African Picture Book Author Spotlight: Nikko FungChung
Meet the lovely Nikko FungChung, author of the Anya's World Adventure picture book series! Afro-Caribbean authoress living in New York working to change the landscape of children's literature through the lens of Anya-- a young world traveler!
When I first learned about Nikko's book, Anya Goes to Nigeria, I knew I had to check it out! I mean, Nigeria aka 9ja aka The Giant of Africa, is home to a booming economy, diverse cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities, and arguably the continent's largest entertainment industry--Nollywood, who wouldn't want to go!
The stunning visuals of the front cover of a modern building give us lots of Victoria Island vibes and is a shift from the dominant trope of "African" rural life.
Readers get the opportunity to enjoy a child-friendly story while learning about the beauty of Nigerian culture. This book is a much-welcomed change from the Pan-African and non-country specific books that tend to dominate African-heritage titles.
I asked Nikko to share her story. She discusses her writing, her advice on encouraging children to read more diverse books and her exciting new project.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where you are from and what you do?
My name is Nikko FungChung. I am an author and a mother on a mission to build bridges between countries and cultures around the world. I was born in the Bronx, NY into a proud Afro-Caribbean family. I believe growing up in New York – with its beautiful mix of people, colors and cultures played a big part in me starting this book series. The other influencer was my own children. I wanted to share their heritage and culture with them as well as opening their eyes to the traditions of other people. It’s one thing to tolerate another race or culture, but to love and accept them is a beautiful thing.
When did you first become interested in writing for children? Did you always know you wanted to write African heritage books?
I believe growing up in New York – with its beautiful mix of people, colors and cultures played a big part in me starting this book series. The other influencer was my own children. I wanted to share their heritage and culture with them as well as opening their eyes to the traditions of other people. It’s one thing to tolerate another race or culture, but to love and accept them is a beautiful thing. I like my books to focus on places that children are less likely to learn about – places that may not always be spoken about in the best light – and show them how to connect over similarities and embrace the differences.
For your series, Anya’s World Adventure, Anya had already traveled to Jamaica and India, why did you decide for her next adventure to be in Nigeria? In what ways are her experience in Nigeria different from her other trips?
I have a lot of good friends from Nigeria and over the years I’ve learned so much about it. Nigeria is a big, complicated and diverse country. We hear so many things via news outlets, social media and much of it is negative, but there is so much beauty in the culture of this country and so much history. I also love how much of Nigerian culture, food, and traditions seem to have directly influenced Caribbean culture – it’s truly fascinating how similar we all are. In my stories, I try to focus on what children can connect to so I write about the food, the clothing, the music, and games - just regular family life.
Did you have any fears or self-doubts when writing an African heritage children’s book as a Caribbean author? What were they and how did you overcome them?
I think with each book I write, there is a certain sense of responsibility to tell the story well while keeping the facts in order. As a Children’s Author, it’s very easy to get lost in the rhyme or rhythm of a story and the facts get cloudy – but I wanted to make sure my Nigerian friends and readers would be proud to read this book. I guess you can say that can bring on some nerves, but research and dedication allow me to overcome.
What advice do you have for authors writing African heritage children’s books?
Study! Really fall into what you are writing head first. Even though I write children’s books, I take in so much information, probably enough to write a novel. I eat the food, I listen to the music, I watch documentaries, I talk to people who grew up there and who still live there. You have to be dedicated and make sure you are honest and stay relevant to your reader demographic.
What is your favorite African heritage children’s book?
Am I allowed to say Anya Goes to Nigeria? Haha. Actually, my favorite is by my Great Uncle – “The Adventures of Aku” by Ashley Bryan.
Any advice on how people can encourage children to read more diverse books?
Children love to read and learn! I think it’s the parents who tend to need some encouragement. Parents have to be willing to expose their children to different things. Just looking at the state of the world today, teaching diversity and acceptance to young children is so important, maybe even vital.
What are you working on next?
Anya’s next adventures will take her to the Middle East, Asia, South America, Africa – we literally have a whole world to cover. I am also working hard on bringing an animated series to Youtube, so hopefully sometime in 2019 that will be a reality.