series I did on Ghanaian writers and their books. Her latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements, was published back in March and from the synopsis, this novel looks juicy and satisfying!
In the sun-soaked capital of Ghana best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships.
Ambitious, single-minded Theresa has gambled everything to move with her loving husband Tyler from London to cosmopolitan Accra. But when shocking developments threaten their plans, they also expose the hidden cracks in her fairytale marriage.
Feisty Maku is desperate for professional recognition – and her dream white wedding. But how long can she wait for her laid-back partner Nortey to stop dreaming up pointless projects from the comfort of his local bar and stand up to his family?
Churchgoing Lyla married Kwesi in haste, and six years later she is desperate for a child. But while she battles a vicious mother-in-law, and her growing attraction to the mysterious Reuben, her husband has bitten off more than he can chew with his latest mistress.
Facing lies, betrayal, and shattered illusions, each couple must confront the truth of who they have become and the arrangements they have enabled. Against the backdrop of a shifting culture, each woman must decide what – and who – she is willing to sacrifice for the perfect marriage.
I had the honor of chatting with Williams about her novels, the first book she read by a Ghanaian writer, Black writers who influence her work and more. Enjoy!
I recently purchased From Pasta to Pigfoot, and I know there is a sequel called From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. I’m eager to read your latest novel, Imperfect Arrangements, which was published back in March of this year. How long have you been a writer and what other books have you written?
FMW:I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; from the early scribbles of my teen years to writing careers books and then, eventually, writing novels.
I’m so pleased you bought From Pasta to Pigfoot! It’s my first novel and very special to me. I wrote the initial draft years ago when I was living and working in Ghana. I wanted to explore the contemporary diaspora experience with the character of Faye Bonsu, a Black British Londoner and pasta fanatic, who’s torn between the culture she’s grown up with and the Ghanaian culture she’s supposed to connect with. Her story mirrors so many of the challenges young Britons of African descent face, and I wanted to depict how navigating between two cultures can be painful, illuminating and occasionally hilarious. In the novel, Faye gets the chance to visit Ghana and discovers that understanding your history can give you the confidence to choose your future.
There is indeed a sequel – From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. This picks up Faye’s story three years after the end of the original book. Hoping to escape from her suddenly complicated life and revive her wilting romance, Faye returns to sunny Ghana for what she hopes will be the time of her life. But life doesn’t always offer second chances and when disaster strikes, she is forced to confront the biggest question of her life and to make a choice that comes with consequences she will have to live with forever. I really enjoyed writing this book because Faye’s experiences are so relatable: the boyfriend who never seems ready to commit, the merciless boss who makes you struggle for promotion, the mother-in-law that drives everyone crazy, the bridezilla you love but want to kill – and the struggles we face when we’re trying to have it all!
I read an excerpt of Imperfect Arrangements, in the form of a short story, on AFREADA. In the excerpt, Theresa is at the hospital and she’s shocked to find out that she’s pregnant. By the end of the story, I really wanted to indulge in the lives of the three best friends – Theresa, Maku and Lyla. Why was it important for you to write this story that focuses on three best friends who struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships?
FMW: I first had the idea for Imperfect Arrangements when I was living in Ghana and found myself fascinated by the many arrangements that passed as marriage. As is the case in every part of the world, a perfect relationship really doesn’t exist, and when you layer cultural expectations onto the strains of any relationship, the pressure it brings will reveal the truth.
In Imperfect Arrangements, I chose to write about best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla because I wanted to celebrate the importance of sister-friends and depict an honest account of the complexity of relationships, both romantic and between best friends. I wanted to explore the joy and pain of relationships, particularly with the added pressures of cultural expectations and norms, and to tell the story from the perspectives of both the women and the men in their lives. Unusually, we also see the story unfold from the viewpoints of the three men in the relationships.
Did you learn anything about yourself while writing Imperfect Arrangements? What about your previous novels – especially From Pasta to Pigfoot and From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings?
