Ozimede Sunny Ekhalume is a Nigerian author, who has just released his book, Larondo and the Arodan, a children’s story that depicts a day in the life of a young boy in a West African village. A trained pharmacist, Ozimede also holds an MBA in marketing. He currently lives in Lagos. Africa Book Club interviewed him about his new book, and why he chose to write specifically for the children.
You are a successful pharmacist. What inspired you to become a writer?
Right from when I was in secondary school, I had a keen interest in books. I started out by reading the African Writers Series and Pacesetters. These stories, which were written by African authors, inspired me and I told myself I could write too.
Do you write full-time?
I presently do not write full-time. I hope to in the nearest future. That is my ultimate ambition.
Why a children’s book?
As a father, I used to read stories to my children when they were younger. I remembered the look on their faces and how the stories fired up their imagination. I wanted to do this for other children, and that’s why I wrote Larondo and the Arodan. I also believe African children’s stories are underrepresented, and I wanted to make a contribution towards addressing this gap. Why did my children have to read only “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” in nursery school? Why should a child in a remote village, who has never seen an apple in his life, have to read “A” for Apple. The more I asked myself these questions, the more I felt the need to write a story that spoke to the life of an African child.
What was your inspiration for Larondo and the Arodan?
I love folklore and children’s stories. Larondo and the Arodan is an African folklore.
Tell us a little more about the story? Who is the central character and what is the general story line?
It is about a day in the life of an eight-year old boy Larondo, who is sent on an errand by the mother to pick up “Arodan” from a neighbor. It takes him on a journey from one neighbor to the other in search of the Arodan. He gets back home without it; yet the mother is satisfied and happy about the turn of events. The story is about a Yoruba folklore.
Where can readers find the book?
Larondo and the Arodan is available from the publishers, Aalvent Media, at Barnes and Noble and other leading bookstores, and online through Amazon and the Apple bookstore. It can also be ordered here on the Africa Book Club bookstore. We are working on making the book available in Nigeria by the end of this month, and we will be approaching a number of local booksellers to see how we can make it widely accessible.
Growing up in Nigeria, were you into reading books?
As a child I grew up reading Enid Blyton: The Famous Five and The Secret Seven Series; children’s edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens; King Solomon’s Mine. I read lots and lots of comics with The Adventures of Tintin being my favorite. And of course the Alawiye series in Yoruba written by J.F. Odunjo. When I got to secondary school, I read the Mills and Boon series, James Hardley Chase series, Pacesetters series, African Writers series, William Shakespeare’s books, and all of D.O Fagunwa’s books.
Who are your favorite African writers?
Biyi Bandele, Igoni Barrett, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Athol Fugard, Ola Rotimi, Cyprian Ekwensi, D. O. Fagunwa (Yoruba). Not in any particular order.
Besides your own, what other books would you recommend?
There are quite a few, including those by the authors I’ve already mentioned. I’d recommend two books that I’ve recently read, Americanah (by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and Burma Boy (by Biyi Bandele).
Would you say there is a vibrant reading culture in Nigeria today, especially among children? Or is reading going out of style?
The reading culture has been taken over by television, video games and the internet. It is worrisome. Even among adults, most seem to read only for the sake of professional and academic qualifications. Or at best motivational and religious books; read not for their literary attributes.
How can we encourage more authors to write books for children?
It will need the concerted efforts of publishers, government and the private sector to encourage and fund this concept. For instance, how many African children’s stories get recommended for use in schools? This is where the government can help. And the private sector can certainly do more. For example, can we develop African children’s writing into films, and animation characters? How about having more prizes and grants for children’s stories to encourage that genre?