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For you are a Kenyan child

For you are a Kenyan Child is a children’s book not written by a Kenyan adult, but an American writer by the name of Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by a Spaniard, Ana Juan. As far as I’m concerned (and my own children I read it to), the prose and the illustrations are pretty special. However, I’m not Kenyan and I was curious to know what the Kenyan kids I do creative writing workshops with made of it. So I designed a writing workshop around the book and, with some trepidation, took the book in.

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As I read it to them, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. All twenty-five children barely shifted in their seats and they enthusiastically told me afterwards it was realistic and they particularly loved the phrases in Kiswahili. Clearly Kelly Cunnane and Ana Juan’s passion for Kenya shines through in their prose and illustration and at the end of the class, they all crowded round the desk to have a look at the book, something I’ve not seen them do before.

‘Roosters crow,

and you wake one morning

in the green hills of Africa,

sun lemon bright

over eucalyptus trees

full of doves.’

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What I did was ask the children to brainstorm their Kenya. What would they tell my friend who has never been to their country before what it is like here? We then played around with descriptive sentences and writing in the second person (i.e. YOU, which is surprisingly tricky.) I asked them to think about their walk to school, for example, pressing them to expand a simple ‘You walk to school’ with prompts such as What do you walk past? Who do you see? What do you experience with your senses?

It is SO important to give children the opportunities to write their own stories, not just the stories we’d like them to write.

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‘The lions are roaring on the green hills.

You play on the way to school with a paper ball

then you see your Muslim neighbour Suma eating biryani.

You drink some sour milk with a piece of mahanti.’

Written by Kevin

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Up the tall eucalyptus tree, you see birds fluffing their feathers,

to keep warm from the chilly morning.

You see a koisk. You smell fresh, baked mandazi.

‘Hodi?’ ‘Karibu!’

‘Unatake mandazi?’ Do you want mandazi?

‘Ndio!’ Yes!

You are given a mandazi, freshly baked, out of the oven.’

Written by Doris.

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