Author Spotlight: Ifeoma Onyefulu
I would love to introduce you to an extraordinary children’s book author and photographer Ifeoma Onyefulu. She grew up in a traditional Nigerian village, and now shares stories and customs of contemporary, everyday village life in her wonderful children’s books!
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Ms Onyefulu writes about scenes that children around the world are familiar with: getting a haircut, a visit from Grandma, going to the doctor- and yet the settings and her incredible photographs transport the readers to villages in Africa: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Mali as well. In this interview, she tells how she began to write books; she wanted a book about Africa for her son, and she didn’t only want it to tell about the animals:
I am always looking for children’s books that show real life scenes in other countries, with different perspectives. What I love about these books is that there are so many aspects that the kids can identify with, that they are drawn into the brilliant photographs. As you read them with your children, you will see how they begin to notice the details and spark conversation.
For example, in Ikenna Goes to Nigeria, Ikenna has an idea that Nigeria is going to be hot and sunny. In fact, it is the rainy season. We see pictures of urban Lagos, tall building by a beach, and swimming in a pool. They take a long drive to visit his grandparents, a nurse and a lawyer, and get to see the greens and yams they have for lunch. The kids play soccer, swim in the pool, and visit a town called Oshogbo in Western Nigeria for the Osun Festival at the King’s Palace. The diversity of experiences in that single book reflects the diversity within Nigeria and directly combats stereotypes (read more about The Danger of A Single Story here!).
Learn about Nigeria through Books
Here are the books she has written that take place in Nigeria- what a wonderful addition to any library! As you choose diverse books from cultures around the world, make sure to include such stories of real kids and real experiences. When looking to include books from the immensely diverse continent of Africa, don’t limit your books to “safari animals” or generalized “Africa” stories. Include books on life in specific countries, and balance cities and rural experiences (see this list of books from South Africa as an example).
Ife’s First Haircut, Grandma Comes to Stay, and Vicky Goes to the Doctor will appeal to the youngest kids because of their universal “first experience” themes. When kids listen to these simple stories, and examine the pictures of kids just like them, there is an instant connection. I love these real world examples to learn about Nigeria!
Emeka’s Gift is a simple counting story, told by a little boy who walking through the market and looking for a gift his grandmother might like. The photographs are exquisite and kids get a glimpse into this Nigerian market and what is told there.
Triangle for Adaora: An African Book of Shapes is perfect for introducing shapes to your kids, or reading aloud for preK-kinder classes. Adaora (pronounced “ah-DOOR-ah) walks around the village with her cousin, who helps her to look for shapes in the every day objects: a crescent in the plantains, a clay bowl as a semicircle, etc.
A Is for Africa is a sweet book that names cultural items, traditions, common behaviors (“E is the embrace we give our loved ones”) for each of the letters in the alphabet. “This alphabet is based on my own favorite images of the Africa I know,” writes Onyefulu. She adds that even though the pictures are all taken in Nigeria, they represent the feelings and spirit of “all the peoples of this vast, friendly, colorful continent.”
Chidi Only Likes Blue: An African Book of Colours is another “walk” around a Nigerian village, this time as Nneka shows her little brother Chidi all of the rainbow of colors in their village: “red” for the caps of the chiefs, and “green” for the leaves from the akwukwo uma plant used to wrap foods.
My Grandfather Is a Magician: Work and Wisdom in an African Village would be the perfect addition to a unit on “Community Helpers” or occupations. A little boy talks about his different family members, and what their jobs are: his mom owns a bakery, his dad is a teacher, his aunt is a doctor, his uncle a blacksmith. What impresses the little boy the most is the work of his grandfather, whose knowledge of healing plants seems magical to his grandson. It is not often that a children’s book shows a traditional, indigenous healer in such a respectful light.
These 3 books would also be a great addition to a Social Studies unit, or any global learning about Nigeria. Ikenna Goes to Nigeria talks about a wonderful trip to Nigeria to visit family and connect with roots. The Girl Who Married a Ghost: And Other Tales from Nigeria is a collection of folktales from Nigeria handpicked by Ifeoma Onyefulu from the storytellers of her childhood. Ebele’s Favourite: A Book of African Games includes 10 games from Nigeria that would be easy to incorporate for kids in elementary school at recess, in PE, or just as brain breaks!
These four books all use the photo-essay technique to focus on the traditions and customs of Nigerian families. An African Christmas in fact should be called a Nigerian Christmas, as it tells the story of a young boy who must get ready for Christmas. Here Comes Our Bride!: An African Wedding Story shows the lively preparation, wedding ceremony, and reception of a young couple in Nigeria. Told from the perspective of a little girl, One Big Family: Sharing Life in an African Village invites the readers into daily village life. It explains how jobs are divided among ogbos (age groups) and shows how the community works together. I loved this book!!! Saying Goodbye: A Special Farewell has a young boy describing the Nigerian traditions and customs surrounding the funeral of his great-grandmother. It is a lovely insight into what goes on within the village and family, celebrating the life of a loved one.
I realize that some of the books are out of print, or difficult to buy, but I encourage you to look for them at your library or on amazon new or used so that your children can learn a little about life in Nigeria from a child’s perspective.