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Africa: Storybooks in African Languages

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 9, 2018 (180409)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The African Storybook project, which launched only five years ago to make books available to teachers and students in African languages, already has made available 903 storybooks in 136 different languages, including English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, and a host of other languages spoken on the continent.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two articles on the project published in Nigeria's Daily Trust after a recent workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, at which participants worked together to create new storybooks in West African languages. One of the participants, who was writing in English and his home language Hausa, reported on his own experiences and interviewed one of the project's founders, Dorcas Wepukhulu of Kenya. In a third short article, Ms. Wepukhulu describes one of her experiences using the storybooks in a Kenyan school in the Rift Valley.

The African Storybook website ( includes a comprehensive search for all the project's storybooks, which can be explored by language and by reading level. Each storybook can be viewed on-line or downloaded for viewing off-line and for printing in different formats. The site also contains guides for using the storybooks as well as for authors, illustrators, or translator who want to create their own and submit them to the site (click on "Help and Notes" in the upper right-hand corner of the site). Clicking on the "Use" button at the top of the page will bring up links to case studies of using the storybooks.

Related resources on Africa children's books

The Africa Access project ( is a unique resource, aimed particularly at U.S. teachers and parents, providing regular reviews of children's books with African topics. It also co-sponsors the annual Children's Afrcana Book Awards (, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

While featuring published rather than on-line books, Africa Access is not limited to books published in the United States. It often features books published in Africa. One such book is one of last year's award winners, Gizo – Gizo! A Tale from the Zongo Lagoon, authored by Emily Williamson and Students and Teachers of the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Cape Coast, Ghana, and based on a traditional Hausa story ( It is published by Sub-Saharan Publishers in Ghana, and available at or

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on education and culture visit

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Why we create storybooks in African languages – Dorcas Wepukhulu

Interview by Nathaniel Bivan | Daily Trust, Mar 31 2018 - Direct URL:

Dorcas Wepukhulu (Kenya) is co-founder and Partner Development Coordinator of African Storybook, an organisation that creates storybooks in indigenous African languages and English, French, and Portuguese. She was recently in Abuja for a workshop where writers and illustrators gathered from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia. Here, she talks about the reason for the project, challenges they face across Africa, and more. Excerpts:

Bookshelf: How was the project, African Storybook born?

Dorcas Wepukhulu: It started with sharing my experience as a teacher with someone from the United States who was passionate about literacy in Africa. I shared with her the struggles I had as a teacher in High School, how children leave Primary School with a poor foundation in literacy, and the fact that one of the contributing factors was lack of reading materials for them to practice reading and to develop and acquire skills in literacy and feel comfortable through High School. Some of these children were forced to drop out because of poor performance. So, this person, who is passionate about literacy and is based in the US started talking about what we could do with Saide organisation, which stands for South African Institute for Distant Education. Saide, together with this person, developed a concept, and I made some input, on how African Storybook could turn out to be. From that moment, we thought of a digital solution that will enable communities develop stories in languages they are familiar with and have them on a website where educators can access and use them with children to develop their literacy skills.

So, in 2013 the African Storybook started. The initial work involved mapping out partners in four pilot countries, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Lesotho. And out of those four countries we identified partners, including governments and ministries of Education. In 2014 we launched the website and brought together some of the partners we identified, and basically started working on developing the website and looking for how to populate it with stories in local languages and other languages of wider communication like English, French and Portuguese. So, it has basically been growing and in 2017 we decided to expand out of the four pilot countries to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria.

In some of the countries, our storybooks are being used, although we aren’t there. People have come to know about African Storybook, and on their own, access and use them, and from time-to-time we get feedback.

Bookshelf: What are those early challenges you faced with the project?

Wepukhulu: Some of those we faced was that of power and internet connectivity. The partners we identified, like schools and libraries, some of them didn’t even have power. They were located in rural areas, and we didn’t have any specific criteria. The reason why we wanted to test out delivering models was to find out how and in which context we can deliver books digitally and where we will need to include print and maybe combine both. So, in some cases, teachers didn’t have power in their schools and so they took laptops given to them to charge in their homes and bring it back every morning to use. But then, in doing that, they could not use the standard projector which needs direct power. We gave them some hand-held projectors. This did not work. We gave them solar charging panels like suit cases. Some of them didn’t know how to take care of them, so they broke. Eventually, we couldn’t work with some of those anymore. Some we helped to get power and work continued. In the case of internet, we gave data to some partners to be able to access the website.

