I had the great pleasure of catching up with the Precious Molete – the co-founder and director of Ethnikids – a company on a mission to empower and affirm the African child through providing them with diversity in the material they consume. They offer a subscription-based service and product called the Made for Me box – which they then deliver – containing age-specific, gender-appropriate books to one’s doorstep.
They also include books in one’s preferred South African language – which is quite cool. Find out more as I chat to Precious about their initiative:
Q: How did you come about?
A: As mothers and aunties (and being aware of the need to read to our children) – we found looking for books with characters that look like our children frustrating and time-consuming. In an African country – it’s still very difficult to easily source books with characters that look like us! We decided to help ourselves and others by sourcing these books, pre-reading and vetting them (because some contain bias and stereotypes) and sorting them into age groups. This is how the Made for Me box came about… It helps you build your own library at home. Made for your children!
Q: Why do we need greater diversity in children’s books?
A: Children’s literature serves as a window (into other people’s worlds) and a mirror that reflects and affirms a child’s experiences! It’s worrying when children can’t see themselves in the material they consume. We keep telling kids that if you can believe it, you can be it! How can you believe it if you can’t see it? When you are consistently not part of the world you read about?
One of the biggest challenges in helping kids become strong readers is the lack of stories featuring heroes and experiences they can relate to. Representation matters!
Q: Why would one order books for children under the age of 2?
A: During the first few years of life – a child’s brain is developing rapidly! Studies have shown that reading to infants is a good way to develop their vocabulary and language development. Children who develop strong language and communication skills are more likely to arrive at school ready to learn. They also are less likely to have difficulties learning to read and are more likely to have higher levels of achievement in school.
Older kids also need to read at home in addition to what they read at or for school. South African children have relatively low reading speeds versus international norms. For example – in grade 2, your child should be reading 50 to 60 words a minute at the beginning of the school year and 90 words by the end of it. Are your kids reading at this speed? Do you know how fast your children are reading?
Reading is often confined to ‘school stuff’. However, strong reading ability is crucial to long-term academic success! And our kids need to develop a love for it! It’s a fun way to bond with the kids and to have something to talk about.
Q: Are your books only for Black children?
A: Most certainly not! We do source books that have people of colour as protagonists. But as mentioned – books are a window and mirror, and children of all colours can benefit for our boxes. We also include international books and books from other African countries. It is important that our children view themselves as global citizens, and learn about life in other countries.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges in building your business?
A: We’ve had the usual start-up frustrations of funding and time management, but when you are driven by passion and purpose – it keeps you going.
Q: Who are your partners?
A: Ethnikids is run by 5 amazing and incredible women, who have different skill-sets and a common goal. It also helps that we are friends because getting together to work is fun.
Q: What’s next for Ethnikids?
A: We would like to use our network and platform to provide all products aimed at the Afri-child in one place. But for now – we’re focused on the books.
Q: What do you love about what you do?
A: We are making a difference, we get to support the smaller author that doesn’t always make it into the bookstore and we are giving our kids a big beautiful mirror!
Q: How can we reach you?
A: Our website is www.ethnikids.co.za