FMW:That is an interesting question! I think I learned a lot as a writer while working on Imperfect Arrangements. The story takes place over one year and is structured in layers – every three months – with the action unfolding through the eyes of each person in the three couples. It was quite a challenge to keep the story moving at pace while ensuring that the characters grew into rounded and realistic people. The three women are very different to each other and, much as they love one another, they also experience the frustration and irritation that we all feel with our besties – loving them, but still keeping it honest and real!
I think this is a story that no-one can read without examining their own relationships and friendships. Although the three couples face different challenges, their situations reflect what so many people grapple with: lies, betrayal, adultery, interfering families, stagnant careers, and more.
Writing From Pasta to Pigfoot was an interesting journey for me; seeing Ghana through the eyes of Faye and depicting her struggles to connect both aspects of her cultural identity. Having myself mostly grown up outside Africa, although Faye and I are very different personalities, I could empathise with her feelings and her dilemma about where to call home.
Some writers dislike being ‘pigeon-holed’ and labelled as ‘African writer’ or ‘Black writer.’ How do you prefer to be identified as a writer? Who do you write for and do you think your novels can be categorized under one genre?
FMW: This is something I get asked a lot. There’s so much debate what constitutes ‘African’ writing and who gets to be called what or has the authority to tell which stories. Because of my heritage and some of the settings in my books, I’m often asked whether I consider myself to be an African writer, a diaspora writer or (sometimes with a slight tinge of disappointment) just a romance writer.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing stories, but the publishing world likes to pigeonhole books for marketing purposes. Broadly, my books fall into the category of ‘commercial women’s fiction’ and for some people that’s enough. There are also those who describe it as ‘chick lit’, which doesn’t offend me, although I know many men who enjoy them, so I’m not sure that properly reflects the content.
For me, what really matters is that readers see my characters as more than simply their ethnicity. By setting Imperfect Arrangements in Ghana, one of my hopes is that it takes the conversation beyond the issue of race, as all the main characters are African. I also hope my books show that irrespective of our backgrounds, we all share the same desires for love of self, love of others, being seen and belonging. So, to answer your question, I’m an African woman and a writer, but I guess I’ve now reached the point where I leave the labelling to those who find it useful, while I focus on writing stories people can enjoy.
What have you been reading and loving lately? Who are some of your favorite Black writers and influencers of your work?
FMW: I enjoy many different types of books – a legacy from being a book addict as a child and reading anything which sounded halfway interesting that I could get my hands on in the local library. I love character driven stories with lots of dialogue: courtroom dramas, rom-coms, thrillers, murder mysteries, biographies, historical dramas – you name it.
My favourite Black writers include Dorothy Koomson, whose books I love, and Terri McMillan, whose books I read voraciously. If I’m honest, I’m probably not as widely read when it comes to African writers, but I’ve really admired the work of fellow Ghanaians, Yaa Gyasi and Ayesha Harruna Attah.
Ayesha Harruna Attah
In 2017, you were featured in my3-part series #GHat60 project, where I highlighted and celebrated over 80 writers of Ghanaian descent (which later became the#ReadGhanaianbook challenge, in 2019). Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience?
FMW: I guess that would be probably be The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson. I was attracted to the novel because her name was clearly Ghanaian, and I was desperate to discover Black writers who also wrote commercial, contemporary, women-driven novels. When I read The Chocolate Run, I was blown away by the realisation that there was indeed a market for books about serious issues written in a fun way, and featuring Black female protagonists who were firmly at the centre of the story, instead of at the margins.
Finally, why would you like us to read your latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements? What would you like reader to take away from the story?
FMW: I would love you to read Imperfect Arrangements firstly because – if I say so myself – it’s a great story! I love the characters and I want to take the reader on a roller coaster journey as they get to know the women and their partners. I want you to laugh, cry, grow very frustrated, and cheer! I want every reader to feel exactly what drives and motivates each of the six main protagonists, and to understand what makes them who they are and why the behave as they do.
