Nature In Nigerian Children’s Literature: An Appraisal Of Selected Verses
This study appraises selected Children‟s nature verses drawn across five Children’s poetry texts. It, among other things, instigates a renewed academic and creative inquiry into the field of Children’s poetry so as to illuminate its relevance. It makes use of the ecocritical theory as a framework of analysis. In this light, it highlights the need for a reinvigorated zest in the study of Children’s poetry, particularly nature poetry, considering that poetry for Children has not enjoyed the popularity of prose. This obviously skewed state of Children’s literature in Nigeria calls for attention hence this study is justified in exploring Children’s poetry. Considering its style and structure, poetry is a great literary tool that is distinguished by its beauty and urgency. Accordingly, a research on Children’s poetry is phenomenal in bridging the widening gap amongst the three literary genres of Children’s literature. More importantly too, dwelling on nature, a factor very familiar with Children, makes poetry even more interesting. Also in a society where the environment is constantly vitiated, a research such as this is relevant.
The methodology used in the study is explanatory and interpretative in line with the qualitative research of the humanities, a process through which this study appraises nature in selected Children’s poetry texts of Olajire Olanlokun (Children’s Poetry for Pleasure), Philip Onuoha (Songs for my Mother), Efe Lovetta Ani (Elo Poetry) and John Sarpong Asiedu (Sweet Talking Drums and Poetry for the Young Ones). In the end, this study establishes among other things that nature holds familiar symbols and images that could interest children to study poetry. It also reveals that poems of nature predilection stir the consciousness of children to the safety of their environment. Amidst all these findings, this study further asserts its validity which lies in enlarging the boundaries of Children‟s nature poetry in particular and Children‟s poetry in general.
1.1 Conceptual Premise
This study seeks to boost the corpus of Children’s literature by appraising the representation of nature in selected Nigerian Children‟s poems. It makes use of Ecocriticism as a theoretical framework in illuminating the essence of nature in the selected verses. As an introduction, chapter one foregrounds this thesis with some basics of Children’s literature, which effectively provide a basis for the various presentations and postulations of this study. For instance, the background of the study is relevant as it advances some archetypal arguments in Children’s literature such as the sophistry of the 21st century children vis-a-vis the crux of their literature. It also takes into account the various age levels of children in relation to their literary works.
This is vital especially to writers and critics alike of Children’s literature as the work so produced should blend in style and theme with the children’s age for which it was published. The onerosity of writing for children is also highlighted in the background, just as the appropriateness of diction in their literature is illuminated. The background of the study is so positioned to give impetus to other sub-topics in this chapter such as the development of Children’s literature, statement of the problem, as well as the aim and justification of the study. The scope of the study is spelt out, just as the methodology is elucidated. In the end, the theoretical framework of ecocriticism is introduced and highlighted together with its basic tenets.
1.2 Background of the Study
The precociousness of today‟s children is gradually impacting on the scope and meaning of Children‟s literature. Children of today are in tune with the modern world hence their unprecedented exposure to life and its ideals and dynamics. Huck et al (1993:7)consider this fact thus:
Children today appear more sophisticated and knowledgeable about certain life experiences than those of any previous generation. They spend a great deal of time within view of an operating television.
According to the Nielsen 1990 Report on Television, actual watching time for children ages 6 to 11 average almost24 hours per week. Preschoolers watch more,approximately 27 hours per week.This, however, does not change the fact that even though Children‟s Literature could be enjoyed by adults; it is still the type of literature primarily designed for the pleasure of children. This, of course, does not foreclose the fact that “most adults, and almost certainly the vast majority of those in positions of power and influence, read children‟s books as children, and it is inconceivable that the ideologies permeating those books had no influence on their development” (Hunt: 2005:1).
In conceptualizing Children‟s literature, Smith (1967).
Nikolajeva (2005), Hunt (2005), Mickenberg Julia and Vallone Lynne eds. (2011) agree that Children‟s literature comprises books that appeal to the sensibilities of a child. This is even as Hunt (2005:3) further corroborates that “children‟s books are different from adults‟ books;they are written for a different audience, with different skills, different needs and different ways of reading.”.
Segun in Ikonne et al (1992:35) makes a case for the categorization of children according to their ages: “The age-levels widely accepted by Children‟s literature specialists are: pre-school (0-4); very young children (5-7), middle-aged children (8-12); adolescents(13-15) and young adults (17-18).” This categorization is meant to, among other things,guide the writer of children‟s books in considering the theme to deploy; characterization(especially in fiction), style and language use. This will ultimately guarantee a productive writing and reading of Children‟s literature. There are varied age brackets given by other schools of thought to enhance efficiency in situating age-range in Children‟s literature. This study however believes that it is safer to have four main age brackets in Children‟s literature.
