Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Some Examples of Illustrations in Childrens’ Books Through the Ages

September 25, 2009
Childrens' Books and their Illustrations Through the Ages

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Children and Reading- a Site you May Find Interesting

July 30, 2009

This article originally appeared in:

I just discovered a wonderful web site where kids can practise reading, and follow directions to create all sorts of toys. At the same time, they recycle junk and learn about science. Is that a win/win or what!

The site is Arvind Gupta’s Toys from Trash. It has hundreds of projects. Once you click on the thumbnail that takes your fancy, its page comes up with a series of diagrams and instructions to follow. The directions are clear and pitched at about primary school level.

I tried out several experiments. Some were simpler than others in that the equipment needed was more likely to be lying around the house, but all that I tried had been expertly described with step-by-step instructions. More complicated projects had a “Do it details” link to a pdf. Young scientists will find so much to do here. So will young mathematicians, engineers, musicians, and artists (see Beautiful Butterfly and others in Paper Fun section).

While you’re there, check out the amazing pdfs available (Books/English). They have different reading levels, so you need to browse to find suitable material for your own little learner, but I loved The Paper Aeroplane Book, The Rubber Band Book, AHA! Activities – a huge pdf of practical science lessons – and String Games, because they fascinate me still. So much to read, so much to do!

For younger kids, Thumbprints is cute. It starts with a lovely poem about using our thumb to make prints, then follows up with some wonderful animal thumb print ideas to spark some artwork. More Thumbprints adds objects. Leaf Zoo shows how to add details to leaves to make some great creatures.

There is also a gallery of films, showing the making some of the toys, and other documentaries. Most are not in English or subtitled, but fascinating just the same.

This site would make a wonderful resource for one of those No TV evenings, or for teachers and parents looking for hands-on science activities. Arvind Gupta is so generous with what he’s made available online. I thank him on behalf of children everywhere.Tales my Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me by Dzagbe Cudjoe

Are some children’s Classics Unsuitable for Kids?

July 24, 2009

When ‘savages’ and ‘heathens’ start appearing, reading the greats my daughter becomes very uncomfortablePosted by Kavitha Rao Thursday 23 July 2009 08.00 BST
My nine-year-old daughter loves to read. And unusually, she loves to read classic children’s literature. This should make me both happy and smug. And mostly it does. But it also makes for all kinds of dilemmas.

When she was about eight, we read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was immersed in the bucolic delights of pioneer life, when suddenly she was catapulted into the world of a bigot. “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” is repeated several times by various characters, as the book goes on to describe Indians as “wild”, “terrible”, “savage warriors” and “screaming devils”. Then Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father, says, “When the white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on. White people are going to settle all this country.” ” Why do the Indians have to move when they were there first?” asked my daughter. I began to talk about how the world of the 19th-century settler was very different from ours. But eight-year-olds see the world in black and white. “I hate Laura’s family!” yelled my daughter. And that was that for Little House on the Prairie, for another year at least.

There are many children’s classics that I devoured as a child, but on rereading them I discover knobbly bits that stick in my craw. Like The Secret Garden, where the heroine Mary, newly arrived from India, is outraged at being mistaken for “a black”. “You thought I was a native! They are not people – they are servants who must salaam to you,” she sputters. Or the blithe stereotypes of Enid Blyton in her admittedly addictive St Clare series (let’s not even talk about Noddy) where French spitfire Claudine displays a variety of “un-English” behaviour such as cheating and fibbing. In the end, Claudine declares, “the English sense of honour is a fine thing”. As my daughter happily gobbles Blytons like cookies, I wonder how to explain away old Enid’s consistent portrayal of Gypsies as thieving, rascally, child-thumping varmints. Tintin was a beloved part of my childhood, but after reading about the revolting Tintin in the Congo (African women bowing and intoning “White master is very great!”) I will never feel quite the same again.

I have to wonder what message I am sending my daughter, especially since as an Indian Hindu girl she might once have been that “savage” or “heathen”. There are those who argue that racist authors were just a product of less enlightened times. “That’s just the way people were back then,” they say, pointing out that Wilder, and others of her ilk, were far less racist than many of their time. I don’t disagree, but not talking about why things were the way they were seems foolish.

Most people I know just ignore the racism, as my parents did. Many are just thankful that their kids are reading. That’s certainly the easier way out, but I’d like my daughter to read the classics critically. Particularly because in India – where we currently live – many classics are prescribed as school textbooks and therefore accepted as near gospel truth. As I read with her, I constantly tell her, “That’s the way people were back then, but that doesn’t make it right.” I’d like her to enjoy the sublime prose of Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard while challenging their covert, and sometimes overt, imperialism.

