News

August 1, 2023

What I want to achieve with book festival — Olubunmi Aboderin-Talabi

What I want to achieve with book festival — Olubunmi Aboderin-Talabi

By Nwafor Sunday

In January 2023, Cristian Munduate, the Representative of UNICEF in Nigeria, made a strong statement by asserting that 75 per cent of children in Nigeria, aged 7 to 14 years, cannot read a simple sentence or solve a basic math problem. This is worrying as literacy is known to be the foundation for a better quality of life and the key to unlocking human potential.

Mrs Olubunmi Aboderin Talabi is the founder of the publishing house Iwe Mi  (formerly Clever Clogs Books), as well as the convener of the annual Akada Children’s Book Festival. In this interview with Sunday, she speaks on the upcoming book festival and the best ways to promote a love of reading in young children.

As a renowned children’s book author, how would you describe the early childhood literary landscape in Nigeria?

I would describe the landscape as promising. Ten or so years ago, if you were looking for picture books that children could read in their spare time or recreational books that were alternatives to other forms of entertainment, you would find a few titles written by Nigerian authors for Nigerian children. However, there weren’t many. For example, when we held the first Akada Book Festival in 2019, we were only able to feature nine authors because there weren’t that many who were writing for children. Compare that to this year, 2023, where we’ve had over 125 books submitted for consideration. It goes to show how much the industry has grown and the rising interest in children’s books.

Now in its 5th year as a successful annual event, can you share what inspired the establishment of the Akada Children’s Book Festival?

I attended book fairs and book festivals in different countries, and I noticed the impact that the children’s publishing sections of these events, had on those who attended. I attended a particular book festival that was not specifically a children’s book festival, but they had a lot of programming for children. At least 40% of their sessions were for children or about children’s books. I saw parents bring their children to listen to authors read books and the children participated in workshops, asked questions, created characters from the books in arts and crafts sessions, and got their books signed. It was remarkable to see the intentionality and all the work put together to make sure that young readers were informed, engaged and entertained.  When I returned, I remember looking for such a festival in this country but wasn’t able to find one, and so the Akada Children’s Book Festival concept was born.

What impact would you say the festival has had on the Nigerian literary landscape since its inception?

Our festival has undoubtedly been a catalyst for the Nigerian children’s literary landscape. Since its inception, we have seen year-on-year growth in the number of authors writing for children. It has opened the eyes of authors to the need for more literature written for children. This is literature that is age-appropriate, relevant, and of cultural interest to children. The festival has also provided a platform for hitherto unknown authors to become known. I remember in the beginning, we featured authors such as Tonye Faloughi-Ekezie, Basirat Razaq-Shuaib, and Olayemi Ejemai, and it’s great to see how they have grown and developed over the years.

We continue to discover new talent and provide a platform for them to showcase their work. More traditional publishers in Nigeria are now releasing more children’s picture books and books for the youngest of readers. However, the vast majority of children’s books—those written for recreational purposes as opposed to academic purposes—are still written and self-published by the authors.

ACBF has a mission to showcase children’s books written for a diverse audience of children. How does the festival work to contribute to the promotion and visibility of African authors?

The festival is a platform for new authors to showcase their work and for existing authors to introduce their new titles. We have a community of bibliophiles constantly seeking the next best book to read, as well as a committed cohort of parents, teachers, and caregivers who are looking for excellent, engaging, and culturally appropriate literature for their children. Authors whose books are featured have the opportunity to come face-to-face with their audience on a scale that they may not be able to amass on their own. It is a chance to get their works seen by a large audience of potential readers as well as by literary scouts. In addition, the festival is a member of the Global Association of Literary Festivals, which gives authors and books that are featured at the festival the opportunity to be seen and discovered by festival organizers around the world. The possibilities are endless for authors and illustrators who participate in the Akada Children’s Book Festival.

What are the key highlights scheduled for this year’s edition which attendees should anticipate?

The festival provides a conducive environment for reading and presents a myriad of book options for all participants. We plan to continue our book-reading sessions in the pop-up library which is one of our most popular activities where the children can meet their favourite authors, ask questions, and get their books signed. The pop-up library is usually one of the busiest areas of the festival. There are also book chats, which are sessions where children from different schools and families get to talk about books they are reading. In addition, there will be a sensory play area for young children under eight, STEAM activities for preteens, a sip and paint session and a chess tournament for teens. We do all these to foster creative thinking and a love of reading amongst the participants.

For parents and guardians who also attend the festival, what sessions have been specially curated to address their needs¬¬?

We have workshops for parents and guardians which run concurrently with the children’s workshop. These sessions are practical and they are an opportunity to for parents to get insights and answers to parenting conundrums, as well as tips on inspiring a love of reading in their children. There are also fun activities such as Mummy, Daddy, Me…Let’s Dance!, and the sip and paint session which is just as popular with adults as it is with the children.

What measures will be implemented to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for all children?

The festival is free to attend, which is important to us because we want everyone interested in children’s books to be able to attend, regardless of their financial situation. Last year, we had a father who brought his daughter to the festival and you could tell that it was a really special time for them. They attended various workshops together and you could see him joyfully showing his child the different books. It feels great to provide a platform whereby families can build these memories that will last a lifetime. Accessibility is very important to us, and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure that attendance is affordable to as many people as desire to attend. There are schools from varying social backgrounds that bring their children to the festival. Some people support the festival by organizing for those schools to come. They do this as their way of helping out, making it possible for these schools to bring their kids to experience a book festival.

How does the festival work in tangent with educational institutions to promote reading beyond the event?

Schools already have their government-approved curriculum for promoting reading and events like the Akada Children’s Book Festival are simply fun occasions where a love of reading is inspired, an awareness of new book releases is developed, and the opportunity to read is made available. The festival is a place where schools get to find out about new authors and new titles that they can add to their libraries. They get to meet African authors that they may have heard about, and then they can invite them to the schools to do book readings and so on. The necessity of developing the habit of reading for pleasure is recognised by many people. Many people understand the value of getting children to love reading from an early age. In that regard, schools are already doing a lot to improve literacy and interest in reading, so the festival itself is simply an addition to the collaborative community effort to promote a healthy reading culture.

How has the festival grown since its inception and what are your future priorities for its evolution?

The festival has grown significantly in scope. Each year, we feature a wider range of authors and activities. There are a lot more authors we are working with as so many are coming forward with brilliant children’s books. In terms of activities, this year we are adding STEAM activities in the teen zone and last year we added the sip and paint event and a chess tournament. In 2020 and 2021 when the festival went online due to the pandemic, we expanded internationally and had people from over 23 countries tuning in. Originally, we began as a Nigerian festival, but now, we have become a geographically dispersed festival. Now that we are back in person, the festival is growing by adding more authors; more opportunities for illustrators to be showcased; more books; and more activities for families.

For like-minded individuals who want to support the book festival please contact us via our website Akadafestival.org. You can also find us on other platforms including Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube at @Akadafestival.