Another challenge we encountered was the slow pace of, for example, ministry of education picking up the project and helping us work with them, so we had to keep going back and forth in some of our pilot countries before the ministries or departments of education came on board. Without their support there’s no way it could work.

The last thing was getting feedback from those using our storybooks so we could know what was happening, the extent of use, challenges encountered and so on.

This story is about a trickster spider, also known as Anansi in Akan folktales.
‘Pa Nase the spider and the village women’ is available in Themne and English.
It’s also from the Abuja workshop.

Bookshelf: What was the very first experience developing the African Storybook project like?

Wepukhulu: I can only speak about Kenya because that was where I was. There were three Primary Schools and one of the schools was located in the North-West, in a remote and arid area. My experience was a sense of joy. These people didn’t have any book in their local language and most of the children were monolingual, so they didn’t know how to speak in English. The only resource they got in their mother tongue was the African Storybook they could access. The joy also came from the children who had dropped out of school and returned because they were fascinated with the way teachers were projecting the stories on the wall and reading. Some of them thought they were reading storybooks from a television. So, for me there was a sense of accomplishment that a remote area previously cut off were benefitting and started telling other schools around about the availability of African Storybook.

Another experience was when I made a breakthrough with the Kenyan ministry of education in charge of materials development and rating, when I was able to get them to understand that African Storybook was an open education resource, and that they could use them for free and have students use them in schools. They were excited. Although the process was slow, the fact that they saw the value and were prepared to work with us, in terms of assuring the quality of the stories in Kiswahili in particular, was very important to me.

Bookshelf: Has the African Storybook team come to Nigeria before 2018?

Wepukhulu: One of our colleagues came here in 2017 and met with Teacher Development Programme (TDP) staff. He introduced the African Storybook and some translations. Some storybooks were translated from the meeting. He and I came back in November that year to run a story development workshop, but it was mainly to quality-assure the Hausa storybooks that were translated when he came the first time. We met with TDP and they called in some participants, mostly Hausa speakers, to quality-assure the Hausa storybooks that were on the website. So, we had that workshop in November.

The only challenge we had was when we were editing and couldn’t succeed in inserting the Hausa characters. That is a struggle we have been having, trying to find a Hausa expert to complete that task so we can actually be confident that the Hausa stories on the website are properly rendered.

Bookshelf: For someone who hasn’t been part of your workshop, who just happens to learn about your website and knows how to write in English and an indigenous language, how would you advise him or her on how to contribute or use African Storybook?

Wepukhulu: On the website is a place where you can send an email and seek for assistance. Somebody who comes to the website and is unable to navigate can drop us an email. When they do, we always follow up, either people who desire to use our books or contribute. There’s always somebody available to respond. My work is Partner Development Coordinator, and so once I get a request like that I always follow it up. If they are from a country we visit, when I am there I try to alert the person so we can meet face-to-face, otherwise, I work with that person, and if I am unable to answer a technical question, I refer them to the technical team.

For example, there’s somebody in Cameroon who has been using our books and translating. I have been on the phone, email and skype, guiding her on how to translate, edit and quality- assure them. Once she has them ready, I approve them. So, remotely, we can support a partner like that to contribute or use. But one of the things we request from people using our storybooks is to give us some feedback, tell us whether they are good or not, suggest changes and so on so we have an idea of the number of people using our books.

Making the most of government tablets in a Kenyan school

Dorcas Wepukhulu

I brought a flash drive loaded with 61 Kiswahili storybooks quality assured by the Kenyan Institute for Curriculum Development and 41 English translations of the same (total of 102). Together with the teacher librarian and the IT teacher, we successfully loaded the storybooks on 88 of the 92 tablets and on two teachers’ laptops. For easy location and identification, we created a folder on the tablets called ‘Storybooks for school’ inside which there isa folder for Kiswahili and English. Each tablet that had African Storybooks loaded, had a sticker at the back marked ‘ASb’.