I want the story of Imperfect Arrangements to provoke a conversation about the themes that arise in the novel: relationships in contemporary Ghana/Africa; myths and expectations confronted by the realities of marriage; friendship and sisterly love between women; the impact of culture on marriage and attitudes towards adultery and infertility in contemporary Ghana/Africa; the power of family versus the individual; the diaspora returnee experience; and the Black male perspective on relationships.
I also want readers to realise that love – whether it is love of self or love between friends or lovers – is the greatest gift of all.
Over the years, I’ve been slowly working my way through some compelling Black Brit reads. So far I’ve loved work by a few writers of African descent who reside in the UK (or who’ve lived there for an extended period of time), like – Diriye Osman, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Warsan Shire, Chibundu Onuzo.
I still have a ways to go with regards to reading more books from this special sector of Black literature, but below are 20 books by Black British authors that are on my radar this year! Some of these books were already highlighted in my annual New Releases To Anticipate! post in January, and majority are yet to be published this year. Obviously, this list/collage is just a snippet of books by Black Brit authors 2020 has to offer. The books highlighted in this post are just the ones on my TBR list!
Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.
It’s been a very trying time, worldwide. I hope everyone is staying (home) safe and not allowing COVID-19 to get us down. Hopefully, all this chaos will subside sooner than later – let’s stay positive!
Anyone who frequents this book blog knows I admire the work of Ghanaian writer, Ayesha Harruna Attah. I’ve read (and reviewed) all of her books and I just really resonate with her writing – the subject matter, the writing style, the character-driven plots etc. In my annual post on New Books To Anticipate this year, I mentioned that she would be releasing a YA novel. Today, we are revealing the book cover of this new novel – The Deep Blue Between, which will be published by Pushkin Press in October 2020!
Check out the synopsis for The Deep Blue Between below:
A sudden, brutal slave raid tears twins Hassana and Vitória apart, taking them far away from each other. Hassana goes to Accra, where she builds a new family and finds a place for herself in the political world; Vitória goes to Salvador, Bahia where she lives and works with a Priestess, worshipping the gods of the motherland.
But no matter the different obstacles and adventures they encounter, the sisters never forget one another. They remain bound together by their dreams, and slowly their fates begin to draw them back together.
Rich in historical detail, this epic, moving novel evokes a time of great change in West Africa, when slavery has been abolished but colonialism is taking hold, through the lives of two bold young women who are shaping their changing society.
A TEEN FEMINIST EPIC OF LOVE, COURAGE AND DETERMINATION
I connected with Ayesha for some insight into The Deep Blue Between. Enjoy our short book chat below, where she talks about the inspiration for her forthcoming novel and gives us a sneak-peek into the main characters!
The Deep Blue Between is your 4th forthcoming novel, congratulations on this achievement! The book cover is so vibrant and glorious. It feels like yesterday that your 3rd novel, The Hundred Wells of Salaga was published. What was your inspiration for this new novel and how long did it take you to write?
AHA: Thank you! The Hundred Wells of Salaga was the direct inspiration for The Deep Blue Between. This new novel follows twins Hassana and Vitória after they are separated in a human caravan – the same one which sent Aminah to Kintampo and then on to Salaga. Hassana and Vitória are Aminah’s little sisters! After writing The Hundred Wells of Salaga, I couldn’t let go of the girls and had to find out what happened next. Since I knew the sisters well – or at least what they were like at age nine – the story poured out of me and I was able to complete a first draft of the book in five months.
From my knowledge of your previous novels, this is your first book in the (Young Adult) YA genre. Did this genre affect your approach in writing The Deep Blue Between? Does writing a YA novel target a specific audience?
AHA: Yes, it is my first YA book, but in my second novel Saturday’s Shadows, Kojo, one of the four protagonists, is a teenager. I had such a good time writing his character that I was excited for the chance to do so again, even if this time I was working with teenagers living in the 19th century. I let the girls guide me and just wrote the story. It was in rewriting that I started worrying about which parts might have been a stretch for a young adult reader.