Of course, there is such a thing as looking too hard for racism, and that way madness most certainly lies. I didn’t get the memo, but apparently the Chronicles of Narnia, Babar and even Peter Pan are all racist now. The list of banned books that offend someone or something is ever growing. I don’t want my daughter feverishly scrutinising books for things to be offended by, and I would never support a ban on any book. I want her to hate the prejudice, not the author.

I could simply focus on reading modern children’s literature, replete with Asian heroines and positive role models. But I think the classics, even the dodgy ones, have lessons to teach modern children. Currently, we are reading a simplified version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and talking about why she can’t use the “N” word. “But Mark Twain uses it,” she says. “Was he a racist?” “Why don’t you tell me when you have read it?” I suggest. And she does. We begin talking about slavery and end up talking about Barack Obama. Finally, we reach the conclusion that yes, we shouldn’t use the N word, but no, Twain was not a racist. This is not a conversation that I can imagine myself having while reading Harry Potter.

And yes, we have returned to the Little House series. Thanks to Wilder, my daughter now knows about the plight of the American Indian. “I think Laura wasn’t a very nice person, but we should read her books anyway because she’s a very good author,” she says. Exactly.

Tales my Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me by Dzagbe Cudjoe

“The Hand” – by Dzagbe Cudjoe- a story for all those people who live under the threat of terrorist attack

July 5, 2009

The eyes gazing into mine are young, full of sympathy and deep hurt. Those eyes will never acquire a hard, cynical expression. How long will this young man remain in a job suffused with such profound pain and distress I think to myself? Slowly I turn my head to stare fearfully at a small table covered with a green cloth. Dark green is a positive life-affirming colour. It’s not a colour we associate with death. It’s the colour of Nature’s yearly re-birth.

I notice how carefully laundered the stiffly starched cloth is. You can see the creases where it was folded into four. It could have been the handiwork of a well-trained butler in a stately home. I struggle to gather my thoughts together. I force myself to concentrate on the green cloth, steeling every nerve against the even greater pain to come. My chest heaves then the muscles contract. Frantically I attempt to breathe out. Take deep breaths, relax and try to concentrate I command myself in the midst of my panic.

When the young man senses that I have regained control he puts the question “Ready?” Incapable of speech I can do no more than nod. Carefully he pulls back the green cloth to reveal an object in a shiny stainless steel kidney dish. At this point my vision blurs and tears prick painfully at my eyelids. Icy shock renders me incapable of speech or movement. It is with a superhuman effort that I manage to focus on what is in the dish.

It is a human hand. Not a strangers’ hand but an instantly recognizable, well known, and dearly loved hand. It had lain under hundreds of thousands of tons of rubble and must have been extricated covered in dust and grime and debris of an indescribably guesome nature.

The hand now lies cleansed, the severed writst area neatly concealed in a white surgical napkin. The finger nails have been carefully filed and the cuticles pushed back. I can see that the hand has been treated with respect. It has been understood that this hand symbolizes the only mortal remains of a Beloved Person – someone’s grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, niece. How were they to know which? The stainless steel dish shines like a sacred silver reliquary. She never did like silver, She had always associated it with the qualities of reserve and the female upheavals of life. She had always been a sun-worshipper. She had loved its’ masculine warmth, the fierce intensity of life it symbolized. She had understood its’ pulsating life-giving energy.

I scutinized the hand as never before. To my intense surprise and overwhelming relief I found that there was nothing gruesome or ugly about it. I could only give profound thanks that this precious relic had survived. How many hundreds perhaps thousands of grief-stricken people would be left with nothing to lovingly place in a funeral casket. The thought came to me unbidden that the entire family must come together to design a casket befitting such a special hand. It would be a labour of love.

In death the hand communicates the same qualities that it had in life. It is an incredibly beautiful hand that like the rest of her had aged very well indeed. True, time had thickened the fingers and coarsened the hand. It had always been her dream to have a weekly manicure but time and money had never coincided. Her dream of having hand-made shoes for her awkwardly shaped feet had also remained an unfulfilled dream. Still she’d done the best she could herself with her impatient manicures. It was the same story with her hair – she couldn’t cope with it herself but she had always had to.

It was a hand that had been dedicated to bringing beauty, love and healing into peoples’ lives. This had had a twin with which it had knitted, crocheted, stiched and painted. It had done housework dutifully but with a marked lack of enthusiasm. It had made the lightest pastry and the most delicious of cakes. The cakes were marvellous but she had always felt that she let herself down on the decorating front. Acturally this was not true.I remember many breathtaking birthday cakes.

