African Picture Book Author Spotlight: Teah Mogae
Meet the lovely author Teah Mogae, the creator of the Losika Writes series. A Motswana author living down-under in Australia working to create book, teach language and inspire reading with our youngest ones!
Teah arguably has embarked on a journey to do two challenging things in the children’s literature world. First, publish a board book and market an African language board book. Despite the challenges along the way, she was able to do this drawing inspiration from her son, Losika.
The relationship between language development and future reading outcomes is strong. Board books provide an excellent opportunity for young children to also build important pre-reading skills like print and book concepts.
I asked Teah to share her story. She discusses her writing, her advice on encouraging children to read more diverse books and her exciting new project.
For some background, tell us a bit about yourself. Where you are from and what you do?
My name is Teah Mogae, I am a General Practitioner and mum to a little boy called Losika. I currently live and work in Australia but grew up in Botswana my home country.
When did you first become interested in writing for children? Did you always know you wanted to write African heritage books?
It was with the birth of my son and the subsequent realisation that there weren’t any books marketed for babies in our language Setswana that I could read for him. I asked my family members in Botswana to visit different libraries and bookstores and they couldn’t find any Setswana language books for newborns to age 2. Setswana is one of the national languages of Botswana (also English).
Without any luck and I thought, we might as well try and create a solution to this problem. We then figured, instead of writing a purely Setswana language book, we would make it a bilingual books as my son is likely to be bilingual. That is how Losika Writes was born.
That’s amazing! Since then you have expanded to other Southern African language books?
Yes! After discussing with our family and friends and finding out that some of them were having the same dilemma, we added Ndebele to our language collection. Our aim to slowly increase the language on offer as we grow.
You uniquely opted to write a board book, what inspired your decision to go this route versus the traditional storybook format? What have been the challenges to writing, publishing and marketing an African heritage board book?
We have started with picture books in board-book format as that is what we were reading to our son in English and merely wanted to have the same resources available to him in Setswana. It also seemed to us that books in Setswana tended to cater for school going kids without much for the preschool student, so we have loved creating a solution to the problem we were facing at the time.
The challenges have been numerous, but the main one was that when approaching big publishing companies about a language that is not that common in Australia, there were many stares as to why we would embark on such an adventure. Also, most people in Botswana are fluent in English and thus sometimes people didn’t and still don’t quite understand why we would be striving to teach our kids Setswana when daily life could still function well with English being the mode of communication. Lastly, printing a publishing board books is a lot more expensive than normal paper printing which therefore affects costs and pricing which has been challenge although we didn’t let that stand in our way.
Did you have any fears or self-doubts when writing an African heritage children’s book? What were they and how did you overcome them?
As a GP, the self-doubts were high! Book writing, publishing, etc., are so far removed to my everyday life but I felt the fear and did it anyway :-)
I am still learning about how that side of things work and embracing my fear of putting myself out there.
What advice do you have for authors writing African heritage children’s books?
My advice to someone starting…I am not sure I should be giving any as we haven’t even been in existence for 12 months :-) but it would be to find your niche and enjoy the journey as it is a roller-coaster ride.
African heritage children’s books are still lagging other languages in terms of the variety available and are a great niche to tap into as a way of increasing our book diversity.
With board books specifically, know they are costlier to print as not everyone can deliver them to great quality, they are heavier and thus cost more to ship too. The great thing though is that they are great investments for families and because of their sturdiness mean they can be wiped clean. Also board books can be past down to more members of the family without worrying about damage such as missing pages. Toddlers are notorious for tearing apart normal books lol.
What is your favorite African heritage children’s book?
My favourite African Heritage book is the Losika Writes – at the farm book, hehe, showing some bias here. I am able to read the picture books with my son and each page can be the beginning of a long story I tell about the different animals on the pages. Watching him as he eagerly awaits what will happen next as I string a tale and we turn the pages is what I truly enjoy.
Any advice on how people can encourage children to read more diverse books?
As the world gets smaller with new technology and as all countries become more multicultural, we are actually doing our kids a disservice if we are not exposing them to the diverse cultures and the books that teach them about their world and the people in it.
What are you working on next?
We have just introduced a set of posters “my body” and “my face” posters with some being bilingual (English/Setswana) featuring some chocolate kids with some afros and cornrows. The idea is that kids should see art that reflects who they are as a way of learning to love themselves.
Three fun facts
My first name is Tshegofatso which means Grace/blessing but became “Teah” when I was living in Australia as people couldn’t pronounce my name properly.
My son’s name and the inspiration for our company, means family and we aim to try and make everyone a part of our family
I am chocolate flavoured