Even though I wanted to write a book that teenage Ayesha would have loved to get lost in, I also know that when done well, even adults love YA!
What was the best part about writing Hassana and Vitória’s dynamic?
AHA: I think it was the magic of their journeys. It almost felt as if I were a medium. All I had to do was allow my senses to be open to let their stories in. I also especially loved researching the worlds of Accra, Lagos, and Bahia in the 1890s.
While reading Harmattan Rain, I saw bits of my life reflected in Sugri’s character and in The Hundred Wells of Salaga, Wurche’s character traits mirrored some of mine. How much of your personal life is seeped into The Deep Blue Between?
AHA: My family is filled with twins, so I tried to tap into that energy to write The Deep Blue Between; even my last name – Attah – means twin. Although Hassana and Vitória are so different, it’s inevitable that they both have parts of me. While I probably identify more with Vitória’s introversion, some of Hassana’s compulsions are totally mine!
Why would you like readers to indulge in your forthcoming, The Deep Blue Between? What would you like us to take away from the story?
AHA: I really enjoyed working on The Deep Blue Between and I hope the reader feels that sense of joy and wonder that kept me going as I wrote. It’s a fantastic story about the connection between people, and the unseen things that are at work in this strange world of ours – the strength of community and the power of dreams.
Special thanks to Elise Jackson, Poppy Stimpson (of Pushkin Press) + the rest of the team at Pushkin Press and Ayesha Harruna Attah for this wonderful Cover Reveal collaboration!
We are in the year 2020 – how crazy is that? 2020 sounds like a year in a Sci-Fi novel, doesn’t it?!
Below is my annual collage of new books to anticipate this year. I’ve compiled about 80 new African, African-American and Caribbean books that look very promising. Please note – this list/collage is just a snippet of books by Black authors 2020 has to offer!
Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.
In Bamboozled by Jesus, a frank and fresh advice book, Orji takes readers on a journey through twenty life lessons, gleaned from her own experiences and her favorite source of inspiration: the Bible. She infuses wit and heart along with practical pointers―such as why being talented is not as sexy as being available, and how fear is similar to food poisoning―with the goal of helping others live the most fulfilling, audacious life possible.
With bold authenticity and practical relatability, Orji will inspire everyone to catapult themselves out of the mundane and into the magnificent. Bamboozled by Jesus paints a powerful picture of what it means to say “yes” to your most rewarding life―no matter your beliefs.
An Ordinary Wonder is the powerful coming of age story of an intersex twin, Oto, who is forced to live as a boy despite his heartfelt belief that he is a girl. His wealthy and powerful family are ashamed of him and treat him cruelly to secure his silence. His twin sister’s love wavers in a world of secrets and lies that seems determined to tear them apart, and Oto must make drastic choices that will alter their lives forever.
Richly imagined with African mythology, art and folk tales, this moving and modern book follows Oto through his life at home and at boarding school in Nigeria, and his ultimate dream of emigrating to a new life in the United States. It is a novel that explores complex desires as well as challenges of family, identity, gender and culture. An Ordinary Wonder takes us on a beautiful journey of what it means to feel whole.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Two of the nation’s leading feminists and hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriendmake the bold and compelling argument that a close friendship is the most influential and important relationship a human life can contain—helping you improve as a person and in your relationships with others.
Hello everyone! How is the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge going? The year isn’t over yet!
So far I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 books for the challenge. I’m currently a final year dental student and it’s been a struggle to find time to read recently, but I am determined to complete the book challenge. I’m currently reading Tampered Press Vol. 2 – Braided Quilt. This edition of the magazine features many more stories by young Ghanaian writers, which are excellent so far.
On my #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 TBR, I want to read Black Gold of The Sun by Ekow Eshun, From Pasta to Pigfootby Frances Mensah-Williams and complete The Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali. This is an ambitious TBR if I’m being honest, but I will complete this challenge oh!