The hand is unmarked by liver spots. Ageing seems to be kinder to dark skins. It is a completely unadorned hand, the fingers unmarked by rings. The first gold band she had worn conventionally on the third finger of her left hand. The second gold band was worn for twenty-one years on the little finger of the same hand. The little finger now with a bent first joint which she had never again been able to straighten completely. This had come about as the result of her enthusiasm for gardening and this accident marked the end of her guitar-playing days. Her final, gloriously creative, blessed and joyous relationship was not to be symbolized by a gold band on any of her fingers.

I ask myself what she would have thought about the cataclysm which had engulfed her and thousands of others and left them all lifeless. She was a Libran and had been a woman who sought equilibrium for herself and harmony and justice for all people. She had understood that true peace is essential for these states to manifest themselves in this world. She had been a human being who made no distinctions based on race, nationality or religion. This was a person who had been open to all and always endeavoured to understand people’s true motivation. In our family we had a traditional African stool with a carved base showing two hands holding a human heart. This symbolizes purity of heart something which she had always strived and prayed for.

I pictured in my mind the thousands of people walking down the steps of the buildings from one floor to the next moving calmly and helping the less able. These people showed enormous courage in the face of death. The fortunate ones escaped but how will they rebuild their lives after such a catastrophic event?

Would she have felt that the answer to this heinous crime lay in blowing to smithereens both the guilty and the innocent of a totally impoverished land? I think not. She knew that violence is self-perpetuating, that it does not lead to long-term solutions. She would have been introspective and would have considered whether the people who perpetrated this terrible act had any legitimate grievances whilst fiercly condemming the evilness of their act. She believed that only by bringing about change in people’s hearts can you bring about change in their minds. Look first for common ground, not for differences she had always told the family.
“Don’t follow the herd” she said “Do the right thing!” She believed that we can take the most terrible, dark, evil, negative events and through goodwill, love and right action can like alchemists transmute the negative into the positive.

My reverie ended and once again I looked at the had. This was a hand I had known all my life. It was one of a pair and now was bereft of its twin and mirror-image. This hand had helped carry me, feed me, created things for me, supported and soothed me from my birth to its dying day. In my babyhood it had played the game “Two little dicky birds sat upon a wall, One named Peter, The other named Paul. Fly away Peter! Flay away Paul! Come back Peter, Come back Paul.”

Another of my earliest memories is of these beloved hand intertwined with mine playing “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man, Make me a cake as fast as you can: Pat it and prick it, and mark it with D, And toss it in the oven for baby and me.”

This same hand had offered healing and love to many in pain and distress. This hand had been an open one and not a clenched fist. It had been a conduit to her heart. The unique quality of the life that was represented in that hand radiated clearly still for the living to see and experience. This hand had not met death in the hoped for manner but somehow there was a feeling about it of acceptance and peace. I gazed at that dearly loved hand and gave thanks for a life rich in its’ living and understanding. I saw not just a hand but a complete and iridescent human being.

“Yes” that’s my mother. There is absolutely no doubt about it” I told the young attendant. But was it desperate, heartfelt wishful thinking on my part?

Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me for Information Click Here

A Free Children’s Story

June 29, 2009


Click here to print this page

Special Online Story

written & narrated by Sharri McGarry

“I saw a rat last night in the garden,” Mum said. “A big brown rat!”

Dad looked up from fastening his briefcase. “Did you?”

“We’ll have to get rid of it.” Mum said pointedly.

“Well,” Dad clucked, as he picked up the briefcase and walked from the room. “If you see it again, we’ll get the poison out. Now, I’ve got to go. See you later!”

“Is a rat…DANGEROUS?” said little Jimmy in a wobbly voice.

His brother, Ben, turned to him. “Oh YES!” he said fiercely. “Rats have got long, sharp front teeth and if they catch you, they will BITE you!”

“Nonsense, Ben!” said Mum sharply. “Rats will run away from you!”

Ben shook his head at little Jimmy and screwed up his face into a vicious expression. He smoothed his face as Mum turned from the sink. She set down two glasses and two chocolate biscuits on the table.

“Here’s your elevenses, boys,” she said as she hurried out. “I just have to say goodbye to Dad.”

Ben grabbed his biscuit. “Watch this!” he said, and stuffed the whole biscuit into his mouth.

“Coo!” said little Jimmy admiringly. He reached for his own biscuit.

“LOOK OUT!” screamed Ben. “There’s the RAT!”

