On this edition of Diaspora Connect, we feature Oladoyin Oladapo, the founder of Idunnu Studios, a creator of multicultural children’s content. She tells us more about the company, representation in children books and more.
F2FAfrica: Tell us about yourself.
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Oladoyin Oladapo (OO): My name is Oladoyin. Most people call me Doyin. I am an entrepreneur. I am Nigerian. I grew up in Brooklyn. I am a lover of God, Yoruba/Korean dramas, and ayamase stew. I also love to sing and read.
F2FAfrica: What was the motivation behind Idunnu Studios?
OO: I saw the sincerity in most multicultural children’s books in that they had a notable mission to increase representation in literature for children from all backgrounds, but I didn’t see the innovation. Respectfully, I found most multicultural children’s books to be quite boring. There is a joke I would make with my team that the problem with many multicultural children’s books is that they are about being multicultural. “Hi, my name is Akua, I’m from Ghana. Ghana is country in Africa. Africa is continent with beautiful cultures. I speak twi, I eat banku, I love my afro.” Fin.
Many times, the stories read like little textbooks or self-help books for children. Now, these learning points are important, but when I spent six months at a local elementary learning with about 200 children, observing how they take in and retain content, I discovered that there was something more important. At heart, any book, multicultural or not, needs to be an adventure, an engaging narrative, a fun story. Because, while we may know that children need to grow up reading diverse, educational and empowering content, they don’t know that.
As 3-12-year-olds they are just concerned with enjoying their book, not reading an endless stream of cultural facts. So I created a company that made the former a priority and embedded the latter underneath everything else.
My lead editor Olayinka Lawal when asked why we created our books always says that “multicultural books, in pursuit of diversifying the narrative often only give a single story of a place, whereas Idunnu books do not intend to teach the entire story of a country or people in one book but shed light on parts of the culture/history/people in a way that leaves the reader intrigued about the country as a whole and excited to learn more.”
F2FAfrica: Why children?
OO: One of my majors in undergrad was Sociology and with that, I concentrated on education. I studied school systems and education inequalities across gender, race, and class divides and it fascinated me. I also participated in a number of service learning opportunities that enabled me to work and learn with children, first hand, in the classroom. In all of this, I was most compelled by a theory I studied called Culturally Relevant pedagogy, which says that children will learn better when they can relate to the things they learn. I loved it! And I decided to put it into practice.
F2FAfrica: The book collections have a cultural element to them, why?
OO: I was inspired by the wave of diverse children’s content in toys and books alike. I noticed that it was no longer too difficult to find multicultural dolls or books starring children of all races. But I identified a need to take it one step further. To me, diversity is more than skin tones. It’s about narratives and experiences.
It is not enough to put black girls in books, we have to tell their stories, and many times, these stories are all the more diverse, because, beyond skin tone and hair types, they highlight rich cultural backgrounds, something I thought was getting ignored in the representation hype. Take, for example, Chazelle our Trinidadian character and Akua, our Ghanaian character— two black girls from two different parts of the world, both having unique stories to share. We recognize those differences, we celebrate them while highlighting the similarities as well.
F2FAfrica: You use the Idunnu ideas to create your books, tell us more about that?
OO: Idunnu Ideas my way of ensuring that the books were truly pedagogical as well as exciting to read. Based on our mission as a team, we created a rubric of learning objectives that each book must meet:
- Ignite. The Foundation. Our stories invite you into the character’s country and life. The reader is exposed to the character’s relatable personality traits, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, passions and fears while also learning how to navigate them.
- Inspire. The Skillset. Our stories specifically share and encourage hobbies or disciplines less commonly found among girls and other minority groups (science, politics, entrepreneurship) and show them just how fun and exciting these underrepresented fields can be.
- Engage. The History. Our stories explore noteworthy moments from the past; making it enjoyable to learn the history of the character’s country. The historical events are then tied back to the character’s current life, thereby making it relatable and engaging
- Excite. The Culture. Our stories highlight a festivity or occasion that effectively depicts a genuine cultural experience in that country. Usually more traditional with a touch of modern, the events emphasize the importance and beauty of the culture.
F2FAfrica: You launched the “A, Z, and Things in Between”, tell us about the book and the creation process.
OO: After we launched our first collection, Girl to the World, we wanted to create a collection that would highlight as many cultures as possible. We decided to use the alphabet to showcase the world to toddlers and new readers.
With “A, Z, and Things in Between“, we were able to create a 26 storybook collection that celebrates 26 cultural phenomena in 26 different parts of the world using numbers, colours, sounds, and of course, the alphabet. We wanted to create something simple yet impactful so that parents and educators could start introducing these cultural concepts to children as early as possible. From A for Azonto to D for Dashiki to F for Fufu, we had so much fun creating this collection and our readers are already sending us videos of them doing the Azonto!
F2FAfrica: What have been the achievements and challenges that come with such an endeavour?
OO: Every published book is an achievement. Every testimonial we receive from a child, parent, teacher or school is marked as a success. The biggest challenge has been marketing and distribution, just getting the word out to the target audience. Nevertheless, I’m confident that our work speaks for itself, and little by little, others are seeing it as well.
F2FAfrica: You are publishing books every month in 2018, how did you prepare for this?
OO: We started about two years in advance writing the “A, Z, and Things in Between” and other upcoming collections. We want to keep out audience engaged consistently and we had so many ideas we put to paper. As they say, there is nothing to it but to do it. We wrote nonstop until we were hit our targets and worked with a number of different illustrators and designers simultaneously to complete the works in a timely fashion.
F2FAfrica: What are the things you wished you had known before setting up Idunnu?
OO: It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve been writing these books since I was in college but it took about four years to launch them because I was waiting for them to be perfect. I wanted to launch with 10 girls instead of four. I wanted matching toys, activity sets, the whole sha-bang. But I not-so-quickly learned that perfect is the enemy of good (and progress) and if I hadn’t, I would still not have launched to this day.
F2FAfrica: Any new projects in the pipeline?
OO: Yes! In 2019, we are releasing more Girl to the World Books. Girl to World was our premiere collection. We debuted a Ghanaian girl, an Indian girl, a Trinidadian girl, and a Colombian girl. In the next release, we will be exploring new and exciting cultures. I won’t give all of them anyway, but I am happy to report that one of them will be Nigerian! (For everyone, who has ever asked me how a Naija girl like me has not yet created a story repping my country!) We also have an entirely new collection, where we will explore African history in a fun and insightful way. Stay tuned.