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Africa: Remote Learning with African Storybooks

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 25, 2020 (2020-05-25)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Two years ago, when AfricaFocus first profiled the African Storybook project, it had available, for free reading and download, 903 storybooks in 136 different languages, including English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, and a host of other languages spoken on the continent. This year, as Covid-19 confronts Africa as well as the world, the Johannesburg-based project has 1,373 unique storybooks with 6,085 translations in 193 languages. With a remotely connected production operation involving volunteer authors and artists around the continent, it is uniquely placed to provide continuity of resources to parents and teachers, though smartphone apps as well as through its website.

In February this year, for International Mother Tongue Day, the project provided an extensive guide to free digital resources, including many other organizations as well as its own resources. And it is continuing its efforts to make additional resources available and accessible and to expand its on-line community of educators, authors, and artists.

“In Africa,” according to a April 19 article by Moses Ngware in The Conversation, “internet penetration in March 2020 stood at 39.3% of the total population compared to the rest of the world at 62.9%. In a few countries such Ghana and South Africa, smartphone and internet penetration seem to go hand in hand, but for other countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal, internet penetration is way ahead of smartphone penetration.”

Ngware outlines the obstacles that Africa thus faces with closure of schools, but also stresses the great potential for expanding remote learning option. The African Storybook project is one of the best examples of such potential.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains brief excerpts from recent African Storybook communications with suggested activities for making use of their resources. The full set of links is available here. Their entire inventory of books is available at to explore. If you have relevant skills to provide, you can sign up for their community. If you have children at an appropriate age, you can use these books yourself or pass them on those of your contacts who could use them, whether in Africa or anywhere in the world.

Finally, because Covid-19 is impossible to forget or ignore, this Bulletin also includes, at the end, a set of links to recent sources and articles on the status of the pandemic in Africa. The bottom-line: overall, the continent is still successfully holding off the worst health outcomes. But the economic impact is nevertheless massive and disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable. Within large countries such as South Africa and Nigeria, national progress is marred by regional hot spots such as Kano and Cape Town. And some countries not reporting full information but with suspicions of widespread infection include Somalia and Tanzania.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

African Storybook remains your reading partner during the worldwide collective pause

2020/03/27 - African Storybook remains your reading partner during the worldwide collective pause

As public conversations around coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increase and we continue to monitor developments, it is our hope that you and your children remain safe. As you would have seen in our International Mother Tongue Day communication, we have provided you a guide to free digital resources which allows you to access the ever growing number of digital multilingual resources. Below you will find  Activity 1 on how you can continue to explore and rely on African Storybook and our partner networks for reading resources.

African Storybook Quick Facts

Our Website  is an open license digital platform which allows you to Read, Make, and Use picture storybooks for children's literacy, enjoyment and imagination.

Our stories are contextually appropriate and are currently available in 189 languages spoken on the African continent and beyond.

We have 1280 unique storybooks with 6045 translations in the language of your choice.

We have an amazing reader app  The African Storybook Reader App which is free to download from Google Play or Apple's App Store and provides access to the same resources as our website.

2020/04/03 - The African Storybook Reader App and More!

2020/04/09 - African Storybook Guides and Resources explained!

2020/04/20 - Translate Africa with African Storybook

2020/04/28 - Story Time with African Storybook Champion Mimi Werna

African Storybook Champion Mimi Werna shares how stories have coloured her world during the Covid-19 pandemic

Towards the end of 2019, my children and I decided that we wanted other children to learn to enjoy reading and stories like they did. So I announced to the parents in my neighborhood that their children had our permission to come borrow storybooks from my children’s library for free as long as they promised to return them without food stains, water marks, dog ears or any mutilation.

Passionate about helping children read for pleasure and being an African Storybook Champion in Nigeria, I also added African Storybook read aloud sessions to my Saturdays for the neighbourhood children. Most of the children were not consistent because of house chores, school homework or family engagements and so they arrived at different times which meant that I had to read to different sets of children every Saturday. This became a little daunting because I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to go without reading a book to them when they came and it ate into my time too.

When 2020 arrived, I was already desperate for easier ways to share stories with these children for their enjoyment and imagination without having to do it so many times; as well as share with more children beyond my neighbourhood.

The urgency heightened when some parents I recommended ASb storybooks to somehow couldn’t find enough time to read aloud to their children or didn’t just know how to begin. I decided that recording myself reading these stories may be useful. I wanted to do something to help them know what to do or give them something that would suffice when they couldn't read themselves.

I had already downloaded over 500 African Storybook stories on my laptop and read some to my children and the 12 children who participated in my reading sessions; the participants however borrowed storybooks to take home from my children’s library. We often read from my phone or sometimes from my laptop and the trouble now was how to video myself while reading these stories.