Little Jimmy shrieked and leapt on to a chair.
Ben grinned wickedly, picked up little Jimmy’s biscuit ….
And calmly popped it into his mouth.
“Got you!” he said.

The swimming pool was hot and steamy. Ben grabbed his goggles and headed for the slide.

“I want to go on the slide!” little Jimmy yelled.

“Are you sure, dear?” Mum asked. “You’ve never BEEN before!”

“I WANT to go on the slide,” little Jimmy insisted. “with Ben!”

“Ben!” Mum called him. “Please take little Jimmy up the slide.”

“Aw Mum!” Ben moaned. “Do I HAVE to?”

“Yes!” Mum insisted. “Be a good brother and take your little brother up the slide.”

Little Jimmy followed happily as Ben slouched off towards the steps.

“Is the slide FUN, Ben?” asked little Jimmy, nervously climbing the steps.

Ben stopped and considered him. “Fun?” he asked slowly. “Fun? No! Not fun! Did you know that this is a RAT slide?”

Little Jimmy looked around nervously. “A …..RAT….slide?” he echoed.

“A RAT slide,” said Ben firmly. “You have to slide down ….the rat’s tail!” Ben continued. “Round and round and down and down his long black tail….until…. PLOP! You fall straight into his…..STOMACH! Into his stomach filled with bubbling, gurgling ACID! PLOP! Glug..glug..glug….”

Little Jimmy’s eyes filled with horrow. “D..d..down his t..tail?” he quavered.

“Down his long black tail!” Ben insisted.

“And into his…gulp…stomach?” little Jimmy wavered.

“PLOP! Into his nasty, acid-filled stomach” said Ben firmly.

“O..o…o..h!” little Jimmy shuddered. “I.. want…MUMMY!” and he set off back down the steps at top speed.

Ben chuckled and continued up the steps…by himself.

“That was very naughty of you Ben,” Mum scolded. “Scaring your little brother like that!”

She opened the front door wearily. “He was so nervous, I had to take him up the slide myself, just to show him that it was quite safe.”

“It was FUN!” little Jimmy beamed happily.

“He loved it so much that I had to go up and down twenty times with him.” Mum sighed. “I am exhausted!”

Ben grinned unrepentantly.

“I am hungry!” he announced.

“Yes – so are we all!” Mum agreed. “You can have a biscuit while I put dinner on.”

She put two chocolate biscuits on the table and went out to the freezer.

“Aaagh!” screamed little Jimmy, pointing behind Ben. “It’s a RAT!”

Ben caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Something sleek and black passed behind him. He spun around in horror, ready to shriek in terror. And there was the cat. The cat stared back at him, raising its fur in alarm.

Ben groaned. “Aw Jimmy! You BABY!” He turned towards his brother. “It’s not a rat! Its only the…”

He stopped and stared in amazement as his little brother calmly stuffed the last biscuit into his overfull mouth.
“GOT YOU!” said little Jimmy.
Tales my Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me by Dzagbe Cudjoe


My Life as Reader and Writer

June 18, 2009


I started writing my first novel at age thirteen. It was written in a school exercise book with a fountain pen. Enid Blyton was my major influence at the time which was why I asked my sister to cut my hair short like the character George. George was in fact a girl called Georgina who wanted to do boys’ things. I also longed to go to boarding school. If I remember correctly my novel was abandoned half finished. Some years later Enid Blyton’s books fell out of favour only to be rediscovered later by a new generation of readers.

I read fiction avidly in my school and university years. University years were spent in Germany where I read a certain number of German classics. I returned to West Africa. Then came an extended period when the range of fiction in English was limited, not easy to find and books were very expensive.Television was in its infancy and was of no interest to me. So I read a lot of books both to myself and my children.

On relocating to England the emphasize of my reading became practical as I struggled to change direction on many levels.

I’ve now reached grandmother age and have returned to childrens’ books this time as an author. My book of childrens’ stories “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” was published last year. Up until then I had never read about or taken courses on creative writing. I had simply gone ahead and written. But I did realize that there was room for considerable improvement. It was at this point that I came across the excellent e-mail and on-line creative writing courses run by Rob Parnell and Robyn Opie. Robyn is an extremely successful author of childrens’ books.

To my delight I found that I already used the inspirational New Age techniques recommended by Rob. Personally the most valuable parts of the course have been those dealing with editing and producing a publishable manuscript.

Both Rob and Robyn are friendly, approchable people keen to lend a helping hand and pass on their expertise. Course prices are very reasonable and the courses deliver all that is promised. Due to their influence my writing in the future will have improved.

