There are no children here. We are scholars, teachers and librarians meeting at one of
One session dealt with books on HIV. I was familiar with most, but got some new titles that I want to track down to read and review. Issues brought up included balancing dire warnings to avoid HIV and offering hope for living with the disease. Unfortunately, research doesn’t show the dire warnings having much effect on behavior. There is a desperate need for books in general that show children of the majority population—black—but how do we then avoid implying in our HIV-related books that AIDS is a black problem?
The most valuable part of conferences like this is undoubtedly the relationships—finding others who are passionate about books for modern African children and hearing what they are doing. The Family Literacy Project started out to empower non-literate women to prepare their children for reading success by teaching them to talk and interact with their pre-schoolers, not a traditional part of African culture. Too often the non-literate see themselves as helpless and inadequate. The project convinces these mothers that they are the first teachers with a significant role to play in their children’s school success. Of course, the emphasis on reading has led moms and grandmothers to want to learn to read themselves. We saw a delightful picture of a pot simmering on an open hearth and behind it a five-year-old and her grandmother each leaning against a post engrossed in a book. Another project, Stories Across Africa, is collecting “text-lite” stories with African contexts and producing tiny, beautifully illustrated book sets in multiple languages.
Mother-tongue, cultural pride, community participation, gender respect and the spread of HIV are complicated cultural issues with long histories and patterns of thinking behind them. This week I met some dedicated people who are struggling with those issues on behalf of a new generation.