Acclaimed US Author Impressed by Kenyan Children’s Eloquence During Visit to Machakos School

Award-winning children's book author and illustrator Jerry Craft chats with students at Nyaani Primary School in Machakos County, Kenya, on July 4
Award-winning children's book author and illustrator Jerry Craft chats with students at Nyaani Primary School in Machakos County, Kenya, on July 4.
Brian Otieno/NPR

Author and illustrator Jerry Craft, who won a Newbery Medal for his graphic novel The New Kid, recently came to Kenya along with his team of 22 experts and advocates and was impressed by what he saw while in the country.

Instead of the typical stereotype of a starving African kid he met vibrant, intelligent, trilingual children who were very well-spoken.

This was the writer’s second visit to the school having accompanied his friend Kwame Alexander, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 39 books, to the school on his first visit. 

The experience left him so touched and inspired that he decided to visit again and bring along some of his friends.

Jerry Craft and Kwame Alexander
Acclaimed authors, Kwame Alexander (left) and Jerry Craft (right).
Brian Otieno/NPR

Despite this visit being his second, Craft was not sure what to expect. What he saw was far beyond his imagination.

His idea of a land where lions roam the streets was quickly thwarted by kids who laughed in his face for even entertaining the notion.

“Are lions just walking down the street?" he asked the children at  Nyaani Primary School in Wamunyu, Machakos County.

A unanimous ‘no’ was their response although most admitted to having been bitten by snakes and scorpions that are quite prevalent in the area.

Craft went on to challenge a 12-year-old at the school to a read off of a Dr.Seuss Classic, Fox in Socks, and was dumbfounded at her fluency and eloquence.

"That's one long tongue twister," he said. "I'm glad she didn't say, 'Now read this book in Swahili.'"

The group had an amazing time at the school sharing experiences and comparing notes about the different ends of the world each of them came from.

The writer and his team were surprised that the children had no idea what snow was and only understood what he meant when their teacher referenced the white stuff at the top of Mt. Kenya.

Additionally, the lack of electricity at the school was also a fairly new concept to him.

"I look for the light switch. There is no light switch," the writer recalled.

Ultimately, the team of writers realized that the children were the same as all other children in the world.

“They're still kids who want to imagine a better world," he said.

"When you give them permission to start saying something, it is worth hearing. And I think that makes them feel valued, and it makes them feel that they matter."

The children, for their part, were left inspired by the experience with some of them aspiring to be writers just like Craft.

"They have taught us how you can visit the world and see many things. I have learned that by just writing I can also earn some money. Hope to achieve this one day in my life,” said Christiane Kabunde, a grade 7 student at the school.

Jerry Craft's Book
Jerry Craft's illustrative book 'New Kid' that won him the Newbery Medal.
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