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BOOKS: In Africa with Avi and Kumbi by Nomalanga Mkhize

Professor and historian Nomalanga Mkhize had a difficult time finding reading material on African history books for children.

“As a mother I recognise there is not enough material that reflects positive things around black children in Africa in African languages and I am trying to fill in that gap with storybooks. With this specific one, I found that the history books we did find were almost exclusively based on Egypt.”

Mkhize is the author of the history book “In Africa with Avi and Kumbi” and it tells the story of Africa from ancient times to independence. Published under her pen name ‘Khize wamaZambezi’, the book covers important themes such as rock art, the rise of ancient civilisations and ancient trade, African philosophy, slavery, colonialism and struggles for independence.

Choosing themes for the book was a difficult task for Mkhize and her partners, art illustrator Sani Singaphi and designer Bulelani Booi.

“It was a process, thinking how we were going to write millions of years of history or information around the development of life around the continent. It came down to what I thought would be foundational for kids. If you look at the book, the themes that are there are foundational knowledge for children and adults.”

Mkhize, who presented the SABC nature travel documentary series Shoreline, said the book was for people who wanted an overview of the history of the continent.

“For a child, they can look at that book and have all the major developments and epoch for human history in Africa. So by the time they are reading about Islam in Africa (at a later stage) they will know where the origins are because the information is in the book. It gives you a full time span of of human history in a condensed way.”

Some of the challenges she faced while putting the book together was finances and time. From paying the illustrators, to having to make time for them to all be available at the same time and getting as much research and writing done on her own.

“When we did find the time to do it we would work long nights and days finishing the pages.”

Another major challenge was deciding on how to portray each page, how to portray Africa in a way that is new and fresh. For example, the page that explains Apartheid was a difficult one to write as Mkhize could not decide which struggle hero pictures to use.

“Explaining slavery to a child is quite interesting. For a long time our generation had access to shows like Roots and the brutalism of slavery was there for us to take in. Now it is 2019 and there are other things that one needs to give context to.

"Slavery has happened all over the world, it was brutal on Africans, Africans participated in it. It's not just about Africans but about the human condition globally. I wanted to balance out the story of African slavery with the universal message that humans have been cruel to one another and that’s the lesson that Africans give to the world that slavery is wrong.”

For more information on “In Africa with Avi and Kumbi” email kids@historyeducation.africa.

Source: The Star

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