Tsion Kiros is the founder of Midako Publishing, a children’s book publisher based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since 2014, Midako Publishing has released more than 200 titles written in Ethiopian languages, such as Amharic and Oromo, as well as English. I was delighted when Tsion agreed to share the story of her publishing journey.
Tsion, you have a background in PR and communications. Why did you decide to branch into children’s book publishing?
When my children were 3 and 5 I was reading only English books for them. I felt like I was familiarising them with everything western – names, places, fairy tales, history, and so on. There was nothing in the books that reflected their realities. It was as if their games, jokes, challenges, history and language had no value.
I branched into children’s books so that my children will see themselves in books and know that their lives matter.
If you had to use three words to describe Midako Publishing’s personality, what would they be?
Innovative, independent and of course persistent just like the Midako antelope (the common duiker).
Midako Publishing is currently releasing a series of decodable books in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Can you tell us more about this exciting initiative?
The Ge’ez alphabet has over 300 fedels. There are 34 basic fedels and each has 7 sounds/vowels constructed by adding a symbol. Midako’s innovative method teaches the basic fedels initially then gradually adds the symbols to change the sounds and thus enables new words to be introduced.
Midako develops worksheets at each level and children are taught the sounds of new words. They are only given decodable books that use words or fedels and symbols that they have learnt to ensure they can read the whole story.
Using our method, we have so far developed 30 decodable books at 5 levels, with 20 more to go. Once we finish producing the books and have improved our worksheets and teacher’s guide – following feedback from teachers and test group students – we hope to be able to take our series to the Ministry of Education for endorsement. It could potentially be used in schools all over the country.
You have also authored a number of titles for Midako Publishing, including Sara’s Quest, a story that introduces the reader to important times in Ethiopian history. What was the inspiration behind this particular book?
When I was growing up my father would tell us his age only to change it after a conversation with a relative visiting from his village. The visitors would use references from history or from what happened in their village at around the time my father was born. My father passed away in 2016 at around the age of 88. Even after his death and during the funeral people had their own facts about how old he was. Sara’s Quest is about a 12-year-old girl who tries to figure out her grandfather’s age by going back in time to major events in Ethiopian history.
Do you plan to write any more books in the near future?
I don’t consider myself a writer. But if a great idea comes to mind I would not hesitate to write.
What are your plans and aspirations for Midako Publishing moving forward? What are the biggest challenges you are facing?
My number one priority is to get children to read before they are in enrolled in grade one. As it stands now, and according to the government of Ethiopia, a significant number of students in Ethiopia read 0 words correctly at grade 2.* This does not have to be. If children are taught with the right approach and enough resources they can learn to read Amharic before they even get to grade 1.
Our test group students have shown us that children do learn to read and do fall in love with reading. Our major challenge now – with our test group – is producing enough books to satisfy their reading needs.
Our test group has read 30 books so far. After reading our 50 decodable books there will be no books at their level in the market to help them increase their comprehension and reading fluency. Our next big challenge is producing more books for children who have learnt to read. However, finance at Midako is a major hindrance. I use money from my personal account to finance the decodable books and that account is drying up :).
Where can readers buy your books?
Our picture books and chapter books can be found at Mega Book Store in Addis Ababa. Our decodable books are not in the book store yet but you can call us or drop us an email to purchase from our office. You can also find some of our books on Amazon.
Thank you for your time, Tsion!
*Grade 2 is the second year of primary school in Ethiopia.
Photographs and book illustrations courtesy of Tsion Kiros, Midako Publishing.