Teresa Oyibo Ameh, who hails from Kogi state, is one of the reputable children’s writers of the moment. A mother and philanthropist, Ameh has seven children titles to her credit: ‘The Twins Visits’, ‘The Stepmother and other stories’ ,‘Funmi the Polite Girl and other stories’, ‘Lessons from Aunty Talatu’, ‘Drop That Phone’, ‘The Only Son, and ‘The Freedom Day Party’. She is the brain behind ‘Aunty Talatu Read campaign’ which has since become a brand that’s synonymous with reading and learning for children in Africa. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, Ameh, while revealing how privileged she feels writing books that cater to children’s formative needs, also said children writers should avoid being too preachy or imposing in their story-telling
At what point did you discover that writing for children is your forte? Because most children writers say writing for children became a lot easier when they became mothers. Is your own experience the same or different?
I got interested in children’s books when I did my practice of librarianship at the children’s library of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. However, motherhood sharpened that interest further. My son and I had story-telling sessions every evening. We would weave stories from our daily experiences. These stories had a positive effect on him. I decided then to put some of the stories into writing and came up with my first three books – ‘Funmi The Police Girl and Other Stories, ‘The stepmothers And Other Stories’, and ‘The Twins’ Visits’. Therefore, I will say, yes, motherhood made it easier because even though the idea was in me all the while, it came to fruition through the story-telling sessions with my son.
What particular joy do you derive writing for children, since there are other genres for adults and you chose not to tow that line?
Talking about the joy I derive in writing for children, I would say I feel so privileged being able to play a role in the formative life of our children. I am always careful to impact them positively. Presently, writing for children has become a very comfortable zone for me. Children react positively to my stories and they see me as one of them. I once walked into a crowd and hear whispers of ‘Aunty Talatu’. The joy I feel cannot be quantified.
Expectedly, the bulk of writing for children is driven at a particular thematic preoccupation of say: morality, decency, courtesy, fun and what have you? However, in an interview with Daily Trust last year, you were quoted as saying that writing for children was not all about morality. What is your take on that?
People tend to see children’s writers as just writers whose duty is to talk about decency, courtesy, etc. Sadly, some writers even think that is all that is required of them. The main reason for writing for children is to churn out interesting books/stories for children to read – Books that will appeal to children because they are all about them. We should avoid being too preachy or imposing our views on them. The children need to learn about their culture, their environment, the world around them, and the world they never experienced in real life. What happens to adventure, education, travel, etc.? My book, ‘The Twins’ Visit’ takes the child to the village. A child who has never been to the village will get really excited. It is meant to open the eyes of the children who have lived all their life in the city that village is an interesting place. ‘The Only Son’ is a story about a village boy who was so eager to go to the city. We read about his experiences in the city. He found out that he preferred life in the village. ‘The Freedom Day Party’ tends to promote the dress culture of the Yorubas. Of course, I try to portray morality but mildly. It is not the main thrust of my stories.
Could you then describe who a child of your dream is?
The child of my dream is a child who is well versed in all aspects of life, who can stand his ground among his peers, and adapt wherever he finds himself, who can contribute intelligently when any subject is being discussed. I believe a confident child will stand out, anywhere, anytime.
You have donated mini-libraries to some orphanage homes in Abuja. This has clearly demonstrated how passionate you are about reaching out, not only to children, but also to the disadvantaged ones. How do you hope to be remembered?
I hope to be remembered as that person who impacted positively in the life of children, irrespective of their status.
You are one of the ten female authors honoured by the Association of Nigeria Authors, Abuja chapter recently in recognition of your contribution to the arts and for upholding the pride of womanhood. Also, Kola Kids Woman of the Year for your contribution to Children’s development in Nigeria, among much other recognition. As an accomplished children writer with such accolades, in what ways these awards could motivate you to do more?
It is really encouraging to know that people watch and appreciate what you do, since I have never gone out of my way to ask for any form of recognition. I hope to do more, especially through my project, Aunty Talatu Reads.