As with so many ‘stopovers’ on this journey, I had little prior knowledge of Ethiopia, so it has been a joy to discover more. Ethiopia is a vast country with a strong tradition of oral storytelling, but very few books for children, especially in local Ethiopian languages. In recent years, however, a passionate group of organisations and individuals, both in Ethiopia and in the diaspora, have worked hard to change this by creating an infrastructure for learning and discovery, promoting literacy and a reading culture – and, of course, by publishing books that resonate with Ethiopian children and adults alike.
Ethiopia Reads is one such organisation. Since 1998, it has helped to build 5 schools and start 72 libraries in Ethiopia. It even has a horse-powered mobile library that brings books to children in remote and rural communities. And the organisation runs training sessions for library managers and teachers across the country, providing them with the tools to support their readers. A select number of books are available for sale on the Ethiopia Reads website, including a bilingual Amharic/English edition of Silly Mammo, an Ethiopian folktale retold by Yohannes Gebregeorgis and illustrated by Bogale Belachew.
The last few years have seen another couple of exciting initiatives on the Ethiopian children’s book scene. The first is Midako Publishing, established in 2014 by Tsion Kiros in Addis Ababa. Her children’s publishing company has now released more than 200 titles written in Ethiopian languages, such as Amharic and Oromo, as well as English. I am thrilled to be featuring an interview with Tsion about her publishing journey as part of my exploration of children’s books in Ethiopia.
Then last year on Twitter, I learnt about Ready Set Go books, founded by award-winning author Jane Kurtz and her sister Caroline. Both grew up and learned to read in Maji, Ethiopia. Their aim is to create ‘colourful, culturally appropriate books’ in a variety of local Ethiopian languages and English. The project is supported by not-for-profit Open Hearts Big Dreams and proceeds from every title sold on Amazon go towards producing and distributing Ready Set Go books in Ethiopia. I’ll be sharing one of these fabulous titles on my site next week.
Also worthy of mention are the annual HOHE literary awards for Ethiopian books in five categories, including children’s books. As well as recognising literary merit, the awards aim to promote creative writing and a foster a reading culture in Ethiopia. I also love the look of Tsehai Loves Learning, an award-winning educational TV program in Amharic aimed at pre-schoolers, produced by husband and wife team Shane Etzenhouser and Bruktawit Tigabu. Select episodes of the show are available in other Ethiopian languages.
For an account of the history of Ethiopian children’s literature, the tradition of oral storytelling in Ethiopian children’s stories and so much more, I highly recommend taking a look at Helen Papworth’s 2011 PhD thesis. Helen has illustrated a number of decodable Amharic picture books for Midako Publishing and is also a children’s book author and editor, who has published titles in both English and Amharic.
Finally, do take a browse through the wonderful Ethiopian Folktales website. It is a treasure trove of over 300 Ethiopian stories classed by region, collected by Elizabeth Laird between 1997 and 2001; some of the original recordings are available online too. The stories were used to produce books in simplified English for children in every Ethiopian region. Only eight were printed and distributed due to a lack of funding for the project.
I’ll be writing a few more posts over the next couple of weeks, featuring:
- Ready Set Read Stories from Ethiopia: Volume 1 (bilingual Amharic/English title) by Jane Kurtz, translated by Amlaku B. Eshetie and Woubeshet Ayenew, with illustrations by Ruby Stott, Eden Hakala, Jackie Farah, Humphrey Nelms, Celeste Burkholder and Beth Neel (Ready, Set, Go Books, 2017).
- Sara’s Quest (available in Amharic and English editions) by Tsion Kiros, illustrated by Desalegne Enawgaw (Midako Publishing, 2017)
- An interview with Tsion Kiros, founder of Midako Publishing.
I hope you enjoy reading these posts!
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Jane Kurtz for providing me with some valuable suggestions on where to find out more about Ethiopian children’s literature.[Image: Ethiopian landscape by Mariusz Kluzniak, made available under a creative commons licence. Source: flickr.com]