Senegal: Khadija Seck, author

It’s the holidays, a good time to learn about our heritage! Khadija Seck wants to seize this opportunity to help children from the African diaspora get in touch with their countries of origin. Through Alima and the Magical Balafon, a book about the magical journey of an African girl, scheduled to be released in July 2023, this Senegalese author who considers herself a global citizen, wants to give children from the continent, whether living abroad or not, a chance to reconnect with their roots. The book is inspired by the author’s own journey from Senegal to France, and even Brazil where she graduated high school. Currently in Dakar to present her book on Saturday, July 8th, Khadija granted an exclusive interview to to talk about her work and projects.

Can you tell us about your book, Alima and the Magical Balafon?

It’s a children’s book intended for kids aged 3 to 8, which I wrote and illustrated. I have written many little stories and made tons of drawings, but this is the first time I have combined my two passions in this book.

The book is self-published, meaning I didn’t work with any publishing house. I took care of everything myself, from the text to the illustrations, as well as the distribution and communication.

What is the main theme of the book, and why did you choose that one?

The story is inspired by my niece Alima Rose, and features a little girl from the diaspora named Alima. She is of Senegalese origin but she was born and raised abroad, so she doesn’t really know much about her country of origin. One day, her grandmother who came to visit the family, gives her a musical instrument that leaves Alima unconvinced. However, it turns out to be a magical balafon, in which lives a genie who has made it his mission to help her discover her homeland.

The reason I chose this theme is that, having spent half of my life in the diaspora and after discussing with family, friends, and acquaintances, I noticed that a common difficulty in raising African children in a foreign country is creating a lasting connection with their roots. I also had several conversations, including a decisive one with my elder sister, which highlighted the need for quality literary materials featuring Black children and talking about Senegal and more broadly, Africa.

So does the book target African children living in the diaspora?

Initially, yes. Then, while discussing my project with my family based in Senegal, they expressed the same need as parents in the diaspora. At first, I was surprised because I thought such books must already be available in Dakar.

But after conducting a market study, I realized that there is indeed a real demand here. So what I initially conceived as an initiative for children in the diaspora has taken on a new meaning by including children based in Senegal.

What are the key messages of the book?

The main message I want to convey is a positive and fun image of Africa. I want to show that there are many things we can be proud of here. Because what happens often to children who are born and raised abroad, for example in France or the United States, is that they follow school programs and/or are exposed to content that portray Africa as a poor continent that is always in need of help. It’s a miserable portrayal that can lead to those kids developing and internalizing a sense of shame. I want to show them that, on the contrary, there are plenty of things they can be proud of, thus creating a strong sense of pride and a sense of belonging to the continent.

What are your prospects for the book? Do you plan to create more?

This is the first volume of a series. The idea is that in this first volume, little Alima will make a cultural discovery about Senegal. The following books will explore other aspects. I am already working on the second volume, in which she explores a place in Senegal, perhaps focusing on an environmental aspect. So it’s not just about culture. There will be stories related to geography, history, politics… It’s truly a comprehensive project that presents different aspects of Senegal and later other African countries to children in the diaspora and on the continent.

What is your source of inspiration?

My inspiration comes from the conversations I have with children and the questions they ask me. I came to realize that I was taking a lot of the things I know about my country for granted, because I had learned them while growing up in Senegal. But it is harder for children in the diaspora to get that knowledge, as being raised abroad adds a layer of complexity for their parents to establish and maintain a connection with their origins and transmit this cultural wealth to them.

However, the children based here also have a lot to discover about Senegal. Even I, despite growing up here, am learning more and more every day through my research. I particularly enjoy the creative process of translating the results of that research into illustrations and texts that will stimulate the imagination of my young readers.

How do you plan to ensure that this book reaches all children in the diaspora?

My book is already available in French, and the English version, that I translated myself, will be released in August 2023. I also plan on translating it into Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian to reach the Senegalese diaspora present in these three countries, and I am open to translations in other languages. Finally, I intend to have it published in Wolof because this would be a great opportunity to encourage children to read and write in this language.

Right now, I consider that we are at the beginning of a beautiful adventure. For now, Alima and the Magical Balafon is a book, but I can envision transforming it into an animated series because children respond very well to that medium. Before starting this project, I used to work in a completely different field, and I am currently in the process of transitioning careers to become an illustrator and a concept artist. I am studying to be able to create comics and animated movies in the future. I have some exciting things in store for my readers!