The school has a library lesson for each class held after official class time. As we loaded the storybooks onto the devices, children from across the classes kept coming to the door to check if they could come in to read. The tablets had only five Kiswahili and 12 English audio storybooks to which children listen on their own. Usually, they would come to the library for their library lesson after lunch. On this day, they must have taken less than 10 minutes for their lunch. As soon as they were allowed to enter, the children from different classes, hurried in and took their seats at the tables. Since they are used to the audio, they waited but didn’t hear the audio so one asked ‘when the story would start talking’ and their teacher librarian had to explain to them. We managed to open as many tablets as possible so that at least each one had their own. Majority wanted storybooks in Kiswahili and it quickly became evident that many wanted to read ‘Chura na Nyoka’ – ‘Frog and Snake’. At one table where there were about 10 kids, you could hear, ‘Teacher! Teacher! Open ‘Chura’ for me. There was a beautiful buzzing sound of little voices from around the library as the children read different storybooks.

The teachers said that with availability of ASb storybooks on the tablets and on the two teachers’ laptops, they will be able to have library lessons with all the children including those in upper classes. They will also be able to use projection in class.

Before leaving, I discussed with the teacher librarian about how she could collect data on usage including the number of storybooks read and children reached as well as the classes and the teachers’ as well as children’s views about the storybooks. We also thought it would be important for her to introduce the ASb to others at the Rift Valley Reading Association (which comprises of educators in the larger former Rift Valley Province). The teacher has already been advocating for ASb whenever she gets an opportunity. Due to her passion for literacy, she has managed to revive the school library which won the 2017 Maktaba Kenyan Library of the Year Award in the Special Commendation Award.

When African Storybook came to Abuja

By Nathaniel Bivan | Daily Trust, Mar 24 2018 – direct URL:

It’s one thing to know how to write, it’s entirely another to think, talk, and laugh in a child’s voice. What does it take really, to create stories for children?

Date was March 11 and I was in a taxi bound for Bon Hotel Stratton in Asokoro, Abuja. There I was to meet with nineteen other writers and five illustrators. Mission: to create stories for children in English and an indigenous language. I was excited, and understandably so.

The workshop

Earlier, I had tried to pack as light a luggage as possible. A small traveling bag had my clothes and other things. My backpack, dear ancient companion, had my laptop, notebook, pen and several other items.

The application that earned me participation at the writing residency had been an interesting one. It was a workshop called Story Making West Africa, sponsored by the British Council in collaboration with African Storybook. I was asked questions that took me back to two books my mum had bought for my seventh birthday. One was bright red, about a baby elephant who hated to bath. The other was about an antelope who loved to dance. I still remember the central characters of these two books. Baby elephant learned to keep clean the hard way and little antelope had to learn to be patient for the party to begin.

On my first day at the workshop I discovered how privileged I was. About a thousand applications had been received and twenty-five of us had sailed through. Two wonderful resource persons, South Africa’s Lisa Treffry­Goatley and Kenya’s Dorcas Wepukhulu, both from African Storybook, tutored and guided us till the very end.

Abuja African Storybook workshop

Learning and writing

One of the first things we learned at Story Making West Africa was that we certainly couldn’t write for ourselves. Also, that our work would have to fit into different levels for children. Hard as some of us tried, it was just difficult not to think about that at the creating process. But our tutors were patient. While Wepukhulu showed us how African Storybook website functioned, Treffry­Goatley chiselled at our work. I mean, I had never written with an editor at hand to give me immediate feedback. This was the case here.

After putting finishing touches to our rough work, we read aloud, one writer to the other, and it was interesting hearing how awkward some words were and how punctuations were missing. We sometimes instantly found reasons to pause and make corrections, or brood over our handwritten or typed stories. Was it ever going to be perfect?

Reading aloud

By Wednesday, we were all set to read our stories to the entire room. There were folklores with animal characters and stories about how the rainbow came to be. It was interesting listening to everyone read aloud. Then the comments, contributions and arguments poured in. One of the things we had to do before then was analyse other books from the African Storybook website. We were quick to see the flaws, strengths and weaknesses of what others wrote. Now it was time to examine each other’s’ work, and we did, bearing in mind that writers and readers after us will also pore over it.