In the mean time I go on reading, writing and learning.
Rob Parnell
Robyn Opie
5-4-2009 047

Extract from the forthcoming book “A Night of Flames” by Moses Olufemi

May 6, 2009


Dinner was ready rather late and the family was only able to eat at 10:30pm. Mrs Obadeyi closed from work pretty early that evening but had a hard time getting home as the third mainland bridge was accidentally crossed by an empty petrol tanker that went to deliver fuel to a filling station at Ikoyi. The tanker driver had battled with the steering when he realised the brake had failed. It only took seconds before he lost control of the long vehicle as it turned to hit a side of the bridge , crossing the path of other vehicles. A lane was opened at the tail of the vehicle for motorists and other drivers to manage.

Drivers shouted at eachother, some vehicles developed unnecessary faults and soon, motorcycles appeared from all over; giving ride to people who were ready to pay twice the normal fare.

When it was evident that the brigde was completely blocked, Mrs Obadeyi knew it was time to take a motorcycle if she wanted to get home that night. Her wristwatch confirmed it was 8:30pm as she hailed down a motorcycle.

Her house was silent when she entered, she walked briskly to her room and got her clothes off in no time. A wrapper tied tightly around her as she hurried to the kitchen. She turned the gas on and lit the stove as well in order to prepare a late night meal.

Dayo was busy reading in his room. There was a test scheduled for 8:00am the next morning. He had various text books scattered on his table. Usually, reading wasnt his hobby but his performances during the first and second term of his fifth year in the Estate Grammer School had put him on the edge. Studying hard was the only of his promotion to the final year. Mrs Obadeyi had cautioned him of his care-free attitude towards academics. Football took most of his time and many assignments ended up undone.

“This term, I will not tolerate nonsense,” his mother had shouted when the school resumed its third term. ” No football, no hanging out with friends, no idle talk, no more guitar rehearsal.”

“But guitar rehearsal is a church thing,” Dayo protested.

“I must not catch you strumming on that guitar. None of it till further notice,” She said with a tone of finalisation.

He was struggling with some physics exercices when he heard his mother called. He closed the elementary physics he had on his table and went over to the kitchen.

“I need your assistance here,” Mrs Obadeyi said. Her voice was benigh. She handed a bucket half filled wth garri to him and concentrated on the pot of soup while he made eba. It was already past 10:00pm and there was no electricity.

Tomiwa and Olayinka were already asleep. They were woken up to eat but sleep had taken control of their being. Mrs Obadeyi tried to feed them. She suceeded in giving them alittle portion of the food and allowed them to go back to bed. She was sorry. She knew they would be woken up early the next morning to prepare for school. She ate what was left of their food and left hers untouched. She was more than tired. Yes, she was exhausted. The piles of files on her table, the rush for bus, the blockage on the bridge, all deprived her of her energy. She dumped the dishes in the kitchen and checked into Dayo’s room. Dayo had rushed over his food and returned to his room to continue with the physics exercises.

“Make sure you wash those dishes tonight,”

“Mummy, I have a test tomorrow and I still have a lot to read,” he responded.

“Wash them tonight,” Mrs Obadeyi insisted.

“Ooh!” Dayo said and followed it with a hiss as he stood.

He didn’t realise that she had taken some steps towards him. A sound emerged from his cheek as a slap landed on his face. It threw him off balance and he fell back into his chair.

“Several times have I warned you not to hiss at me again,” she said anonyingly, ” get out and go and wash those dishes right now.

She left him to nurse the lines on his face and went into her room. The slap was hot. A slap in the night where silence reigned. Tears rolled down as he walked to the kitchen. At first, he was annoyed. He washed very fast and flinged half cleaned dishes. When he got tired, he slowed down and washed normally. He fished out the half cleaned ones and washed them again. All dishes were clean and well arranged. The slap exhausted him. He went back to his room and gently locked the door. He looked at his table. He wanted to continue but he was really worn. He made a decision to sleep for a while, wake
up and continue reading. He would be refreshed. With that in mind, he laid on his bed and slept. His decision was quick.

* * * * * * * * *

It was a day in the middle of January and every material was dry and ready for fire. The books on the table caught fire from the candle. They were soon rendered into shreds of papers as it helped the table with some fire. Some burning papers flew about, landing on different flammable materials in the room. Dayo felt nothing as he shifted and rolled to the other side of the bed. His wardrobe was ablaze, the wooden door started burning but the bed was momentarily spared. The fire spread about and the ceiling
began to creak. Burning papers rolled under the bed and the mattress caught fire from beneath. The smoke from the foam was heavy. It entered his nose and he startled out of his sleep with a cough. He sat upright, coughing out strongly as the somke ran through his head. He could hardly breathe. He couldn’t shout. Fire was everywhere. Part of his bed was seriously on fire.

