African Stories in African Languages

Kids deserve stories in the language they speak.

The Scarcity of African Language Books

When creating our libraries we discovered that there is a severe shortage of African language children’s books. South Africa has eleven official languages. Most children grow up learning their local African language until third grade when they start to learn English. However, while 77% of South African’s first language is an African language, only 12% of books are published in these African languages.

South Africa: Languages Spoken vs. Book Published

According to UNICEF, access to books in the first 1,000 days of life is critical. It’s when the child’s brain develops the fastest. Listening to stories is an essential part of a child’s development and sets the child up for foundational literacy.

Creating African Folktales for Kids

James has always loved folktales and mythology. In 2022, while collecting books for his third South African library, James was reading a book of African Folktales. Frustrated at the scarcity of African language children’s books, he decided to merge his interest in folktales with his passion for literacy to found African Folktales for Kids. African Folktales for Kids is a series of early-reader children’s books that celebrates African culture. In each book, James re-tells an amazing African folktale, collaborates with Library for Literacy librarians to translate these stories into African languages, and uses AI to generate illustrations. The books are then printed for South African library shelves and are also available for free download. So far James has authored five African folktales, each available in Zulu, Xhosa, Xitsonga, Sepedi and English (with Sotho and Tswana versions in the works).

When people say “mother tongue,” it’s literal. There’s a visceral link to your first language. Kids tell me when they read stories in their first language, the association is deeper and stronger, closely connecting them with true joy that comes from reading.  

African Folktales for Kids at the Bonga Primary School Library in Gugulethu Township, Western Cape.

African Folktales for Kids at the Sihlekisi Classroom Libraries in Limpopo. 

African Folktales for Kids at the Senianya Primary School Library, Mpumalanga.

Inclusive, good quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies

Desmond Tutu