Choosing African and Caribbean stories for a new children’s book with Scholastic

Wendy Shearer storytelling at the British Museum

I have often said that I intend to write a collection of African and Caribbean stories for children.  My dream was to share some of my favourite stories with the next generation of readers, writers, and storytellers.  You can imagine my delight when children’s publisher ‘Scholastic’ asked me to write a collection of African and Caribbean Folktales, Myths, and Legends. My book is to accompany their series of books with stories from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. My first thought was, ‘can I fit this in? I’m in the middle of writing a collection of Caribbean folktales and Windrush stories of migration for adults which will be published by the History Press. My second thought was, ‘this is so exciting, I have to fit this in!’

Stories from two continents

My first task was to come up with a list of 18-20 stories that would be suitable for 8-12 year olds.  I’d already spent months researching for my first book of Caribbean folktales, so I knew what a vast amount of stories and themes there are from all of the islands. Now I needed to research stories from another continent.

I’ve been storytelling professionally for 6 years and so I have many stories already in my repertoire but I wasn’t sure who or what to prioritise. I wanted to tell EVERY story. This would not be possible in one book.  There are over 2000 groups of people in Africa with variants within them. Who should be left out? What should be included? What did I want children to become excited about? I spoke to a few friends, family members, Storytellers and authors. I read as much as I could to give me a good overview from brilliant books like African Myths of Origin by Stephen Belcher and then it came down to my basic modus operandi and every Storyteller’s gift to the world – we choose stories that we love and sometimes the stories choose us.  

African gods and kingdoms

I decided that I would select a few African myths which present alternative stories to the very well known ancient Greek myths, that every child is taught about in UK schools. There are many African creation stories across countries and ethnic groups. I’ve chosen to tell myths from Nigeria, Togo, and Benin, about the pantheon of Yoruba Orishas and how the earth was made.  Just like the Greek gods, the Yoruba Orishas have powers and attributes they are known for.  I’ve also selected some stories that tell of the ancient kingdoms and the formation of tribes in Africa like the Ludo people of Uganda. These stories are ancient.  They tell of sibling rivalry, royal clashes, and lots of migration. They existed before the current national boundaries were drawn up. They predate the history of colonization and independence. They are amazing stories and I’im so excited to be bringing them to life in my own words.

Indigenous people

For my selection of legends, I have included stories from the indigenous people who first inhabited the lands like the Caribs and Arawaks from Guyana. There are hundreds of stories to share, but this collection is representative of a small part of Africa and the Caribbean – a view of the past. They are some of my favourite stories that I believe will delight and educate our young readers. 

This collection of African and Caribbean Folktales, Myths, and Legends will be published by Scholastic in September 2021. I’ll keep you posted on how my research and writing develops.