Magic from the Shores of West Africa

By Ayo Oyeku

Childhood for most African kids from the 60s to the 90s was largely defined by folk stories. These kinds of stories were seen as tales to be told under the moonlight – and many listened. Later, these stories were told on radio and TV – and listened to even more. The children’s books didn’t disappoint either – mostly chapter books were used to convey this narrative – and all the kids read them. What made folk stories stand out was the use of animals, magic and moonlight to enthrall kids and guide them towards a moral path. These stories were unforgettable.

In recent times, African children’s book authors now pay good attention to the different genres of children literature available today. They have honed their skills, improved their crafts, and employed the elements required to tell good stories for kids. Hence, folk stories in their true form are gradually becoming a thing of the past in African children’s literature. But the good news is that the authors have not forgotten their roots – in a subtle manner, they fuse elements of animals and magic in their books. On the shelves, across the world, these kind of stories stand out, and kids love to read them.

The Greatest Animal in the Jungle

Written by Sope Martins (Nigeria)
Illustrated by Kayode Onimole (Nigeria)
Published by Kachifo Limited, under its Farafina Tuuti imprint.

The story is told of a mouse named Afuwe, who lives deep in the jungle. It’s his birthday, and he wants a birthday present from his godfather, the tortoise. Afuwe sets off for the tortoise’s cave, getting attacked by an angry owl on the way, but manages to escape. This experience made him want just one wish – to be the greatest animal in the jungle. His desire turns to reality when the tortoise gifts him a pendant on a necklace. It is a magic pendant! It can make Afuwe shapeshift into any animal he wishes to be, but for five times only.

The author’s good use of anthropomorphism would lure children into the exciting African jungle, while the gripping illustrations bring kids’ imaginations to life. Afuwe’s magical pendant was put to good use, followed by unexpected twists, but at the end, Afuwe learns a vital lesson about what happiness truly means.

Mosa’s Adventures in Libertopia

Written by Toyosi Olatokun (Nigeria)
Illustrated by Valour Icha (Nigeria)
Published by Eleventh House, under its Jojolo imprint

Mosa is not a fan of reading. He dreads big, large and long books. He prefers to read small books, only. One night, he wakes up to see a small, shiny book in his room. Drawn to it, he gets out of bed and picks it up. The pages of the shiny book fly out and transform into a magical carpet. Mosa takes a ride on it.

This captivating picture book covers a single theme that connects to all kids across the world – reading. The author and the illustrator do not tell kids why they should read but show them the values of reading, through the adventures in Libertopia. This book uses magic to teach kids about the joy of reading, but at the end, shows kids that they do not need magic to learn. This is a book for every household.

King Alboury Cooks the Best Jollof

Written by Sokhna Ndiaye (Senegal)
Illustrated by Tiolu Yoloye (Nigeria) and Francis Ufere (Nigeria)
Published by Kunda Kids

Africans love their tasty and spicy meals. Jollof rice is one of them. King Alboury of the Jollof Kingdom takes pride in cooking the best jollof, using a special recipe invented by his ancestors. The tantalizing aroma of his jollof make the bellies of the Chuchu people rumble loudly. They become jealous and attack the Jollof Kingdom.

The yummy taste of jollof rice peals through pages of bright illustrations. A fine blend of history and African food is cooked in this pot of words. A subtle use of magic, like a food recipe, reminds readers that magic might simply be a rare formula for excellence. The Chuchu people later come to learn this, in this carefully worded narrative about food, forgiveness and uniqueness.

Meet Ayo Oyeku

Ayo writes books for kids, and publishes for both kids and adults. He chuckles every time he hears the Spanish phrase, mi casa es su casa, because he believes we are citizens of the world, and should not be defined by our tribes, countries or continents. He hopes to travel to Vatican City to see the Sistine Chapel.