Home > Uncategorized > Africa is Not a Country

Africa is Not a Country

November 16, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

written by Linda Williams, May 2012

As a librarian serving children’s and teen librarians in Connecticut, and a staunch believer in the power of stories to teach, entertain, and generally broaden perspectives, I often find myself compiling lists of books that I hope will be used to this end.

I also serve as a co-representative to the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a collaborative of 49 states which plans and administers a theme-based library summer reading program. This year’s program for children, “One World, Many Stories,” has a global/multicultural theme. A-hah! A perfect opportunity to bring forth geography based lists of books for children and teens.

It’s troublesome when I hear that kids are studying “Africa.” I’m not the only one disturbed. A Nigerian blogger posts: “It baffles me, this stereotype of an indistinct Africa. An Africa whose separate entities are not worth recognising or getting to know.” Do Americans know that Africa is not a country? With Egypt and Libya in the news, can we assume Americans even know where these countries are? Highly doubtful given the news that “after more than three years of combat and nearly 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 still cannot find Iraq on a map.” Even high level politicians don’t even seem to recognize that Africa is not “a nation.” It begs the question: Is it important in an increasingly global and connected society, to understand geography and cultural differences?

If we believe it is important, how are we teaching African geography here in the United States (notice I didn’t say “here in North America”)? Do we stress the diversity of African countries and cultures? Are children getting it?

There are many well-meaning lists and instructions out on the internet (example), but I have yet to find a list, like the lists of Africa – Picture Books and Africa – Fiction, posted to our summer reading planning blog, that break this [size] continent into it’s 53 countries.

What I learned in compiling these lists was that many African countries are not represented at all in children’s books.The majority of books set in the countries that are represented are historical (a few)  or are about Americans in that country. Where are the books about life in modern day Togo? Or hey, with all that’s going on in Libya, do you think I could find you a story that takes place there (according to the excellent searchable Africa Access database, there’s one – set a century ago)?

Herein lies my plea to publishers. Please publish more books set in present day African nations, with stories about the native people of that nation.

If you don’t think it’s important, look at this map. And test your knowledge. How fast can you do this Africa puzzle?

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