Last week, Beverley Naidoo, the acclaimed children’s writer from South Africa, was in the United States as the keynote speaker for the USBBY conference. I was lucky enough to do several events with her in the Bay Area after her talk was through. We presented at two high schools in San Francisco–Mission High School and George Washington High School. We presented on animals in Africa and animals in our books–which is more complicated than you’d think. Animals in my book, This Thing Called the Future, are all presented on a spiritual level when Khosi encounters witchcraft. For Beverley, she refused to write about or think about animals for so long since she remembered how Africans were presented as animals in children’s picture books when she was a child (Babar being a famous example). But recently, she realized that Aesop must have been North African rather than Greek, that his tales are stamped with African-ness, and so she has begun re-telling Aesop’s tales.
On Thursday, we had a presentation and discussion at Stanford, co-sponsored with the Center for African Studies and the Education Department. We talked about the way that stories embed ideas in children, both negative and positive, and we discussed the possible ways books can be used, and the way that both of us awakened (through childhood and beyond) to the social realities around us that have caused both of us to write books that we believe really matter.