Did you know only 10% of children’s books are published by African/African American authors in a 1.9 Billion dollar market. We suspect that the number of African authors is less than 2 percent. And, when you do find books about African culture and experiences, the majority are written by non-Africans. These stories written by non-Africans focus on spreading the narrative of a continent in utter despair and in need of saving.
We came across the Adventures of Obi and Titi when conducting market research on our “competition”, and we were delighted to see it was created and owned by Africans. The truth of the matter is, we are not competitors; we are partners in spreading the the beauty of our continent. There is more than enough market space for all of us African authors to change the narratives of our countries, to educate and engage children across the world on the complex yet beautiful history, cultures and traditions of 54 African countries.
Here, O.T. Begho discusses his writing journey, how his childhood as an African in the western world inspired and shaped the Obi and Titi series. We asked to share his story!
Tell us your story. Who is behind the Adventures of Obi and Titi?
The Adventures of Obi and Titi is a chapter book series that uses a seamless blend of fact and fiction to teach African history and culture, while taking its readers on an unforgettable journey across ancient Africa.
I am the author behind the series. My name is O.T. Begho, CEO of Evolution Media Lab, an educational IT consultant, children’s author, animator and software developer, who is passionate about children’s education and information communication technology (ICT).
What inspired you to embark on this journey as an author, and the content of your series?
It was my experience growing up as a child in the UK that inspired my journey to creating the Obi and Titi series.
I was one of only two black boys growing up in a primary school in East London. By the age of 6, I had been called every degrading “African” name under the sun, but there were worse days. The days my classmates pretended I was the invisible man, no one would speak to me. Those were the days I did not exist.
I found bullying much easier to handle, my enemy was in plain sight and I knew how to stand up for myself. That had its own consequences, one being labelled an angry black child. Of course, my mother being the strong Nigerian woman she was, was having none of that and warned them not to scold or punish me for protecting myself. I think she knew what was going on even though I could not really verbalize it. It was around that time, I began writing.
Now looking back, I remember it being the only time I could really escape from the world around me. It was the only thing I had full control over. I think that is where my love for story telling began. Stories give me the opportunity to experience different worlds and people, make believe or real. Unfortunately, at that time the only stories my classmates had heard about Africa, its history or culture, were the negative ones perpetuated by the media. I hoped one day I would be able to change that …introducing “The Adventures of Obi and Titi”.
What kind of impact are you looking to make with your work?
In 2018, the Black Panther movie was released to critical acclaim; but more important than its box office success was the new narrative it provided. Its effect on black people’s self-esteem, especially children was undeniable and so, was the interest it generated about the African continent.
I believe its impact is immeasurable, and that is the kind of impact we want our series to have.
What’s the intent behind your My Healthy Heroes Brand?
Abi and OT Begho: This is a joint brand initiative with our NGO, Lake Health and Wellbeing. Childhood obesity is a major public health challenge within the black community, and we aim to tackle this through our My Healthy Heroes initiative by educating and empowering children to make healthy choices. We’ll be tapping into their creativity and imagination to highlight the importance of a healthy lifestyle in a fun and engaging way. We’ve created a collection of fun food characters, and are developing resources for the classroom and home environment. In the future, we hope to develop a children’s book series too.
Our ultimate aim is to make a healthy lifestyle cool, so children gravitate more towards healthy options.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey thus far?
The most rewarding part of our journey has been the interactions that we have had with children at book readings and school visits. It’s wonderful to see children get excited about our books. Their faces light up when they see the book cover with a character that they can relate to and they really enjoy the story. We love the laughter and joy our books create and we love the many videos that parents share with us of their children reading our books, dressing up as the characters or sending us cute messages. We often get emails from children and their parents thanking us for writing the books with requests for more. We love it all. One of the most rewarding days was receiving a bouquet of flowers from a parent thanking us for writing a book that has created a new-found love of reading in her daughter. These moments are just priceless. We thank God for the opportunity to make a positive difference through our books.
As African children’s book authors, what continues to be biggest challenges?
I think it has been hard getting our own people to see how important it is for their children to see themselves in books and media. It isn’t just about an image, it’s about the impression that image leaves throughout their life.
I, also feel that generally our people don’t appreciate the importance of our history and culture and if we don’t, it becomes very hard for us to make others see its value.
In five years, where do you see the Obi and Titi Series?
We want Obi and Titi to be more than just a book series, we want it to be a children’s brand that covers all media forms from animation and games to educational apps and classroom material.
In five years, we would like to see our books being used in school curriculums to teach about African history and culture, geography, and creative writing and the brand recognised worldwide.
What advice would you give to other African authors?
It not a sprint, it’s a marathon; take your time, build a strong foundation and be strategic. Treat it like a business, be professional, yet authentic. Definitely, get a good editor and don’t forget the marketing side of things. Marketing is key and the hardest part, so plan for this ahead of time and ensure you have a good marketing plan.
The Our Stories, Our Way Fast Three!
1. What’s your favorite song at the moment?
Hmmm…that’s a hard one. I am old school so, I would have to take you back to the 90’s –90’s R ‘n’ B is one of my favourite genres so anything from that era.
2. If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be and why?
My wife, she is great company (And, no, she didn’t pay me to say that 😊)
3. What do you consider your biggest achievement thus far?
Getting children who don’t normally like to read, interested in reading.