During the time I was searching for a solution, the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and made it impossible for the children to even visit; even if they wanted. So I intensified my search but because I didn’t know if what I was looking for existed, I was posing my questions on Google search wrongly. Fortunately for me, the universe heard my heart's cry and answered!

 A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a random post made by someone  on  Facebook and there my answer sat pretty, smiling at me! It was  about an app that would allow me  to record myself and not only  read the story but also allow my young readers read along with me!  I was so excited that I screamed an actual 'yippie' and did a  little dance!  

Quickly, I downloaded the AZ Screen Recorder Free App on Play Store, installed it on my phone and started tinkering with it to figure out how it worked. I did many recordings and deletions!

I finally decided to take the plunge and began posting the videos on my wall on Facebook where the number of views has been 65, 103, 57, 32 and 44 respectively on each video so far. I have also shared the videos on my parenting and teachers Whatsapp group of 94 participants who have downloaded them from their devices. After only 4 days some parents and even strangers approached me to recommend storybooks they can find on the African Storybook website, or reported how the website is becoming especially relevant during this pandemic and lockdown.

I am thankful to be a part of something as impactful as this as I help children to keep enjoying reading during this pandemic using Story time with Mimi Werna. Even my children are having loads of fun ‘rewinding mummy’ over and over again to ‘read’ the same story to them a gazzilion times without even complaining.

To be here in these times and be able to colour our world with stories, makes me profoundly happy!

2020/05/11 - Creating African Storybook Pictures with Young Illustrator Tebogo Boikanyo Matshana

This week for Activity 6, a young South African illustrator, Tebogo Boikanyo Matshana participated in an African Storybook challenge to create illustrations for three stories in two weeks. Part of the challenge was that these artists didn't have any previous experience in storybook illustration, although they were keen to learn! She shares her reflection on her experiences with us.

I gravitated to this story ( Heidi, my dog) because it is about a relationship and there is a lot of love demonstrated in this story. With its themes of love and friendship, illustrating the story was more than a pleasant experience on my part. My mother also read the story to me in Setswana (Ntšwa ya me, Heidi) and I found I had a further connection with the story.

The project began with a brainstorm about the stories with Lisa (African Storybook publisher) and fellow artists,  Kamogelo Matlawe and  Simangaliso Sibiya (who were also working on storybooks). Following the informal briefing session, I focused on the story’s star herself, Heidi – looking at photographs and drawings of dogs for inspiration. When creating rough sketches of a cross between a Jack Russell dog and a teddy bear, the character came to life!

Then, I sourced more reference material that would guide me in composing each scene, other characters, and the overarching visual- artistic style. I looked at work by other children’s illustrators and narrowed down my own visual approach. (An illustrator who inspired me for this storybook is Rebecca Ivacson.) I created scenarios and scenes in rough sketches, thinking about how a little girl would relate to her dog in each moment.

Using the tools Adobe Photoshop (software for working with pictures) as well as a Wacom tablet (a device for creating pictures digitally – directly on computer), I began to build up the illustrations. I use a digital pen (stylus) to draw on the tablet, and the drawing is displayed on my computer.

Initially, I drew over reference material and exaggerated different shapes that would eventually make up different components in each scene. I also experimented with textures and brushes, before I decided on a charcoal brush (part of the software tools).

A week after the first meeting, we got together again to look at the sketches and discuss feedback. Afterwards, I finalised the line drawings and added colours to bring the scene to life.

I have learned that when illustrating a narrative, it is important to consider the most efficient way to say more by also showing less. Too much detail and clutter can overload the reader/viewer with information, in the same breath though, by adding subtle details, one can really illustrate very important nuances and ‘say more’.For example, simply by adding or omitting a bracelet,one can visually communicate so much ‘more’ about a character. The same applies when one creates an environment. This is something I have taken away from the illustration process.

Read Heidi, my dog


Recent Articles and Updates on Covid-19 in Africa

Please also refer to previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Covid-19 at

Still the best source on official statistics by country is

To get to country pages for Africa, click on countries, then on the Africa tab. You can then click on each country for more detailed graphs and statistics, as well as links to the official country sources.

The latest weekly continent-wide report from the AfricaCDC is at

A weekly video press briefing can be found on the AfricaCDC youtube channel.

For Nigeria, see And for South Africa, see

Additional articles of interest, by date, latest date first.

Particularly highly recommended are marked with an *.


"Coronavirus in Tanzania: What do we know?”


"Africa: Let's Prepare for a Marathon Struggle Against COVID-19,” by Dr Chibuzo Okonta, president of Médecins Sans Frontičres (MSF) West and Central Africa




* Steven Friedman on the concentration of the pandemic in South Africa in Western Cape









AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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