World Read Aloud Day '23 - Africa got here first!

31 January 2023

World Read Aloud Day '23 - Africa got here first!

By Leanne Rencken

What really struck me when attending the recent AfLIA-run World Read Aloud Day webinar was this profound quote our host, Dr Nkem Osuigwe, included in her presentation:                 

Africa got here first!                 
In Africa, stories were and still continue to be passed down from generation to generation. Oral storytelling is our natural way of ‘preserving human knowledge, insight, and creativity’.

On its own, it’s a meaningful statement, but in the context of World Read Aloud Day, which is celebrated on Wednesday 1 February, even more so.                  
While this webinar included an introduction to World Read Aloud Day, along with practical advice on how to participate, it was also an impassioned rallying cry for the librarians and library staff in attendance to remember these oral traditions, and to carry on their own rich history of storytelling.               

A toddler sits on the lap of an adult in the children’s reading room at the National Library of Uganda. The adult is paging through a picture book, while the child looks at the pictures. The library shelves behind the adult and against the walls are stacked with colourful picture books.
Reading aloud is beneficial for children of all ages and can be enjoyed by children and adults of all ages. Image source: The National Library of Uganda.



Our elders got all those traditions and passed them down to us, you are a natural fit for this activity, you are an African, you are a librarian… – Dr Osuigwe  

World Read Aloud Day was launched in 2010 by LitWorld to ‘promote diverse voices and narratives around the world’. The AfLIA webinar covered a lot of ground and once participants had been given some background on the history of this annual event, Dr Osuigwe spent time chatting about why reading aloud is important.                  
As Human Capacity Development and Training Director for the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA), she explained that having seen how impactful AfLIA’s Early Literacy Development course had been with the 2022 pilot group, and more recently the second cohort, she wanted to use this opportunity to emphasize the importance of African storytelling, reading aloud together in mother-tongue languages, and gifting African stories to the world.                  
‘This is important for us,’ she said, ‘we will be running the course twice a year so we can continue to teach kids how to learn to read, so in turn they can read to learn. Where do we start? We start right here!’                 
Dr Osuigwe recalled her own introduction to storytelling: As a young five-year-old in post-civil war Nigeria, she had been dropped off at a public library in Enugu, by her mother who had walked really far to visit the market and couldn’t keep an eye on two small children while shopping. When they arrived at the library it was story hour. She remembers the occasion clearly:                                  

An old lady was reading a story about a competition between the sun and the wind to know which was stronger. This old lady would go from one side of the room to talk as the sun, and then she would go to the other side of the room and speak as the wind. The way she told the story, her body movement, her facial expressions… That encounter changed my life, opened something inside of me…

So powerful was that experience, Dr Osuigwe went on to become a librarian at that same library in Enugu, but more importantly she learnt how effective it can be to tell stories in a fun and lively way, with ‘your whole body’.                  
And this lesson formed part of the webinar as well: ‘It helps kids, you draw them into the story, you create connections for them, so they don’t think reading is a duty, or a routine daily thing we do. You make it fun; you make it inviting. Every child is curious, that curiosity quotient goes down as we age, unless you are a reader, then it continues to grow,’ she explained.                  
Practical matters: Open licensing, translation and poster design                 
This webinar was a powerful reminder of what a good teacher can accomplish in just a few short hours. Dr Osuigwe is a great teacher, and she spent a few critical moments talking about the value of openly licensed books and how important they are to the creation of mother tongue resources. 


‘When we close things up, they remain closed!’ she said. ‘We teach a lot about open licensing in our early literacy course, it is the power we can leverage to create books for our kids in our local languages.’                 
AfLIA has a digital library of 159 openly licensed stories in different African languages on the StoryWeaver platform, many of these speak about Africa or feature Africans.                  
For World Read Aloud Day 2023, AfLIA has generated a theme: African stories to the world.                  
To this end, Dr Osuigwe is encouraging librarians to either read these existing stories during their story hour, or to try their hand at translation, creating a version of these stories in their mother tongue.                  

The webinar included a practical demonstration on how to translate a story using the StoryWeaver translation tool, as well as a lot of encouragement from Dr Osuigwe who has completed over 30 Igbo translations on the platform already.                  
Finally, webinar participants were given a tutorial on the online design programme CANVA, with the express instruction to ‘blow your own trumpets!’  

A bright yellow poster features photos of adults reading to young children. The text on the poster reads: World Read Aloud Day February 1st 2023. Today a reader, tomorrow a leader. Happy World Read Aloud Day! Dunamis Kids Organisation.
This poster has been created by Dunstanette Bodkin-Davies, head of the children’s department, Sierra Leone Library Board, and the founder and director of the Dunamis Kids Organisation. It was shared by Bodkin-Davies on Facebook and by AfLIA on Twitter and captioned as ‘The Dunamis Kids Organisation in Sierra Leone is planning to engage school children on an exciting journey on World Read Aloud Day’. Will you be joining them on a journey of your own?

In order to promote African stories to the world, Dr Osuigwe took time to demonstrate how easy it is to create a simple poster that will go a long way to pushing World Read Aloud Day and each African library’s participation in the event.                  
Follow these hashtags on social media - #WRAD2023 #AfricaReads #Aflia and join the storytelling community in celebrating African stories and reading aloud in your mother tongue.                 
Contact AfLIA to find out more about the Early Literacy Development Course – you can also read more about it here                   
Additional resources for World Read Aloud Day        


A animated graphic from the Nalibali World Read Aloud day story showing three children sitting under a tree. One child is holding a story book. They are all happy.
The title for Nal'ibali's World Read Aloud Day 2023 story is 'Every Day's a Story' - download your own version on the Nal'ibali website.


Additional 'how to read' resources can be found on the Nal’ibali website, including a story created just for World Read Aloud Day.

An image showing the front page covers of the ten new book dash titles published at the Durban book dash in 2022 as well as the colourful book dash logo.
The Memory Tree, Who Took My Shoe and Look out, Luthando are just some of the latest Book Dash titles.


BookDash published ten new books last year during their Durban Book Dash, these can be found here, along with the rest of their catalogue, on their website. These books can also be translated, downloaded and printed. 


Image shows four new book titles and covers from AfricanStorybook.
 African Storybook also has some new books available via their website.

The African Storybook website also hosts many openly licensed multilingual stories that can be read aloud online, translated, and downloaded.