“If you want to hide something from a black person, hide it in a book.”

I really hope that we have all heard the above statement because if we have not, that right there is the problem – we don’t read!

But aren’t you dismayed that people can be so annoying as to claim such knowledge of us? I am, because I am an African, and I love to read, and I actually do read. Dismayed as I am, I take it as a challenge.

I am more hurt because the annoying statement is the bitter truth. We have very few readers in Kenya, for instance. Count for me how many libraries are in your hood. No, not video libraries, count the BOOK libraries. Most of us have counted zero. We just have not created a reading culture in the country. Community libraries are on the decline, public schools libraries direly need restocking (or building) and we are yet to at least come up with a few container-libraries that would enliven the spirit of reading.

As a result, our young people can barely express themselves coherently and their written language is at an entirely different level of messy. Interviewing panellists for jobs will constantly tell you that there is a big disconnect between the interviewee’s graduation certificate and the interviewee himself. I don’t know whether the bigger mess is that at school we only read what we will be examined for, or that we have very little language to express the little we have read. I cannot compare the mess that most of us do know much beyond our academic trainings with the mess that even simple straight-forward questions are hard to answer in clear language. But the winning mess would be that if we were asked to write our answers down, the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors would require an aspirin for the reader. Either way, something is wrong and the non-readers have got to be fixed.

We can’t fix the entire population (although we must pursue the idea of container libraries – it is doable by anyone, really). However, if you are a parent, you have a life in your hands that you have been entrusted with, to guide and to nurture, and to give unto the society a responsible Kenyan citizen.

Do you know that your child can love to read for pleasure and not just for school/exams?

Do you know that you do not have to look for an extra holiday activity for your child?

Do you know you could buy a little less cartoon CD’s and toys, and deliberately get your child a book?


  • Read. Yes, you.You’ve got to read.

Children learn more through imitation than through instruction. If your children see you reading, they are more likely to develop an interest in reading. This means that you also have to put your kindle down (or whichever app you use to read electronically), at least sometimes. I covered more on reading print versus electronic text in this article.

  • Buy your baby some books.

There are board books that are not easy to tear, buy those for the toddlers. Better still, there are even the soft books for babies with touch and feel textures, they come made of cloth and they are light and even if they are just four pages, that is all the reading a baby needs.

  • Read out loud to your baby.

Read out loud to your baby, and to your child who cannot yet read. Let them experience the wonder and the joy that flipping a page brings. Apply yourself to this; do the voices, the faces, and definitely express the emotions. Enjoy!

  • Have a book-shelf for your children.

Books,unlike medicine, don’t have to be kept out of children’s reach. Let your children’s books be accessible to them, let them learn to handle their books with care, let them learn the consequences of mishandling once they spoil their favourite reads. It will be a slow process, but eventually they learn to be responsible. Let your child know that they can always reach for a book and return it to a specific place when they no longer want to read it or pretend to read it; that they are under no pressure to read. A reachable bookshelf will communicate to your children that they have control over their reading or not reading. And because they see you read, they will choose to read. If you need an easy bookshelf idea for your child, read this.

  • Get them books they will want to read.

You know your child best. You know what fascinates them. Get them books about that, and those books will be their favourite books. My 3 year old (who cannot yet read) loves teletubbies so much, we have watched back to back episodes of teletubbies with her. Thus the day I saw a teletubbies book, I literally jumped for it. It is the book she most often pulls out of her bookshelf, it is the book we have read most and because it has this big illustrations and two sentences per page, she has known the story quite well and will often be caught “reading” it to her baby sister (the model in the picture in this post). Much of this “reading” however is paraphrased and full of additives that do not exist in the book. I don’t care. I know that once she learns her sounds, it will be one of her first reads.

When she was younger, I bought books about colours because she loved identifying colours. At some point she was obsessed with naming vegetables, I bought a big baby book full of fruits and vegetables. I have had quite a few successes at buying books she loved, but to say the truth, I have also bought books she barely looked at.

  • Buy the books they’re reading at school

Ask your child’s teacher. Your child is likely to be interested in a book that they have heard their teacher read to them at school. Never mind the repetition, they don’t.

  • Have a library treat

This is for your older children who can actually read. Go to the library with them as your weekend activity, you will be amazed that our libraries, though lacking very current material, still have a lot to offer. Well, much better than nothing, hey!

I know for a fact that the Kenya National Library at Community area and at BuruBuru Estate are functional. Walk into Macmillan library in Nairobi or Kenya National Archives and find out what’s the deal. Try at the Museum, ask at Rahimtullah. I trust that you read, so it shall not be hard for you to find these libraries. When I was young, there was a community library at Soweto slum near Kayole estate…it had the juiciest books. I hope it still exists. At Ngumo Estate too, a kind person runs a small library. Find that out.

When you take your older child for a library treat, have a read and afterwards make it fun. Let it come along with a lunch-date or a movie-date or whatever else your child loves to do.

Let’s rubbish the thought that if somebody wants to hide something from a black person, they can put it in a book.

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