This is especially as we consider the rate of sophistication amongst the 21stcentury children where it is not even unusual to find children of sixteen in the university. This will also help to correct the fundamental weakness in Segun‟s categorization where there is no provision for those child-adults‟ beyond 18. In the light of the foregoing, this research makes a case that ages 0 to 5 could be called lower class; 6 to 8, enlightenment class; 9 to 13, middle class;while 14 and above could be known as advanced class. This could be helpful to potential writers and scholars of Children‟s literature. Indeed, writing Children‟s literature could be described as a herculean task.
The onerousness of the task is captured by Meniru in Ikonne etal (1992:46):
Writing for children is not, as some people think an easy task. When I hear people talk of it as just a simple passing of time, I marvel at their cleverness or their naivety.When for instance, you try telling a group of children‟s stories, you will discover that one minute, you have their interest, the next minute you have lost it completely. The same thing applies to writing their literature.The import of Meniru‟s postulation is that adult literature is easier to write than that of children. In adult‟s literature, for instance, the writer is not subjected to the world of extreme care and caution in the application of diction as he freely uses words as they come to him. In spite of this, Children‟s literature is sometimes treated with disdain and prejudice as most institutions have not still recognized it as a mainstream literature. In Nigeria, for instance, a number of universities do not offer Children‟s literature and scholars wishing to undertake more research on it are discouraged by the fear of being treated with the same prejudice.
Nikolajeva (2005:xiii) laments this prejudice thus:Some scholars go as far as to deny children‟s literature a place in the literary system; they say children‟s literature can only be discussed and studied in an educational context. Some common prejudices about children‟s literature, maintained not only by its adversaries but even by its most ardent supporters, include the claims that children‟s literature is simple, action oriented rather than character oriented, optimistic and with happy endings,didactic and repetitive.
The fact is that these prejudices are largely ill-founded. One cannot for instance dismiss Children‟s literature as simplistic as the child-readers, by no means, can ever characterize what they read as so. For even in simplicity, there is complexity as meaning can often be allegorical.
1.3 Statement of the Problem
This study uses selected Children‟s verses to appraise Children‟s nature poetry. This problem draws from the fact that not much attention has been given to the study of Children‟s nature poetry especially in Nigeria. Prose, has thus, taken the attention of Children‟s writers and critics alike. Poetry, which ironically, predated prose has today,almost become an orphan in the history of Children‟s literature in Nigeria. For instance, there are many more of Children‟s prose titles in the stables of nearly every publisher of Children‟s literature in Nigeria than their poetry equivalents. If adequate attention is, therefore, given to Children‟s nature poetry, a child will at an early age gain the needed consciousness and awareness about the natural environment which begs for a careful attention of mankind and literary critics alike. Identifying, considering, learning, evaluating and critiquing Children‟s nature poetry provide a sure way of giving Children‟s poetry a fresh breath.
1.4 Aim and Objectives
This study implicates nature in Nigerian Children‟s literature by appraising selected Children‟s verses. Some selected poetry texts are used to achieve this: Efe Lovetta Ani‟s EloPoetry Book, Olajire Olanlokun‟s Children’s Poetry for Pleasure, Philip Onuoha‟s Songs for My Mother and John Asiedu Sarpong‟s Sweet Talking Drums and Poetry for the Young Ones.The objectives of this study therefore are to show that:
- The representation of nature in Children‟s poetry tradition is a potent means of creating the needed interest in poetry, a genre that is striving to gear up with its prose counterpart in an environment where poetic works for children are still not given the needed consideration.
- Children‟s poetry in Nigeria could be studied effectively using the ecocritical theory which ultimately will reposition the psyche of Nigerian children to appreciate nature and resist any form of environmental vitiation around them.
- Children‟s poetry in Nigeria could be a rare literary and literacy material that would better encourage and sustain recourse to nature, especially in a society stunted and dented by various degrees of environmental hazards.
- Nature offers familiar images and symbols that make Children‟s poetry easily accessible and understandable. For instance, the images of sun, moon, star, river, tree,etc, do not task the imagination of a child-reader.
1.5 Significance of the Study
Children‟s poetry is in dire need of serious critical attention in Nigeria, for while prose flourishes, poetry for children stagnates. This is in spite of the fact that it carries a sense of urgency in its stylistic features. A research, therefore, on Children‟s poetry is one in the right direction as the area is over-ripe for a fruitful academic inquiry. A study in this area will not only arouse the needed interest of writers to explore the area, it will also ginger critics to delve into the area. By studying Children‟s poetry (especially that of nature), it is hoped that significant attention will be paid to this “forgotten genre.” It therefore follows that Children‟s literature (especially in Nigeria) will not be complete if the overwhelming attention currently paid to prose fiction is not replicated in poetry.More importantly, too, the currency of nature studies and impacts of environmental hazards have made an inquiry into Children‟s nature poetry relevant. Indeed there is no more suitable age to instigate a valid epistemological foundation than childhood, an age that makes Osuafor (2003) posit that Children‟s literature should have the “ability to reflect children‟s interests at various ranges of the child‟s biological and consequent psychological development”(119). And when viewed with the ecocritical lens, Children‟s poetry can indeed provide the long-awaited panacea for the campaign against environmental degradation.
