Children's Literature in Ghana
This post is to reflect on the process of researching children's literature in Ghana and share what this research project has taught me. Besides the obvious process of learning something new about a country I was generally unfamilar with, this project gave me a chance at reimaging literacy from a different point of view. I found it difficult not to compare my own life as a child with the children who were reading the literature that we researched. Until recently, children's literature in Ghana was imported from other countries and featured characters that were completley dissimilar from the readers. Children who wanted to read or who were told to read had no choice of what they would like to read; they associated books with only having characters that were unlike them. Relating to the content of the story was difficult and encouraged these children to think in a way that devalued their own identity because of the emphasis on other stories.
When I think about what I read when I was little and even in high school, I remember reading stories of children who were like me and that I could easily relate to on many different levels. With characters from the United States with lives similar to my own, it was easy for me to think that everyone read stories about people like themselves. There was only an occasional book from a different culture or country and although this increased a little as I went into high school, there was always the danger of being introduced to a single story. I didn't get to choose exactly what I was reading for school, but the assignments were books that most members of the class could easily relate to.
I was most surprised by how long it has taken for projects like the Golden Baobab and other literacy efforts to have started. It is difficult to think about how lucky I am to have read books and been encouraged to read through texts I could relate to. The idea that children in Ghana are just recently being allowed to have these experiences is very unsettling; it is hard to imagine how I would consider reading and the world around me if I had only read books about children in Ghana. Reading is something that is important for many reasons; besides helping with reading and writing skillls, books are a gateway to knowledge and introduce ideas to the readers. Great books encourage readers to think in new ways and suggest that books are relevant sources for making connections to real life. If the books being read don't encourage the reader to make connections, it is difficult to value the text on a broader scale beyond the immediate reading comprehension skills.
Researching this project helped me think about my placement in a new way. Whenever students read a book, they need to verbally or textually record connections they make with the text. These connections can be in the form of text to text, text to self, or text to other; students always have a lot of connections to make in each cateogry. The success of this exercise was heavily influenced by the reality that students were reading texts that they could make connections to. If they had been reading books from Ghana, I think that there would have been a lot less connections and a lot more questions. Although questions are great and an irreplaceable aspect of learning, there needs to be a balance between questioning and relating in order to get the most from a text or a situation.
This research experience has made me wonder what classrooms across the world are reading. Just because students are reading books about experiences of children in the United States doesn't mean that all students in those classrooms are relating with the texts. Since I myself read books that mostly served as texts that I could easily connect with, it is difficult to fully imagine growing up reading stories that made myself feel as an outsider. I think it would be interesting to ask students how they connect with the text they are reading instead of just asking what they have learned or notice about the text. Making sure students can connect with what they read is extremely important in ensuring interest in reading and therefore, fostering a lasting connection with books. I am curious to see how many students who read stories that they couldn't relate to gave up on reading or felt frustrated in class. Maintaining interest in books, and in the larger curriculum, is an extremely necessary method of helping students stay interested in learning in whatever way suits them best.