“M–u–m–m–y,” he managed to say. It was more of a whisper than a shout for help. With smoke all over, he couldn’t see. The burning mattress notified him of its plight as it burnt through where he sat. He jumped off the bed and shouted with a clearer voice.

“Ye—h!” He cried aloud. Fire had caught his trouser. One shout was far below enough to attract help. His room was far from his mothers’. His father’s room was closer to his but behold, father was far from home. He was on a business trip to Abuja. The dropping of the ceiling had begun. All the wooden planks were on fire. The celing fan was nailed to one of them. It dropped without making much noise. Dayo’s
eyes were in discomfort as the smoke tormented them. He was calling out for help weakly. He was still struglling with his trouser when the celing fan hit him on the head. He slumped.

* * * * * * * *

The thickness of the smoke hovered on her and made her uncomforable in her sleep. She opened her eyes and saw smoke filled her room. She quickly tried to breathe and rushed out of the room. The living room was not exceptional. Thick smoke as everywhere. The doorway was already burning. It was right about 1:00am. Flames oozed out from Dayo’s room and for a moment, she felt it wasn’t happening then she screamed.
“Ara dugbo, egba mi o, Ina!” She shouted in her local language.

The sofa in the living room was already burning. She wasted no more time. She ran to her kids room and broke the door open, regardless of it being locked or not. Tomiwa and Olayinka were sleeping soundly. Their room was not buring but it was partially filled with smoke. Tomiwa was younger. he was about three years old. She lifted him and yanked Olayinka off the bed and out of the room.
Neighbours started gathering. The burning flames was now evident from outside. Buckets of water were fetched. A big bag of detergent was brought by a woman who ran energetically to her nearby shop. People who occupied the ground floor of the building were evacuated. Ladder proved difficult to get and different persons suggested different methods of reaching into the burning flat upstairs. Some women became impatient, they started screaming and urging the men to do something. A man became apopletic by their impatience and asked the women to either move back or go away from the scene.
” Are we going to walk into the fire?” he asked angrily.
“Look!” a woman exclaimed as she pointed to Mrs Obadeyi who just emerged to the balcony, carrying Tomiwa. She had forcefully shattered the glass window but the bulglary prevented them from escaping through it. She looked up and quickly had another idea. She placed Tomiwa down and climbed up the window and held on to the bulglary with one hand. She leaned and reached out to the ceiling with her other hand. She made a fist and tried to break down an opening in the ceiling and it worked. She immediately remembered the dining table. She brushed down the cups, flask and spoons on it. She pulled the table to the spot she needed it. She wanted to carry her two children at once but it was not possible. It would be a child at a time.
“Stay right here,” she said to Olayinka as she lifted Tomiwa up into the roof and followed. Olayinka was rubbing her eyes. She crawled in the roof to a spot where she felt was directly over the balcony of her flat. She held on to a plank and and crushed the ceiling beneath with her leg. The ceiling came down and she carefully jumped down to the balcony. Her idea worked but there was no time for self appraisal. She helped Tomiwa who has started coughing out of the roof. She wanted to put him down and return to fetch Olayinka when she heard the neighbours. Some men ran close to her and asked her to throw the baby down.
” Let go of him, we will catch him,” a man encouraged.
She thought it was risky but perhaps that was the only option. She quickly lowered Tomiwa as the latter started crying and let go of him,”
“You have to jump down too,” the man said.
“My daughter is inside,” she said as she climbed back into the roof. Tomiwa was crying out her name but she didnt look back. Some women quickly took custody of the little baby as the men waited for his mother to re-surface. It was close to thirthy minutes since the fire fighters had been called.

Moses is a young Nigerian writer. He is the Author of “Imuli’s Journey”, “The beautiful Farm” and other children books. His forth coming titles are “A Night of Flames” (collection of short stories), “Dog City” and “Pastures” (a novel). He is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).

Interview with the Author Moses Olufemi

May 5, 2009

At the time my children started Primary School in Nigeria most children’s books in English were published by British publishers who had a monopoly of the market. Children’s reading books were often very uninspiring indeed. It is true that tales and stories in the local languages were available at that time usually badly printed and on poor quality paper.

At least two of the founding fathers of the Nigerian literary scene wrote some books for children. Chinua Achebe, most well-known for “Things Fall Apart” wrote “Chike and the River” (1966), “How the Leopard got his Claws” (1972), “The Flute” 1975 (which my children greatly enjoyed) and “The Drum” (1978). Cyprian Ekwensi wrote “The Drummer Boy” and “The Passport of Mallam Illa” (1960).

