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      Celebrating the KIDDYKIDDY book series by Dr. Robert Peprah-Gyamfi 


I am privileged to be able to say a few words on this celebratory occasion and to suggest how important Dr Robert’s books are for children today. This series of KIDDYKIDDY books are just what is needed to illuminate our complicated world. They are amusing, beautifully and colourfully illustrated and tell real stories about things that mean something to us all. Take the story of the Chocolate on a Tree – it introduces Kofi Mensah, a seven-year-old Year 2 primary school boy growing up in Ghana within the village of Kookookrom. Kofi helps his parents grow cocoa at the weekends and during school holidays. At seven, he has become an expert cocoa grower, from observing his parents at work and engaging with talk about how to nurture the beans. Despite his experience of cultivating cocoa, does Kofi have any idea about how the beans are used?  The Chocolate Tree is a lovely way of displaying treats that are the end products of the cocoa beans!  This idea introduces fun & magic into the narrative.


Therefore, the Chocolate on a Tree book is based on real life experience of cocoa to both eat and drink, which is something most of us enjoy (certainly I have during the pandemic!).  The text is a natural introduction to how cocoa is used in different ways, which can be brought into a cooking session to explore further.  When working in Japan, I witnessed primary-school children making biscuits in the kitchen and then using these in a Maths lesson to learn multiplication and division. The USA National Teaching Laboratories in Bethel, Maine, show that we only recall 5% of what we are told, but if we actively use the information immediately and share the experience, we retain 90% of the learning.  The Japanese idea for this is known as ‘Hansai’ (reflection), with a third of each lesson given over to this process. Every child has 30 seconds to stand up and review what they have gained from the session. It is amazing what can be said in such a short time and sharing a vast range of perspectives greatly extends the learning opportunities for everyone.  The Japanese children are very articulate and concise, as communication and relationships take priority in primary school educational experiences.


The Chocolate on a Tree book shows how learning can take place in the informal context of growing cocoa beans, which Chicago University studies suggest is the way we mainly learn, as only 15% of what is acquired is in a formal context.  As well as giving opportunity for understanding active, informal learning, it introduces sequence, demonstrated in the growing process, which is a vital step in narrative language and thinking. Importantly, the book presents a different culture to broaden our geography and social knowledge.  The latter is essential to help integration of our multi-cultural communities, as we all need to understand and appreciate the differences in ways of living and thinking that exist around our globe.  This means introducing a broader literature both in schools, colleges, libraries and bookshops, so that we have opportunities to learn about how we all live and work in various ways. People’s lives are dictated by their physical environment and climate, which have shaped their identity throughout history. This must be exposed, explained and discussed to ensure a deeper understanding of our universe and the different philosophies and practices that exist.  Dr Elizabeth Negus,   another contributor to this session, is an expert in Victorian literature and an eloquent exponent of the importance of this is helping us understand how a particular society and its customs for communicating have evolved to take account of circumstances.


There must be education relevant to a context and if living in a country, we should all respect the history, customs, attitudes and values of it, if we wish to live peacefully.  The Greek Philosopher, Herodotus, has much to teach us in this regard, stressing the importance of signing up to a nation’s core principles and not publicly exhibiting differences to these, if wanting to avoid fear and distrust.  It is sad to see that many of our universities are throwing out traditional British literature, such as Chaucer and Shakespeare, in favour of texts with political motives.   This shows a lack of understanding of how we acquire the effective language for our successful daily exchanges and relationships.  Language learning has three important components – form, structure and use.  We learn use from the literature of the national language, which shows us how it has evolved and is employed in differing contexts.


Take the word ‘dodgy’ – which has been in English use since the 16th century and was initially implemented by wood carvers to describe the fashioning of wood articles that used the simplest processes.  Today, it commonly conveys something or someone as fake, false and not to be trusted. Therefore, the word appears to have greatly changed its meaning over the centuries!  Unless, you read the ancient literature of a language it is difficult to grasp the nuances of it and appreciate that in different cultures a word may have a different meaning. For example, when I first went to America, I could not understand why people frequently went off to the ‘bathroom’. I thought they must be extra clean people, until I realised they were going to the ‘toilet’, which is the familiar word in England.   The ‘toilet’ is also referred to by many Americans as the ‘rest room’ and there again I was perplexed at how many ‘time-outs’ were required in a day!


The point is if we dismiss the literature of the language in common parlance within a community, we suffer increased misunderstandings amongst people, which can have violent consequences.  This is particularly important in an era where technology has taken over talk, with much fake news available and believed.  In addition, each year we appear to read less and less. The British National Literacy Trust’s latest 2020 Survey of around 61,000 children from 5-18 years shows that less than a quarter read regularly.  The TopHat 2021 study of students in the USA and Canada, during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggests that only 8% of them find online learning satisfactory. This is largely because it focuses mainly on visual and verbal input, without the support and clarification from face-to-face contact of others. 40% of us learn best through practical experiences, which are difficult to simulate remotely. Portfolios of personal and practical as well as academic achievements show a broader profile than tests and examinations, which may not show true potential.


Children who are limited readers frequently have academic, emotional and social problems, says research. They struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.  Meagre speaking and reading achievements are also the common denominator in school discipline, attendance and dropout problems, as well as juvenile crime, which happens because children cannot understand the consequences of their actions. Sir Michael Rutter’s studies of youth delinquents showed that language and communication deficiencies were common to all of them (1958-2020).   Inadequate readers show problems with language form, structure and use, with limited comprehension to reduce their cognition, like memory retention and recall along with judgement and problem-solving.  In an age of information overload, skilled speaking and reading are vital for survival. Dr Robert’s books are a great resource to inspire the young generation of readers and we should all be promoting them for the benefit of a more informed society, better able to make balanced decisions.  Let us celebrate the dedication and devotion that went into this book series, which all have real meaning and interest for any child.  I will certainly do so and hope they become a popular addition to children’s libraries.



Professor Doctor Rosemary Sage is a qualified speech pathologist, psychologist and teacher; former Dean at the College of Teachers, where she led the first Practitioner Doctorate, sponsored by the European Commission. She was Director of Speech and Language Services in Leicester/Leicestershire; a Teacher in Primary and Secondary schools; Senior Language Advisor to an LEA; an Academic in 4 universities: Head of Department and Professor of Communication at Liverpool and a visiting Professor in Cuba and Japan.


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