…Reveals reasons for writing children’s books

As part of activities to celebrate the World Book Day 2021, renowned author and teacher, Dr. Olayemi Ejemai, hosted the public presentation of eight books from her children’s books kitty and a collection of poems written by her 10-year-old daughter and poet, Pamilerin Ejemai. In this interview, she discusses her passion for writing children’s books among other related issues. 

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

As an accountant, what motivated you into writing books?

I am passionate about empowering everyone around me, particularly children. I believe in grooming children to be confident, independent and responsible adults. Being a children’s book author is a calling for me. In July 2018, I had the inspiration to write two stories titled: God Made Us All and I Am Not a Bully. I also ensure that I help parents of young children navigate issues that are peculiar to them in my books

Aside from being a children’s author, my day job is accounting and I lecture on a part-time basis. I am also a fellow of the Association of Chartered Accountants, Institute of Chartered accountant of Nigeria, Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria. I recently published two articles titled: Companies Income, Custom and Excise Duty Tax Gap and Infrastructural Development in Nigeria, and Value Added Tax Gap and Capital Expenditure over Economic Services in Nigeria.

What kinds of books do you write? 

I write mainly children’s picture books that are morally conscious and inclusive, bearing in mind the Nigerian culture and international environment. They strive to communicate deep messages concisely and interestingly. I have 14 published children’s picture books, including Nigeria’s first picture book trilogy. I also have several unpublished books that I hope to publish in the nearest future. I write for children, parents, guardians, teachers, schools, Nong Governmental Organisations ,NGOs, book vendors and lovers of books, particularly individuals and corporate entities that are interested in education and children-related activities.

 What do you think about the reading habit or a lack thereof in Nigeria? 

Most Nigerians are not readers and to reverse this trend, we have to promote a culture of reading indigenous children’s picture storybooks to the younger children from their infancy. Early introduction to reading ensures that it becomes a lifelong habit. Reading indigenous books promotes cultural appreciation and self-confidence.

You presented eight books at the same time. What was it like writing the books?

My books are inspirational. I write them in a matter of seconds. Writing the stories for me is the easiest part but creating the books can be stressful, especially getting my team to understand the concept and achieve the quality I desire. Illustrating the book too can be daunting but the outcome of the book makes it all worthwhile. I have so many stories and I launched six of them on Feb 17, 2018. Children need to read the stories. Our first books have been enjoying an amazing reception.

Your 11-year old daughter also presented a collection of poems she wrote. How did this happen? 

I started reading to my daughter Pamilerin as soon as I conceived her. We read hundreds of books together before she was five and she is an avid reader today. We discovered her talent after a Sunday school poem competition that she won, I decided to push her to write more and put out a book. She hopes to continue her 30 Poems Series. My daughter said to me “this book will put a smile on your face and a sun on your day, look out for my next, it will put a tear in your eyes and a thought in your head”

The World Book Day was celebrated recently. How can parents get their children to develop a love for reading, just like your daughter who loves to read and write? 

World Book Day is set aside to encourage reading to young children, and Nigerians are gradually keying into this. It is pertinent that we read to babies, toddlers and pre-scholars. We have to catch them young. Parents are not reading so children will not read, we have to show them by doing so ourselves. Now, more than ever, we must align with indigenous picture storybooks for children under eight. Imagine if a child picks up a beautiful storybook and sees a character that has features similar to his, and to top it up the name is Ike or Suraj or Tisefunmi, now that is representation.

It is easier for the children to relate and ultimately, reading the book becomes easier for the child. These are ways by which we can encourage reading among children. In my house, when I am seated and reading, of course, my children will go and pick their storybooks to read, after which I let them narrate the story to me. It was heavenly when Pamilerin and I read Becoming by Michelle Obama together during the lockdown. Now we just got A Promised Land by Barack Obama and we are about to dive in. To create readers, be a reader.

On the other hand, schools must encourage pupils to read, and not just academic books. Storybooks help with creative writing and imaginative thinking. Government also has a role to play. I implore the Lagos State Government to set aside a day in March to celebrate, read an indigenous story book, collate local books for children ages three to eight, and give it to them. This will support authors and also encourage reading in little children. Note, I said ages three to eight because this group of readers is largely ignored in this part of the world.

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No literary award recognizes authors in this category. I have submitted my books for literature awards for children but they do not select my books or picture storybooks. They select novels for older children to win the category. How do you get readers when you do not support authors of picture storybooks? A few corporate bodies have supported my books and this has enabled me maintain international publishing standards while making the books affordable for Nigerian parents. My dream is that every Nigerian child can have at least a copy of my books and I cannot do that alone. Parents, schools, governmental agencies and corporate organisations must come together to support and grow the indigenous picture book community in Nigeria.

 

How do you combine your work as an author and chartered accountant? 

Combining my job as an accountant and my passion as an author is becoming a huge task. This is because the more books I have, the more I see the gap that needs to be filled. They include the gap of stories that are impactful to parents of young children and young readers, the gap in the distribution network, and the desire of economically challenged parents to buy storybooks they cannot afford. Imagine parents begging me at a book stand to please cut down the price of the already heavily subsided books because they desperately want the books for their children. Do I look away?

No, I cannot do that. I hand over the book and go back to the source for more support from individuals and corporate bodies. This is the emotional baggage of my passion. Combining my career and passion is no easy feat. I rely heavily on my spouse, my children, parents, friends and my team to do all this. It comes with long, hard hours of work and unending thinking, but I am certain that this is all worth it.

Outsourcing most of the functions of the book business has also helped me cope. I am not afraid to ask for help or take a break when it gets overwhelming. I manage both to the best of my ability. When there is passion, anything is possible.

What do you aim to achieve with your books? 

We hope that our books and titles would be household names. We hope that corporate bodies and generous individuals will affiliate with us to get the books to children from economically challenged backgrounds.

March is considered Women’s History Month, and March 8th is celebrated globally as International Women’s Day. What’s your message to women?

As we celebrate women all over the world, I will like to celebrate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I was recently just reminiscing on her journey and how far she has come. I commend her and I acknowledge that she must have made sacrifices to get to where she is now. I promise to do my very best at all times so that I can keep the light on for all women.

My word for this year’s international women’s day celebration is that as women, we should continue to provide opportunities for other women to shine. We must forgive each other quickly and we should keep the path lit up for those coming behind us. This will not in any way diminish us, rather, it will make our light shine brighter.

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