The publishing situation in Nigeria has long since changed and there is a plethora of young talent. One such young children’s writer is Moses Olufemi the author of “Imuli’s Journey” and “The Beautiful Farm”. Awaiting publication are “A Night of Flames” (a collection of short stories), “Dog City” and a novel “Pastures”. He is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors. According to Moses it is still not easy to find agents and publishers in Nigeria.

Moses was born in Lagos, Nigeria and besides writing is a computer programmer. He has been writing for the last eight years. When I inquired if his parents had read to him or told him stories the answer was a definite “no”. As to whether English classes at school had made him want to be a writer he responded “not exactly”- an intriguing reply. Moses refused to be drawn further on the subject. I received the impression that he considered these questions unimportant.

On the following questions he was more expansive. I asked Moses why he wrote for children and he said “I write for children because I first and foremost want to impart moral education through my writing. I want them to be better people in the future. this is the message my books carry.”

I was delighted to learn that the children’s book market in Nigeria is highly competitive and flourishing. Schools now purchase books by Nigerian authors for reading in class and this greatly increases an author’s sales.

Moses response to the question “Do libraries in Nigeria play an important role in children’s reading habits?” was that “Libraries in Nigeria are not really playing a major role yet”. Children apparently are not interested in reading outside school and Moses feels strongly that a reading campaign is needed to encourage children to read and to take a greater interest in literature.

I asked the question “What advice do you have for a novice writer”?to which the response was “I always advice young or aspiring writers never to give up. Rejection does not mean incompetence. If a publisher rejects your work. Refine such work and try out another publisher. Don’t give up.”

My final question to Moses was what was his great ambition in life and he gave me a very concise answer “To become a successful video producer. I would like to produce visual educational materials in future, most especially for use in Nigeria”.

I really wish him well.

An extract from “A Night of Flames” will be featured in my next Blog.

The Background to “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” by Dzagbe Cudjoe

May 2, 2009

As an ethnologist I have worked in museums in Germany, Ghana and Nigeria. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn about and appreciate the material culture of Africa.

Actually living and working in Ghana and Nigeria deepened my knowledge and appreciation of traditional life in the past. I came to deeply value the structures and moral values that these societies were attempting to maintain and uphold. These societies were not perfect, such a society never has and never will exist, and there are aspects which disturb me profoundly.

Traditionally concerns of the individual were subjugated to the well-being of the community. Unfortunately in many parts of the world the pendulum has swung totally in the opposite direction. Our emphasis and on the search for fulfillment as individuals has lead, in part at least, to an excessively materialistic and uncaring, selfish and mundane society. Science and Technology unless carefully applied can lead to impoverishment in other areas of life.

I had all these thoughts in mind when I began writing “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” which is a slightly misleading title. The stories are my own original creation. Anyone familiar with African traditional tales will know immediately that these stories are far from traditional. In traditional stories young people do not solve problems or direct  their Seniors in major  events.The way in which spiritual matters are expressed is mainly my own   interpretation although these truths are certainly implicit in the culture.

What is entirely accurate are the background details of village life in the past, the flora and fauna, the buildings and processes such as the making of funerary figures and iron smelting.

I have always been interested in pottery. In fact I used to make pots in Nigeria and fire them in a dustbin filled with sawdust. They emerged looking as if they had been hit by lightning. One of my proudest moments was when an artist who I greatly respect asked if I would let him have one of my pots in exchange for one of his batiks.

While working at the Ghana National Museum I took part in an expedition to Northern Ghana to try and establish whether traditional iron smelting was still taking place. There were no blacksmiths left who had actually smelted iron in this manner.There were, however, a number of very old men who remembered their male relatives doing this. It was from their recollections that furnaces were built and the processes demonstrated. “Fingers of Fire” incorporates this research.

I have always been fascinated by the brass weights which were used to weigh gold dust and gold nuggets. By the time I started collecting, the best examples were long since in the British Museum or in private collections throughout the world. The 70’s saw African Americans collecting avidly and sending prices way beyond my reach. I did collect some examples and then inherited a collection from my late father. He was a medical practitioner and acquired the collection from a patient who offered them to him in lieu of payment.The associations and proverbs linked to the gold weights in “Journey to the Chest of Gold” are genuine.

