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It’s child abuse to neglect Children’s Literature, say experts

By Anote Ajeluorou and Uchechi Okafor   |   30 September 2015   |   3:33 am  
Jury member, Prof. Charles Bodunde (left); jury chair University of Jos don, Prof. Uwem Iwoketok; NLNG General Manager, External Relations, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke; Chairman, Advisory Board, prof. Ayo Banjo, member Advisory Board, Prof. Ben Elugbe; International Consultant Jury and University of Newcastle don, Prof. Kim Reynolds and member, Advisory Board, Prof. Jerry Agada at the world press conference last Friday to announce the nil prize by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited-sponsored The Nigeria Prize for Literature… in Lagos

Jury member, Prof. Charles Bodunde (left); jury chair University of Jos don, Prof. Uwem Iwoketok; NLNG General Manager, External Relations, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke; Chairman, Advisory Board, prof. Ayo Banjo, member Advisory Board, Prof. Ben Elugbe; International Consultant Jury and University of Newcastle don, Prof. Kim Reynolds and member, Advisory Board, Prof. Jerry Agada at the world press conference last Friday to announce the nil prize by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited-sponsored The Nigeria Prize for Literature… in Lagos

Child abuse is a very all-inclusive crime. It manifests in diverse forms. One is neglecting children’s literature. All over the world, what you find is literature for and about adults. I’m not alone in championing children’s literature. Nigeria’s Children’s Literature is yet to be fully addressed and explored. Perhaps, both government, writers in general and educationists should be concerned about addressing children’s literature in general. My joy is that there is hope”.

This was the submission of University of Jos’ don, Prof. Uwem Iwoketok while commenting on the performance of Nigerian writers at this year’s The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2015. The coveted USD$100,000 prize money on Children Literature category could not go to any writer, as there was no winner when it was announced last Friday. in Lagos.

And like 2004 (prose) and 2009 (poetry), 2015 will go down as another year the prize sponsored by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited will not go to any writer. In the opinion of the judges, both local and international, the writers failed to write stories good enough for children’s consumption. Out of the 109 entries, only 20 met the preliminary criteria for assessment.

While making the announcement in Lagos, Chairman of Advisory Board for the prize Prof. Ayo Banjo said the entries submitted for the prize celebrated inappropriate characteristics inimical to children’s wellbeing.

According to him, “Children’s literature molds, teaches, corrects, entertains and crucially inspires the next generation of readers and writers. But in most of the entries for this year’s contest, it was discovered that inappropriate prominence was given to the following: violence, eroticism, mediocrity, cheating in examinations, bullying, exploration in mysticism and negative peer-pressure”.

Also, the International Consultant Jury and University of Newcastle, U.K., don Prof. Kim Reynolds said it was important to have a thriving children’s literature to help nurture the next generation of readers, writers and thinkers, saying, “I think Nigerians should be grateful to Nigeria LNG for having the vision to recognize that it is not just writing for adults in literature genre that’s important. As my colleague has observed, writing for children is the beginning of nurturing the next generation of writers, readers and thinkers; that’s why it is very important to support this kind of writing as it is recognized and used all over the world. Literature transcends place and time, and we enjoy having diverse literatures where we are.

“It has been interesting though disappointing that the judges weren’t able to find a great children’s book this year but that doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future. The judges were very exact and precise. Of all the international competitions that I was witnessed in the past they should be congratulated.

“It is not very easy when you are confronted with expectations from writers, publishers and the media as it is very tempting to produce a winner but it takes a certain amount of courage to stand their ground and say that the books are not up to standard. They were absolutely correct and it has made my job a lot easier because I don’t want to go about correcting experts and I’m sure they are working to improve the creativity of the writers so that next time they would be able to produce a winner”.

Banjo also blamed the writers for their inability to grasp what children’s literature meant and so wrote about children rather than literature meant for children’s consumption. According to him, “Perhaps at this point, it is necessary to explain very briefly what children’s literature entails. Children’s literature reflects the cultural milieu, norms and values of any given society. It molds, teaches, corrects, entertains and crucially inspires the next generation of readers and writers. In most of the entries for this year’s contest, it was discovered that inappropriate prominence was given to the following: violence, eroticism, mediocrity, cheating in examinations, bullying, exploration in mysticism and negative peer-pressure.

“A distinction needs to be made between children’s literature and literature about children. Children’s literature should be a creative work of aesthetic and social values for children.

“This year, 109 entries were received. 89 entries did not meet the preliminary criteria for assessment. This number represents 81.6% of the total number of entries received for 2015. The percentage, by any standard, is worrying, especially as there is a paucity of literature for children. Creative writers are urged to pay particular attention to children’s literature because this is the fundamental stage for child growth and consequently national development. In this year’s competition, the following criteria were used for assessing the entries: language\diction, theme(s)/content, social relevance, style, quality of production and originality.

“Language plays a major role in literary production. Creative writers are normally expected to pay special attention to the use of language, particularly so with regard to children’s literature. The Nigeria Prize for Literature demands stylistic excellence as manifested through an original and authoritative voice, narrative coherence, and technically accurate writing. Unfortunately, the entries this year fall short of this expectation as each book was found to manifest incompetence in the use of language. Generally, published works are expected to be attractive, attention-catching and of good quality. The entries assessed for the 2015 The Nigeria Prize for Literature competition did not reflect the above qualities to an acceptable degree. Many of them showed very little or no evidence of good editing”.

However, rather than see the nil prize as a setback, the General Manager, External Relations, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke said opportunity to forge a better writing community had presented itself with the no prize announcement. Just like in 2009, he said the prize money would be channeled to organising a writers’ workshop to help address observed lapses in children’s literature in the country.

According to him, “Some may be inclined to see this as a challenge but at Nigeria LNG we see an opportunity. For us, it is time to go back to the drawing board to identify the root causes of the problems and seek for ways to intervene. In this circumstance, the question that earnestly begs for an urgent answer now is: what next? I speak for NLNG, when I say that there will be no wavering and no retreat regarding our commitment to continuous investment in the development of literature and the literary arts in Nigeria.

“I wish to add that Nigeria LNG stands firmly behind the decision of the judges, the advisory board and the international consultant. This prize which we bequeath to Nigeria will be awarded for no other reason than excellence.

“Working with our partners and stakeholders, we plan to invest in the convening of a children’s literature capacity building workshop. The clear objective here is to work constructively to address what we see as an identified gap. One of the targets of that workshop will be to improve the abilities of the writers in this genre of children’s literature”.



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