Response and criticism in children's literature in Kenya: the case of Barbara Kimenye
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This study on response and criticism in children's literature had one main purpose: to establish a critical framework for appraising children’s adventure fiction in Kenya, using Barbara Kimenye, a prolific children's story writer in East Africa, as a reference point. Underlying the study were four basic theoretical assumptions: that children's literature should communicate important values to the child as well as benefit him aesthetically; that the best critic of a children's book is the child himself; that the best children's books are those in which form and content operate in harmony and lastly, that critical works enhance the quality of children's literature. All the theoretical assumptions mentioned above were proven true by the data gathered from both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources consisted of the use of structured and unstructured questionnaires/ interviews, aimed at eliciting data on the child's response to Kimenye's books. Secondary sources consisted mainly of the library research on critical works on children’s literature aimed at gauging the relationship between criticism and the quality of children's books. The literature review clearly revealed that the western children's literature has received the attention and interest from critics whose works have guided and inspired the writing of quality literature. This kind of literary interest is lacking in Africa in general and Kenya in particular where criticism has been haphazard and limited in offering clear guidance to the authors and other patrons of children's literature. The primary data mentioned above were collected from five different Kenyan schools. The major findings revealed by the data gathered show that Kenyan children like certain basic qualities in adventure stories. These children like:- plots that are full of action and thus able to sustain the children’s interest; credible settings that enhance the story being narrated; characters that are naturally revealed through the unfolding drama in the story; a writing style that is fresh and challenging yet understandable and themes that are practical and applicable to the child's day to day life. The findings enumerated above are relevant in understanding response and criticism in children's literature in Kenya for children from different regions have varied readings tastes depending on the issues that inform them as they grow up. The critical framework provided by the study is necessary inorder that those who write and select adventure fiction for Kenyan children can do so confidently and diligently. Furthermore, similar studies need to be carried out inorder to accommodate changes in the growing child's reading taste.