EVEN though the developmental, psycho-social and educational benefits of reading to children are well documented, the potential use of children literature as a tool to enhance health literacy in children has not been well explored.
Traditionally, attempts at health education for children have emphasised memorisation of science-based facts and societal prescripts. However, educational experts have confirmed that this approach has not been particularly successful. Rather, it is believed that children’s literature can be a better useful teaching tool for teaching children about health and can also open the door to discussion of health-related issues with children.
In addition, children’s literature may have an important role in health education and in potentially influencing health behaviours in children. The power of a good novel, well-written poetry, or creative biography could reach an adolescent struggling with critical health-impacting decisions more effectively than a textbook.
With novels in particular, it is harder for students to distance themselves from health issues and behaviors exemplified through a compelling story and well-developed characters.
In line with the above, Dr Wale Okediran is not new to the use of children’s literature as a tool for health education. His 1998 children’s novel; The Rescue Of Uncle Babs published by McMillan Publishers (Winner of the 1999 ANA/Matatu Prize for Children’s Literature) was written for adolescent children on the dangers of drug abuse. Again, in 2001, Okediran was commissioned by Longman PLC to write a series of novelettes for school children on the HIV/AIDS scourge.
This time around, the author decided to shift his focus to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Even though a lot of ‘palliatives’ have been put in place to ameliorate the devastating effects of the pandemic, most of them which expectedly are in the forms of food items and cash are mainly directed at adults. Even though the children by extension would also benefit from the largesse, it is also believed that they also need some form of education on the pandemic as well as something to keep them occupied especially during the period of the lockdown. In doing this, Okediran decided to write a book each for the nursery, primary and secondary school age groups.
In Nursery Corona Tales, the author uses the illustrated booklet with its childlike simplicity and bright colours to captivate nursery school children and at the same time, educate them on the coronavirus.
In doing this, Okediran shows that it’s never too early for children to think about health issues. This well illustrated book with realistic messages as well as nursery rhymes set in familiar tunes is a perfect vehicle for communicating the COVID-19 pandemic to nursery school children.
The second book which targets primary school children; Bayo’s Weekend Trip is about the Adisas, a middle-class family who did all they can to put in place all the necessary precautions against the spread of the COVID-19 infection. However, their 10 -year old son, Bayo is requested to accompany his aunt to Lagos to welcome a relative who has just returned from abroad. Little did the Adisas know that the relative has already been infected with the virus. The family, therefore, had to go through the ordeal of going for tests as well as self-isolation in an effort to fight a disease that presently has no cure.
For the secondary school students, Wale Okediran uses the story of 18- year old Halima in Halima Saves Her Village to educate them on the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Halima, who is visiting her grandmother, gets trapped in the village by the COVID-19 lockdown. She decides to keep herself busy by educating the villagers on the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus.
It is in the process of this very important but difficult task that she stumbled on Alhaji Kokoma, a rich but arrogant businessman who does not believe that the Coronavirus pandemic is real. Unfortunately, Alhaji Kokoma does not know that he has already been infected by the virus. It is Halima’s timely intervention that saved her village from what could have been a terrible calamity.
Written in simple and easily accessible language suitable to the designated age groups, these books apart from training children to fully understand in detail, everything about the current pandemic, the well- illustrated books are also entertaining. Since books have long been recognised as resources for health literacy and healing, children who may be too young to have had any prior knowledge of, or experience with, a particular health issue, can vicariously experience the issue and empathise with those who have it, through reading these well written fictional works.
Although written in English, the publisher has already commenced the preparation of the versions of the books in the major Nigerian indigenous languages. With this, it is expected that the messages in the books will reach as many Nigerian children as possible in both English and local languages.
- Idowu Layo is the pen name of a teacher and literary enthusiast.
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