Here’s What an African Mother Says Our Kids Need To Know About the Continent

Ada Ari is a mother and author of 'The Spider's Thin Legs.' She says teaching our children about Africa's rich legacy is a matter of turning toward folktales.

A Black mother reads to her infant son and toddler daughter in bed

Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines/Stocksy

Author Ada Ari sits surrounded by small children and their parents in Nordstrom. This store, like many others she has visited on her book tours, has welcomed her to do a reading of her books, beautifully illustrated retellings of folktales she grew up with in Nigeria. Ari has been invited to schools, libraries, and community events for readings where she shares both her books and her culture. Children try on Kente cloth, learn facts, and play games.

“I would like parents of all backgrounds to learn about African legacy,” says Ari. “Our stories have been passed down orally for generations but, due to migration (forced and voluntary) through the centuries, have been lost in this part of the world. So not necessarily limited to African Americans. This is a great way to teach everyone about our rich culture and heritage.”

But beyond her storybooks, The Spider's Thin Legs and The Turtle's Cracked Shell and fun, Ari, whose storybooks recently sold out in Target, has a passion to share the beauty, diversity, and richness of the many African cultures and reconnecting descendants of those cultures to our heritage. Through culturally immersive educational experiences she calls "African Storytelling Reimagined" sessions, children learn about African culture through dance, playing instruments, chores, and generally what a day in life looks like back home. 

“I have had grown people come and hug me, even cry on my shoulder, telling me how deep and meaningful this is to them because these are stories and experiences they would have never heard of in history books or school.”, says Ari. “This is part of their legacy they would have never known.”

As a mom to two American-born children, Ari’s inspiration came from seeing an absence of African stories. “The experience my children have growing up as African Americans is very different than the experience I had growing up as an African in Africa. There are many things I took for granted. We were the majority. When I came over here and became a mom and would read stories to my children, European folk tales, the Disney stories, you name it, I realized that there are so many stories that my children will never have if I don’t tell them. They aren’t going to see our stories on shelves randomly in stores. They aren’t going to see them on TV. We have to actually bring them across the seas.” 

Her revelation as a parent led her to her revelation about Black American culture “I thought about that in a broader context.” she says. “Think about the generations of African Americans who are here, these stories, these cultural pieces are part of their legacy that has been lost to that involuntary migration for centuries. So I started thinking ‘This is bigger than me just telling fun stories to my children that I remembered. This is bringing back a piece of our legacy to people who lost it generations ago.

Want to start educating your little ones on African culture? Here are a few things Ari wants Black parents to know when teaching them about African culture:

Get Excited

Ari wants us to tap back into our own excitement that we felt learning new things so that we can convey that to our children. “Think about a story or movie you loved as a child. Think of how you remembered the songs that go with it or the story itself, even as an adult. Think of how excited you are as a parent to share that with your children. That is what I want for our folktales. I want us to have that (feeling) back.” 

Plant Seeds of Positivity

“Children are sponges,” says Ari. “Anything you pour into them, you have no idea what kind of fruit that is going to bear.” Ari intentionally chose to share not only the story itself but the country and culture the story comes from. Sharing that information with our little ones plants positive and affirming seeds within them.

Pass It On

“In everything that I do, I am trying to think of conversation pieces. I am thinking about retention, beyond just that one interaction.” Ari says. “When my kids are around their friends and they are speaking Igbo and their friends ask ‘What are you talking about?’, my kids then teach their friends what that word means and aha! You have another child learning a new language.”

Make It Relevant

Explaining to our kids how connected they are to the cultures they are learning about adds an extra layer of excitement. “It helps children to realize that the world is so big.” says Ari. “They are all the little bits that add more color, more context, more texture to who it is that we were. That is the bigger picture for me in these storybooks. I was very intentional. I wanted more than a really cute story. I wanted people to know where these stories came from.”

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