“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me,” Author Yeve C. Sibanda quotes Kwame Nkrumah, the first president Ghana, calling for the need to celebrate, embrace, and learn about other cultures.
In this colorful picture book, little readers will learn basic words in the two primary indigenous languages of Zimbabwe as they follow the daily adventures of Rufaro! My First Book of Shona and Ndebele serves as a powerful tool to introduce African cultures to children and to positively represent Zimbabwe by straying from pervasive stereotypes of Africa.
We interviewed Yeve about the challenges of learning Shona and Ndebele, what she wants people to know about Zimbabwe, and more!
As a native Zimbabwean and Shona speaker, what inspired you to write a book teaching indigenous African languages?
I was propelled to create the book because of my commitment to teaching our daughter her roots. I also was frustrated at not finding quality, modern Shona/Ndebele books and decided to write my own book.
Why do you think it’s important for children to be exposed to other cultures at a young age?
Early exposure to other cultures at a young age is critical as it encourages diversity, acceptance, and understanding in young minds. It also encourages early awareness among children that we really are all more similar than we are different.
In your vocabulary book, a young girl named Rufaro takes us with her on her daily activities as she teaches us words in Shona and Ndebele. How did you come up with the character Rufaro and why did you choose to set your book up in this way?
I wanted the central character to have a name that had special meaning for our family. I also wanted her to be fun, smart, beautiful, and curious, just like my own daughter. Rufaro is my middle name, and my daughter and husband’s middle name is Njabulo. “Rufaro” means “Joy” in Shona and “Njabulo” means “Joy” in Ndebele.
The picture book format promotes basic learning and allows readers of all levels to easily identify words and their Shona and Ndebele translations. Learning languages should be fun, therefore I wanted to make this book fun, engaging, and easily accessible using the most basic words in Shona and Ndebele.
What are the main challenges of learning Shona and Ndebele? How did they impact your book?
The main challenges of learning Shona and Ndebele are that typically the languages are not taught together. This book represents my small attempt to unify and bring together the Shona and Ndebele tribes, two groups that have had a fractured relationship.
The other challenge is that there are several dialects of Shona spoken in Zimbabwe. Therefore, I had to choose the “standardized” dialect and also use the dialect that I’d teach to my own child. I address this challenge with a disclaimer early in the book, letting families know that they should substitute any words that are not in their dialect as they read the book.
Finally, Zimbabwe is a small country, and Shona and Ndebele are not widely spoken by non-Zimbabweans. The challenge is presenting the languages in an exciting way so non-Zimbabweans are interested in the book as well, even if they’re not learning Shona and Ndebele beyond my book.
What do you hope for people to know about Zimbabwe? What do you want young readers to take away from your book after learning some vocabulary?
I like to say “African children’s books are not for African children, they are for all children.” My hope is that readers get transported to Zimbabwe and get a glimpse into Zimbabwean family life and culture. I want them to see another side of Africa, one that does not depict an impoverished image of Africa because that narrative is misleading and overplayed. We are not monolithic people. I also want to pique the reader’s interest in Zimbabwe. Maybe they’ll be inspired to visit or do some research to learn more about the country!
Should we expect to see any more books from you in the future? If so, what’s in store?
I am currently researching the best ways of diversifying products that go beyond books and languages.