1.6 Scope and Delimitation
This study focuses on Children‟s nature poetry by some Nigerian writers with a view to bringing out the relationship between literature and the environment. Since the theoretical framework is ecocriticism, it becomes even more expedient to narrow our discourse down to Children‟s poems of nature predilection. Accordingly, some selected archetypal texts on Children‟s nature poetry are used to explicate the thesis of this study. However where necessary, this study will also explore poems from other texts irrespective of national origin,to comparatively illuminate issues raised. The focal texts of this study: Efe Lovetta Ani‟s EloPoetry Book, Olajire Olanlokun‟s Children’s Poetry for Pleasure, Philip Onuoha‟s Songs formy Mother John Asiedu Sarpong‟s Sweet Talking Drums and Poetry for the Young Ones, are chosen based on their merits of embodying good Children‟s poetry which highlights the authors as nature-conscious writers. Significantly too, they are texts appropriate for children between nine and thirteen years of age. Again they carry impressive illustrations and graphics which further make them stand out.
This study is explanatory and interpretative in line with the qualitative research of the humanities. Our main sources of information, besides the primary texts used include critical texts in Children‟s literature, journal articles, newspaper articles and internet sources.
Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation
This study appraises selected Children‟s nature verses drawn across five Children‟s poetry texts. It, among other things, instigates a renewed academic and creative inquiry into the field of Children‟s poetry so as to illuminate its relevance. It makes use of the ecocritical theory as a framework of analysis. In this light, it highlights the need for a reinvigorated zest in the study of Children‟s poetry, particularly nature poetry, considering that poetry for Children has not enjoyed the popularity of prose. This obviously skewed state of Children‟s literature in Nigeria calls for attention hence this study is justified in exploring Children‟s poetry. The focus of this study therefore on Children‟s poetry is geared and essentially too, towards resuscitating this great literary brand and saving it from an impending extinction. Accordingly, in choosing a dimension in Children‟s poetry: Nature poetry, this study aims at revivifying attention to children‟s poetry by using ecocriticism to evaluate some selected children‟s verses.In doing this, five poetry texts whose predilection is on nature are chosen. To achieve structural balance, texts with an overwhelming treatment of nature are paired with those withless-significant treatment of nature. Consequently, no fewer than sixteen poems are interrogated in each chapter of analysis. In chapter three, Olanlokun‟s Children’s Poetry for Pleasure presents a preponderant number of nature poems, a reason it is paired with Onuoha‟s Songs for My Mother with fewer poems. Similarly John Asiedu Sarpong‟s Sweet Talking Drums and Poetry for the Young Ones present a large number of poems on nature hence they are paired with Efe Lovetta Ani‟s Elo Poetry with a small number of naturepoems. Significantly, however, the works paired share a somewhat identical stylistic direction.
5.2 Conclusion & Recommendation
Children‟s poetry like every other Children‟s literature attaches much premium in the level of the psyche of a given target audience. Any work that cannot appeal to the psyche of a child for whom it is meant cannot be successful. Consequently the work and its function will have been working at cross-purposes. This is one of the factors portending a gloomy future in the world of children‟s literature in Nigeria. It is pertinent at this juncture to state that whatever a read read in one‟s childhood essentially formed one‟s mode of thinking and acting. Well written books with great experiences that appeal to children‟s psyche produce complete individuals well integrated in the values of his society. From the foregoing, the place of Literature in a child‟s development is once again re-emphasized and revalidated.Every writer comes from a society that promotes values hence a good writer implicitly or explicitly communicates these values in his works, in spite of the thematic predilection of his work.Rhythm is also an essential feature of a good children‟s poetry as it is essentially what differentiates prose from poetry. There has to be some elements of good cadence in children‟s poetry. This engages them as well as enhances memorability. The dearth of good poetry today in Nigeria is telling. It is indicative of the need to give poetry a critical attention.
Owing to the great promises and potentials they bear, Children‟s nature poetry may well be the needed tonic that will salvage Children‟s poetry tradition in Nigeria from an„ extinction-bound plane.‟ Everyone including children is naturally attuned to the splendour of nature. In resuscitating their keen interest in poetry, children need to be introduced to good Children‟s poetry written in perspicuous style. To this end, writers of Children‟s poetry must devote a sizeable portion of the pages to churning out great nature poems laced in unambiguous grandeur and charm. For only then shall there be a massive rebirth in the culture of children‟s poetry in Nigeria which has been stagnant for some time. The place of poetry in the teaching and learning process is quite non-negotiable. Exposing children early to this genre is highly central to their intellectual emancipation. It quickens their knack to use words in a refreshing manner just as it promotes an uncommon familiarity with words. Above all, their general sense of aesthetics is grown, nurtured and harvested in the study of poetry, especially nature poetry.
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