Twinkle, twinkle, bright stars
When the United Nations brought leaders from all over the world to New York, to its Millenniums Summit in September 2000, the socio-economic problems of many poor countries were identified and resolutions proffered. These solutions revolve around eight goals with 21 targets, to be achieved not later than 2015.
The goals are known as the MDGs - the Millennium Development Goals, and all the countries present, including Nigeria, agreed to work towards achieving the lofty goals in their respective countries. The eight MDGs are:
1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
2: Achieve universal primary education;
3: Promote gender equality and empower women;
4: Reduce child mortality rate;
5: Improve maternal health;
6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
7: Ensure environmental sustainability;
8: Develop a global partnership for development
Conscious of the fact that these goals can be too technical and incomprehensible for children to grasp, one was pleasantly surprised to come across a series of colourful easy-to-read story books, eight in all, each treating a goal of the MDGS for children.
Authored by Fatima Akilu, these interesting books are so well written that even adults would be carried away with the stories, illustrations, and the quality of the books. A plus for the books is that each of these goals are localised - the characters, setting, names, and the general feel are mostly Nigerian, thus making it easy for Nigerian children or adults to relate with.
Moreover, like with all good children’s books that have become classics because they are appreciated by everyone all over the world, the quality of these books can also be categorised as high.
The first story book, ‘Ngozi Comes to Town’, revolves around a train called Ngozi, who in days past was very busy carrying food and goods to different parts of the country. Told in a first person narrative by Ngozi itself, this interesting story reveals the gradual disintegration of things: people started to lose their jobs, including the mother of Ngozi’s friends, Margaret and Phillip.
With the loss of jobs comes minimal trade, less train rides, and lack of funds to maintain the train. Ngozi eventually becomes lonely and sad, as even his friends stopped visiting.
But, suddenly, all these change as the federal government, now with some funds, created more jobs and businesses, built more roads, maintained old roads and other infrastructure, improved the economic sustainability of those in the rural areas as they could easily sell their agricultural products, and the overall effects spread to Ngozi.
He receives some good scrubbing and a fresh coat of paint, and is back on the tracks again, carrying food and goods to even the remotest parts of the country.
This book explores the spiralling effects of good policies on both the people and infrastructure.
Between commerce and education
‘Timi’s Dream Comes True’ is a creatively crafted story with colourful illustrations. This second book narrates the plight of children who are caught between using their productive hours to help their parents instead of being in school.
In a country where many children are denied access to formal education, this book convincingly explains the second MDG, taking the reader through the experiences of Timi, a fisherman’s son, who wants to become a teacher, but in reality, is being trained to become a fisherman too.
That all changed when a government official visits Timi’s town, and talks about setting up a school for school-age children. An old aeroplane donated by an airline company is converted into a school; another school gives away books, and Timi goes about in a happy daze painting the interior of the plane with bright colours that reflected his excitement. With the presence of the school, the possibility of all children having access to education is certain.
Harmony and progress
In ‘Kitwa Plays the Drum’, the author addresses the subject of gender equality using two contrasting families.
In the first family, Kitwa is always sad whenever she has to do all the house chores, while her brother plays away. Her mother offers little comfort, as she says she was raised that way too. But all that begins to change when the family, together with Grandma, visited the children’s cousins.
There, Kitwa sees that Isioma, the girl, has a set of drums, while her brother, Ugo, washes the plates after meals. This is an eye opener, not only for Kitwa, but also for her parents and Grandma.
At the end of the story, they all form a live band around the set of drums; the girls play the drums, Ugo plays the guitar, and the others sing, symbolising that all are created equal, and togetherness brings harmony and progress.
In the fourth story, ‘Yinka Washes His Hands’, which explores the fourth MDG, ‘Reduce child mortality rate’, Yinka learns the hard way that clean bodies and surroundings discourage dirt and disease. He always obeys his mother’s commands to wash his hands before he carries his baby sister. But this particular day, he does not. And his baby sister suffers for his negligence.
The creative way the author uses his auntie to teach him more hygiene tips and the importance of taking injections against some communicable diseases, better illustrates this fourth MDG.
In ‘The Red Transistor Radio’, the fifth MDG - improving maternal health - is creatively explored. Khalida, a primary school pupil, gets sufficient material for her school essay through her mother’s narration of the presence of a red transistor radio in the house, which she, her mother, always listens to.
Her mother tells Khalida that it was through a health programme, ‘Mother’s Hour’ on the radio, that she was able to maintain a healthy lifestyle when she was pregnant with Khalida. That her possession of the radio, which was a gift from Khalida’s father, prevented her from disease and death, as the information gained from the programme helped her immensely.
Football and mosquito
The sixth story book, ‘The Yellow Mosquito Net’ relates two seemingly unsimilar subjects together: football and mosquito. Through the central characters, Grace and Kemi, the author, Fatima Akilu, enlightens the reader more about the grave consequences of not controlling the spread of mosquitoes, the cause of malaria fever.
Grace and Kemi, who love playing football, learn the correlation between the two from their female coach, who tells them that just like the net of a goal post prevents the ball from bursting loose and also cushions its impact, so also does draping a mosquito net over one’s bed prevents mosquitoes from getting to one, thereby protecting one from getting malaria fever.
This story explains the 6th MDG of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
‘Preye and the Sea of Plastic’ revolves around the seventh MDG, which is to ensure environmental sustainability. This story beautifully illustrates the ‘sea of plastic’ that has become part of the country’s existence. All types of plastic objects - bottles, bags, and ‘pure water’ sachets - litter the land and the sea.
The book talks about the effects of this on people’s health and on the economy, and shows the efforts carried out by Preye and his friend, Obinna, as they work together to put up a documentary that they hope would enlighten and correct the choices we all make.
The eight and the last story, ‘Aliyyah Learns a New Dance’, revolves around the MDG of developing a global partnership for development. Through participation in dance and music, Aliyyay represents her country and gets to meet children from other parts of the world.
This set of children’s stories showcases the positive contributions of Nigerian children to nation building.
It also debunks the misconception that children are weak and ignorant, as the children we meet on the pages of these story books challenge some of these stereotypes, and in conjunction with adults, are able to fight for change for the good of all.
The use of dialogue makes the stories come alive, and the vibrant colours that adorn each page add to the good quality of the series.
One also commends the author who, in a gentle and subtle way, is able to empower all the female characters in the stories.
Apart from the books not being paginated, these interesting and beautiful books will act as a wonderful present to children, as the information provided therein will remain in their memory for a very long time.