Edmonton

Edmonton woman publishes books that inspire children of African descent

Edmonton-based Sandra Muchekeza has always loved books and is now embarking on a new literary adventure, publishing books that reflect African and other black perspectives.

It's 'great to read books that reflect who you are'

Edmonton-based Sandra Muchekeza (left) and her sister Dorothy Ghettuba Pala (right) have launched a publishing company called Asili Kids, focused on stories told from African and other black perspectives. (Sandra Muchekeza)

As children in Kenya, Sandra Muchekeza and her sister loved books.

They devoured adventure stories by authors like Enid Blyton, a British woman whose post-war writing was wildly popular but later criticized for sexist and xenophobic caricatures.

"We loved them but we didn't have that many books that reflected our own reality, even growing up in Kenya," Muchekeza told CBC's Edmonton AM this week. "They were just these things that were looking out."

Now, Muchekeza and her sister are embarking on a new literary adventure, launching Asili Kids, which publishes books that reflect African and other black perspectives.

"We've been taken aback by the interest. What that means to us is there are a lot of people who are in a similar position, who want to have their kids read stories they can identify with and stories they can share with other children to say, 'Look, this is where I come from.'"

Muchekeza and her sister, Dorothy Ghettuba Pala, launched the company in September. It's a labour of love — Muchekeza has a full-time job in finance in Edmonton and her sister is based in Kenya.

They've currently published six books and the company is distributor for another, Harriet's Humongous Hair, by author NiLo, also known as Nichola Lorimer. In the book, a young girl discovers what happens when she refuses to get her hair done.
Asili Books features books such as Harriet's Humongous Hair, by NiLo. (Supplied/Asili Kids)

"The idea of a kid not wanting to sit still and get their hair done is almost universal in black communities, across different countries and cultures," Lorimer said.

Lorimer, a natural hair-care specialist, would tell the story to children as she worked on their hair. Their parents said she should get the story on paper. 

Other books include titles such as The Monkey and the Crocodile, which is based on a traditional African folk tale. Muchekeza explains the genre often features a small but clever animal that outsmarts a bigger, stronger beast.

Asili means 'authentic' or 'the beginning' in Swahili. Muchekeza hopes the books inspire children of African descent to take pride in their heritage and their identity. 

"I think it's good to read widely but I think it's also great to read books that reflect who you are, especially the kids who grow up in areas where they are the minority," Muchekeza said.

"They may have an identity crisis at some point in their lives, asking, 'Who am I?'"

But she also stresses that the books are meant for all kids to enjoy and to learn from.

"It's a benefit for kids to know the world is a big place and there are children from all over the world. This is their life. They're just like me; they may be different from me in some ways, but they still like to do the same things."

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