By this time, the illustrators were already getting anxious. It had mainly been about us, the writers, from the onset, how to write, and later, make page breaks for them, the illustrators. So, when they were handed in three stories to start working on, it wasn’t short of a herculean task. They were to produce twelve pages of illustrations for, at least, five stories. Some of them stayed shut in their hotel rooms for almost an entire day.


Okay, I must confess, I had not written a whole article in Hausa for years. Most of my writings included brief text messages and chats on social media. But speaking and writing in the language had always been part of me. So, when the templates (where we could write in both English and an African indigenous language) were emailed to us, I was excited. I simply copied and pasted my work in English and went on to translate into Hausa. This was easier to do now that I had the template. There was my story in English on the right side, and my translation space on the left.

My work, just above a hundred words, was ideal for level two readers, based on African Storybook standards. Level one stories (known as First words) required a word count of one to 11 words per page.

Level two (First sentences) needed 11 to 25 words per page. Level three (First paragraphs) 25 to 50 words per page. Level four (Longer paragraphs) 50 to 75 words in a page. Finally, Level five (Read aloud) should consist of 75 to 150 words in each page. This was how it worked.

It was amazing discovering how I could cut down on text or add some to meet the requirements for a Level two story. For me, this was one of the most exciting parts as I sort to find words in Hausa that could sufficiently serve as translations from English without changing entire meanings.


Friday, our last day at the residency included a number of activities. First was the race to finish work on our final drafts in both English and an African language. Our deadline was one o’clock that afternoon, Treffry Goatley had said. There was also a lot of photographing going on up till the time the official closing ceremony began. Dignitaries from the British Council arrived and so did the press, and it was soon underway. Three writers were chosen to read from their works, alongside their illustrators. The artworks were still a work in progress by this time and the projector showed sketches as they read.

Mohammed Sale (Nigeria) read in English, Fulfude and French. His tale was a cry for unity and involved animals swallowing each other as they made the rigorous journey to ‘the river of blessing’. This writer pointed out in his story, how humans can learn from animals and live in unity to achieve a common goal, After all, in the end, each animal vomited the other when they got to their destination.

The other two writers, Mimi Emelia Werna (Nigeria) and Gyening Agnes (Ghana), aside English, read in Pidgin and Ashanti Twi respectively.

The birth of African Storybook

African Storybook was founded out of a need to provide open access to picture storybooks in a variety of African languages for children. Today, on its website, there are stories in tongues such as Acholi, Hausa, Igbo, Afaan Oromo, Afrikaans, Alur, Arabic, Asante Twi, and many more.

When the African Storybook concept was developed by South African Institute for Distant Learning (SAIDE) with some input by Wepukhulu, a digital solution was reached. “In this way, educators and thereby children, could access materials to develop their literacy skills,” Wepukhulu said. So, in 2013 the African Storybook started with partners in South Africa Kenya, Uganda and Lesotho, and in 2014 the website was launched. In 2017 there was an expansion out of the four pilot countries to include Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria. In some of these countries, African Storybooks are being used, even though the facilitators are not there.

Why the project is relevant

British Council’s Director of Programmes, Ms. Louisa Waddingham pointed out that the council works to support schools, teachers and students learning in schools. “One of the issues we have discovered in our work, is that there aren’t many books in schools for the children to learn to read from, and for teachers to teach,” she said.

Ms. Waddingham explained that there’s also a perspective that children learn better when they are taught in a language they already understand, usually their mother tongue. “That doesn’t exclude introducing English later on in their education, but we believe in this way, they would have a good foundation. So, there are two things combined that drove us to look for innovative ways to help children learn. We like the idea of creating books and telling stories.

“The success of the programme has proved that it’s actually quite simple to do. It was a five-day workshop and we saw three stories illustrated. we needed specialists to introduce the concept to us. I am not saying it’s easy, but it is not as difficult as we might think. It has also shown that it’s possible to get the stories published in a very cost-effective way. This is really important because many writers put off writing because they can’t publish. Story Making West Africa shows us that you can do it in a very accessible and efficient way. It encourages more people to write and read.”

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