Children need art, stories, poems and music as much as they need love

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 00:00 |
Poet Dorothy Wangui, 11 with her mother Jacquiline Gathungu and younger sibling Elane Muthoni. Photo/PD/GERALD ITHANA

Children need art, stories, poems and music as much as they need love, food, fresh air and play. DOROTHY WANGUI’s parents know this all too well and have since helped her publish her poetry book. Her mother, JACQUILINE GATHUNGU lets us in on their 11-year-old’s journey. 

Rose Muthoni @rosemuthoniN

Growing up, great emphasis was placed on good grades. Parents believed the only sure fire way to success was through education.

Every parent’s prayer at the time was for their children to make it to the university.

Unfortunately, much as education is important, parents ended up ignoring their children’s innate abilities.

It was unheard of for a child to pursue artistic interest, for example, because old folks believed there was no money to be made in the artsy world.

Insistence on formal education persists to date. Parents seldom try to discover their child’s talents and instead focus on making them the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to education.

Two parents, however, are convinced that beyond the ABCs, their children must have their own unique talents.

John Ngaii and Jacquiline Gathungu discovered their firstborn daughter Dorothy Wangui,11 loved poetry and writing in general.

As a lecturer, Jacquiline knew the importance of nurturing their child’s talent and encouraging her to pursue her passion.

Together, they decided that they were not only going to cheer her on, but they would go a step further and get Dorothy’s poems published.

Talent search

“I asked myself, apart from attaining good grades, what else can my daughters do? What capabilities do they have and what are their gifts?” says Jacquiline.

Those, she says, are the most important questions that every parent needs to ask themselves.

The Utalii College don was keen to nurture her oldest daughter’s writing talent, while at the same time ensuring that her youngest, Elaine Muthoni actively pursued her interest so that they could soon discover where her talents lay.

“Right now, Elaine has shown keen interest in art and that is what we are actively encouraging her to pursue. We are losing talent because of our focus on grades,” says Jacquiline.

A Poem A Day contains 50 poems about everyday life. It can be read by anyone including children and parents.

Dorothy’s favourite poem, Careless Driver, for instance, portrays the dangers of drunk driving, written in simple, yet lyrical prose.

It not only warns drivers against drink driving, but it is full of insights on how to cut road accidents.

“I seldom say no to my children when they express need to venture into a new undertaking. It’s our responsibility as parents to nurture our children’s talent from a young age,” says Jacquiline.

Jacquiline first noticed her daughter’s love for reading way before she knew she could write poems as well.

A bumpy ride

“She has gone through the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series and she loves the African readers series as well.

My daughter also banks on the famous quote by her idol Lupita Nyong’o, that all dreams are valid”

She encourages teachers to also identify talent in the children they teach. “If your pupils develop a keen interest in a certain skill, please encourage them and involve their parents.”

But as Jacquiline reveals, the publishing journey has not been a walk in the park, but she persevered it all until Wangui’s first poetry book, A Poem A Day, was published last year.

“Kenyan publishers seldom touch books that cannot be converted into set books, so finding someone serious to do it for them was quite a challenge,” she says.

Being one not to give up, she bumped onto Faith Gatimi of Young Whiz, who helped her with the publishing.

“Before meeting Faith, illustrations for the book were also an issue. We could not find anyone to do the illustrations satisfactorily.

As we speak, Dorothy has two other volumes stuck at illustrations,” says Jacquiline.

After the books were printed in China, Jacquiline had to surmount yet another challenge; distribution.

“Penetrating book shops and book sellers is a big obstacle. Bookshops prefer to stock educational books, I blame lack of diversity in books to a poor reading culture in the country,” says Jacquiline.

But she is not prepared to give up. She is determined that her daughter’s name is in the tongues of every avid reader.

Currently, Dorothy has two books in the production process and is compiling poems for two more volumes.

Asked when Dorothy writes, especially with the taxing 8-4-4 system, Jacquiline says her daughter jots her poems at school during breaks, in the evening after completing homework and mainly during the holidays.

Jacquiline plans to expose her daughter to other writers who will help her nurture her talent.

“I want her to be able to stand on her own and run her own writing. I would be happy to see her finally nurturing up and coming writers in the future,” the beaming mother says.

She is grateful to her family, friends and church who continue to support her daughter.

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