It is my hope that the details incorporated into the four stories  add to the readers interest, pleasure and understanding.  Soft Cover & E-Book also available through

What I did not manage to do on my trip to South Africa

April 24, 2009

I had been greatly looking forward to experiencing the vibrancy and excitement of dance, costume and drumming on my visit to South Africa at the beginning of the year. This and seeing Bushman paintings was not to be – a major,major, disappointment for me.

I knew that I was visiting Kwa-Zulu Natal at the wrong time of year for the famous Royal Reed Dance which takes place in September. The Zulu kind hosts the four day celebration at Nongoma the royal residence. This is a coming of age ceremony for young Zul maidens who show off their physical charms and singing and dancing skills. The festival known as Umkhosi woMhlanga in Zulu is named after a riverbed reed which is important in Zulu life. The reed stalks are believed to personify the power of nature and are carried by the young women in the dance. Only virgins are supposed to take part. If the girl is not a virgin it is believed this will be revealed to all by her reed stick breaking. She stand not just revealed but totally humiliated.

I did try to witness Zulu dancing and something of traditional Zulu life.

In the tourist office in Howick I picked up a glossy, attractively produced pamphlet entitled “Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience – Traditional Zulu hospitality. Under History is the following information:-“The Zulu-Mpophomeni Experience serves as a unique metaphor for the miracle in South Africa. Mpophomeni was founded in 1972 when the original settlement was moved under the segregationist policies of the apartheid government.

There was mention of Township Tours which included visits to the Wall of Reconciliation, an old farmhouse, and income-generating projects as part of community development. As well as a visit to a Sangoma (traditional Healer), a cemetary, Shembe Traditional Church and cultural activities such as Zulu dance and Township jive.

onnette my hostess had never visited the village so we set off with two of her children for our “Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience.” We were all full of anticiipation as we drove through the breathtaking countryside. We turned off the main road when we saw a sign for the “Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience”.

Suddenly we were in another world and for the first time on this trip I met Africa as I know it. I looked like everyone else. I was no longer a black face amongst a majority of white ones as in the shopping malls. No longer were the only “black” faces seen in town packing bags in supermarkets, cutting the verges, pushing carts and carrying and cleaning. Donnette and her two children perched on the back seat of the car were now a very obvious minority.

My heart lifted with delight at seeing goats and chickens and dogs with litters of puppies roaming around freely. Rows of neat houses lined one side of the road.

We drove confidently down the road for about two miles and then came to what appeared to be the centre of the town. We saw absolutely nothing that gave any information as to the Mpophomeni Experience. We were keenly aware that we were being carefully observed by a very wary population. I wanted to photograph the long queue of people waiting for transport but felt that this would not be appreciated by the townspeople so I didn’t

I was automatically addressed in Zulu (a lovely language) and people looked bewildered when I said that I didn’t speak the language. Donnette managed to find someone who spoke English and finally a young man with a car said we should follow him. A slightly inebriated gentleman squeezed onto the back seat with the children. We drove back the way we had come and the car we were following stopped in front of the community centre. We said a friendly goodbye to both men.

Truth to tell by this time we were all rather apprehensive and mystified. People we had actually spoken to were perfectly friendly but the general atmosphere was not. It was so odd that no one appeared to have heard of the Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience which was supposed to take place in their small town.

Donnette said that she didn’t feel safe and I reluctantly had to agree. She got out of the car to ask some women for directions but left the engine running. We followed their directions which seemed to lead further and further out of the town. No matter where we looked we just didn’t see anything that was remotely like what we were looking for. By this time, Donnette’s daughter whi is very sensitive was nervous and upset. The decision to abandon the expedition was unanimous.

We did, however, drive further along the road to see if there was perhaps another entrance. The road started to climb as we approached the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. After several kilometers we turned round and headed in the direction of home.

We stopped at a Plant Nursery which offered teas. The place was idyllic with wonderful views and beautiful trees and plants. It is run by a family, two of whom had just returned to South Africa after ten unsatisfactory years in England. They too had never heard of the “Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism experience” which should have been a few miles away from them.

Donnette and I have come to the conclusion that the Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience with traditional Zulu hospitality exists only when busloads of overseas visitors roll into town. No doubt it is an interesting and entertaining experience but one which offers a totally stage-managed view of traditional Zulu life. I suspect that as an ethnologist I would have found it highly unsatisfactory.

So hopefully in the future I will be able to return to South Africa and witness the beauty of traditional dance.

dzagbe_dvd-cover274x184mm_final_print_new2 Enjoy yourself while experiencing the de-stressing and exhilirating effects of African dance. Try and copy the dancers if you wish or just use their movements and the music to inspire you to create your own authentic, original dance. But most importantly have fun and if possible have a party at the same time. Soft Cover & E book Now available through