South Africa-based Zimbabwean writer Myke Mwale has been long-listed for a 2014 Golden Baobab Prize for African children's literature.
Mwale is among six other writers from different African countries long-listed for the Picture Book Prize which is awarded to "the most captivating unpublished African manuscript for a picture book targeting readers aged 6-8 years".
The Picture Book Prize is one of the six Golden Baobab Prizes for African literature. The other prizes are for Early Chapter Book, Rising Writer, Illustrators, Rising Illustrators and Lifetime Achievement in Children's Literature.
The overall 2014 long-list which was released early this month represents stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books and the Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books.
And this year, the Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writer has no one to take home because no story in this category made it onto the 2014 long-list.
In an interview with this writer, Mwale, who teaches in Kroonstad, South Africa, said he feels honoured for making it onto the long-list in the Prize for Picture Book category.
"It is an honour to be long-listed for the prestigious Golden Baobab Prize for children's literature. To be able to contribute something towards the imagination of our children feels great," he said.
The former Churchill Boys High student said as a writer he is motivated to write for children by the realization that the child in all of us stays forever one way or the other.
"All I was striving to do was to give that child a voice and let it communicate with the other children out there – the real children and the children within most of us adults.
"Writing children's stories is great fun. It is amazing to go down on your knees and see the world from that point of view of innocence and unbridled imagination. Who amongst us does not wish sometimes to be a child again and play? And besides it keeps you young at heart," said Mwale.
His long-listed story 'The Big Ball' is about a girl named Chiedza who breaks the norm of identifying activities for children through gender.
A summary of "The Big Ball" published on the Golden Baobab Prize official website says, "It all started one afternoon when Chiedza asked to join in and play soccer with the boys. Girls do not play soccer with boys. However, Chiedza persists and soon she can kick the plastic paper ball just like the boys.
"A few days later, Tendai's father buys him a real big ball. Everybody is excited to play soccer with Tendai's ball. Will Chiedza play this new big ball? Only Tendai, the owner of the ball, can decide this."
Issues such as one presented in Mwale's story reveals the great role the Prize is playing in the empowerment of the African child on the continent.
"When children begin to see their environment and imagination as a ground for possibilities, they are empowered to own it and even change it, one day. In order to facilitate this we need more writing and reading not for the sake of passing at schools only but of giving our children a brighter future," Mwale said.
Zimbabwean writers, like their counterparts across the continent, have made it onto the Golden Baobab Prize platform to showcase their passion for telling African children's stories and in the process, empower this special "constituency".
In 2009, Ivor W Hartmann won a Golden Baobab Prize for his story "Mr Goop" written for the age group 12-15 years; in 2010 Mirirai Moyo won the prize for her story "Diki" written for children between the ages six and 11 years; and in 2012 young writer Rutendo Chabikwa scooped the Rising Writer award. Last year Sabina Mutangadura was short-listed for the Early Chapter Book Prize for her amazing story titled "Seven".
While this testifies of the country's growing talent and potential to provide relevant reading matter for the children, players in the book industry have to boost children's reading culture by catching up with the new advanced multi-media technology which has not spared children's social behaviour.
Mwale, whose childhood somehow had a blessing of abundant reading resources which inspired him to begin to write at the age of 12, said that the times have changed and today's child is growing in a society being irretrievably influenced by technology.
"This is the challenge with the technological innovations of our time which see many a child falling into the trap with the adults where cell-phones and play-stations and x-boxes are becoming 'more cool' than reading a book or nourishing their imagination by playing outside," he said.
The Golden Baobab Prize, being the leading African children's literature Prize on the continent, is aware of the inescapable embrace of technology.
"Our dream is for characters from our stories to become household names which merchandisers and multimedia developers recreate for years to come," says a statement on its website.
Mwale's Golden Baobab long-listed story "The Big Ball" expands his portfolio of works which have brought his writing career this far.
In 2010 his play "Mandida's Shoes" got Special Mention for the BBC play writing competition. The play, which was highly praised by world-renowned writer Wole Soyinka, is about a young girl who is chosen to recite a poem at the school's open day but faces the challenge of her torn shoes. The play was broadcast on BBC the same year. He also has a story titled "Fire in the Night" in the Writivism 2014 compilation of the same title. Mwale has also written a couple of poems.
The 2014 short-list for the Golden Baobab Prizes will be announced on October 30 and winners on November 13 this year. The Golden Baobab Prizes for African literature were launched in 2008 'to inspire the creation of enthralling African children's stories by African writers. The prizes invite entries of unpublished stories written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin.'