Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Claudette Odour
The Publish Your Own Book in Two Hours is a project started by the 826 National, USA. The 826 National is a volunteer programme involving one-on-one tutorship and mentorship of children, especially those that come from the less fortunate backgrounds. This programme runs a Publish Your Own Book In Two Hours project where children come together with the literary goal of getting their stories in print and book form in just two hours.
Morphing this innovative and highly successful model, Storymoja tested the Kenyan waters in a pilot project launched within the October 2010 Storymoja Hay Festival Kenya (SHFK).
This project was facilitated by Ryan Lewis, the Operations Manager for 826 National, USA. He worked with writers Aleya Kassam, Claudette Oduor, Michael Onsando and Sheila Maingi, as well as with artists Dayan, Yassir, Gor, Fred, Andrew and Sydney.
The writers and artists worked with children in an amazing process spanning two hours, right from the structuring of a story to the cover blurb and reader’s reviews. In short, as its name suggests, children published their books in just two hours!
The programme that ran through the duration of the festival was a fun and creative way to bring literary awareness to children, and based on the response from the children, it was a huge success. The programme opened its doors to children between the ages of eight and fourteen from schools such as Greensteads, Kibera Primary School, Karen C Primary School and Aga Khan Academy, among others.
At first, the children and writers came up with a story skeleton- the cliff hanger. Together, they fleshed out the details of the story, and then individually, came up with their own endings. While they worked, the artists drew their portraits and illustrated their stories.
Immediately they were done, their stories were run through Mr. Story Hippo’s press. As Ryan Lewis liked to explain to the children, Mr. Story Hippo was a cranky editor that liked to sleep, scream and throw stories in the rubbish heap. He pushed the children to their wits’ end, and in return, while he published their stories, the children made funny caricatures of him.
The writers that worked in this project had their faith in the literary future of Kenya and Africa firmly established. It was amazing to watch the sheer depth of the children’s creativity. The children had a hyperactive imagination. They gave their characters such traits as the mortal fear of their reflection and of tripping on their shoelaces. Out of seemingly mundane traits as these, the children spun wonderful and humorous tales.
Their stories left all the writers in stitches. The plot was simple but unforgettable, and very funny. What the writers realized was that children prefer to learn serious lessons through humour, and they do so in a way that adults overlook. For example, in one story, the heroine overcame the villain, Mr. Pumpkinhead, by tickling him and making him laugh to death.
The children had an impressive knowledge of story structure, plot, setting, character and suspense. It also came out clearly that children have a strong sense of good and evil. In their stories, good always triumphs over evil.
After the whole process, the children wrote a blurb about themselves, just like newly published authors. They were asked to approach some of the famous authors attending the festival to have them read their stories and write them early reviews of their newly published books.
The programme was not only interesting to the children and writers, but also to the parents accompanying the children as well as the media. Some of the children got the chance to showcase their writing to the world through television interviews by local and international media.
Aleya Kassam, one of the writers involved in the project, said the highlight of the project was when the children got their shiny bright coloured books in their hands for the first time and marvelled at the brilliance of their work.
Aleya hopes that this creative venture can be replicated among children from various backgrounds. She hopes that the society shall frame and sell this inspiring idea to its children and make it a part of them.
These sentiments are echoed by Ryan Lewis who was moved by the change he saw in the children.
“At first they were sceptical about the whole thing,” Ryan said. “Publishing a book in two hours sounds almost ridiculous. But then they get into it and come up with really exciting stories. They get so engaged in the project. They become inspired and discover that learning can be fun. And then they finally hold their own books in their hands, and the look in their faces is priceless.”
He added that the onus is on parents and teachers to come up with projects such as these, to show children that they are good writers and readers.
“In the US where this project was first began, we have adults pick up books that they published when they were children. They are inspired anew as the memories gush back. They remember that they are capable of anything.”
The success of such a programme can only be measured by its effect on the children involved.
“I remember speaking to one of the parents,” Aleya said. “She couldn’t get her son to read. But after the project, he couldn’t put his newly published book away. He read it over and over again, and just like that, he picked up other books and began to read.”
As the writers teach their craft a child at a time, Kenya’s literary future can only be bright.