My artist brother – AduKofs, created a cool template for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge! To those who are unfamiliar, templates are pretty popular on Instagram/ Bookstagram. This template is to help those participating in the book challenge to track the books they’ve read thus far.
Share the books you’ve read by posting the filled-in template on your Instagram stories or Facebook and Twitter for others to see which books they are missing out on! Including the hashtag also helps others see what books by writers of Ghanaian descent are out there! If you are not active on social media, you can print out this template and simply record the books you have read or plan to read for the book challenge.
Last month, the Malala Fund featured African Book Addict! and the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge on their digital publication and newsletter – Assembly. It was such an honor to shed light on this book challenge with Malala’s audience! Do check out the feature if you have time. Thanks again to the Malala Fund Assembly team!
Please note: These recommendations are not exhaustive by any means! The book challenge includes even reading short stories/non-fiction by writers of Ghanaian descent in anthologies, magazines, cookbooks, poems etc.
What books have you read thus far for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge? Please share some of your reads!
“Here is a poet whose practiced weaving of talk and song is a testament to her devotion to language and her clarity of vision. Those of us who have encountered Diaka with excitement invite you to listen with us as she offers us a new song, one which will surely not be her last” – Tjawandwa Dema
Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)
You Too Will Know Me is a chapbook that reads like a series of confessions, in an effort to better love and accept oneself. Through the sincere truths and feelings revealed, Diaka shows that ‘any day is a good day for redemption’, that there is joy in the morning and we can all start over again. Most of the poems speak to the challenges of adulthood, abandonment of lovers, unrequited love, (un)forgiveness, feminine strength + beauty and more.
Diaka’s writing style is bold – bold enough to have the words ‘God’ and ‘blowjob’ in the same stanza! Bold enough to capture the essence of what it’s like to be deeply disappointed in your home country for not loving its citizens enough (from my favorite poem – And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place).
Favorite quotes from various poems in the chapbook:
‘how do I distract myself from myself in order to free myself?’ – Before The Gag, page 12
‘What’s the English word for someone who still has hope in lovers who cause too much anxiety? Tell me so I can spit it out.’ – Spit, page 13
‘Damn everybody! Do they not know that the sun borrows light from your fingertips? Do they not know that you give color to the rose? Do they not know that your breath is studied by the highest of connoisseurs to make the best perfumes? There’s something about you that makes looking away impossible’ – Suicide Sarah, page 15
‘I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford… I want a love that doesn’t require me to be ridiculously multifaceted in order to have a fraction of an equation at being equipped for survival; a love that doesn’t wait for another suitor to sing the praises of my genius before recognizing my worth, or worse, only after I’m dead. I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford, the way white lusts for a backdrop to outshine.
– And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place, page 18
‘I have been fretting over things that God shakes his head at toying with faith as if it were a disappearing act. One minute I’m full of it, the next, I don’t exactly know the shape of it. I fret over now and tomorrow, giving myself and God a headache. Spoon feed myself faith, and come up hungry again…’ – Let It Be, page 22
Bloom is an unapologetically Ghanaian poem, that reads like a vivid short film. In the poem, the narrator takes readers to Accra, Ghana- Labadi, to be precise. The narrator describes the ordinary Ghanaians she sees on the road, simply living. The laugh and smiles of a porridge seller – Ms. Atta, keeps her customers coming for more, despite the deep pain and hurt she feels within.
‘These people teach me, that if you are from Accra and you are placed anywhere in the world, there’s no way you won’t know how to bloom’ – Bloom, page 24
This collection is meant to be read more than once. Multiple readings will reveal different truths – about the poet and even you, the reader! Diaka’s work allows readers to meditate and examine their feelings towards their present lives. You Too Will Know Me is honest, visceral and necessary. Also, it’s Ghanaian AF!
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!
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 Chroniclesby 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.