African Storybook

The African Storybook (ASb) is a multilingual literacy initiative that works with educators and children to publish openly licensed picture storybooks for early reading in the languages of Africa. An initiative of Saide, the ASb has an interactive website that enables users to read, create, download, translate, and adapt storybooks.[1] The initiative addresses the dire shortage of children’s storybooks in African languages, crucial for children’s literacy development. As of September 2020 website had nearly 6,700 storybooks in 222 languages spoken in Africa, consisting of nearly 2000 original titles and translations of those titles.[2]

African Storybook
HeadquartersJohannesburg, South Africa
Region served
Sub-Saharan Africa
ServicesEducation, e-learning
Parent organization


According to the UNESCO’s 2013/2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school and over half of the children who reach grade 4 are not learning the basics in reading.[3] These challenges are related to and exacerbated by the shortage of children’s reading material available in Africa, particularly in African languages; the major impetus for the ASb.[1] Developing mother tongue literacy before transitioning to a language of wider communication (e.g., English or French) is the policy in most sub-Saharan countries, and supported by the African Storybook initiative.

Due to the low purchasing power and demand for storybooks in Africa, along with the large number of languages, conventional publishing produces relatively few titles, in African languages.[4] The open license digital publishing model of the African Storybook initiative, by contrast, makes it possible for people to custom publish their own storybooks, to print storybooks, and to read them on mobile devices. The ASb also places content creation in the form of writing and translation in the hands of the communities who need storybooks for early reading in familiar languages.

The ASb was given start-up funding by Comic Relief[1] from the United Kingdom, and is now funded by various sources, including the Cameron Schrier Foundation, the Zenex Foundation and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust. Sadly, Tessa Welch, the project leader and one of the founders passed away in July 2020.[5] Saide continues to remain the home of the initiative, providing support and guidance to the small team of in-house staff and consultants.


Virtually all the storybooks on the site are by African authors, with content ranging from traditional folktales and contemporary stories to poems, traditional games and songs.[6] Authors are mostly educators – teachers, librarians, academics – who contribute stories in order to have storybooks for their educational contexts and to promote their languages. Out of the more than 7800 storybooks (as of September 2020), more than 60% have been “ASb-approved”, meaning that the initiative has checked the content and language in the storybooks.[6] All the stories are illustrated, either by professional illustrators in various African countries or by the users themselves.


The official launch of the website took place in Pretoria, South Africa, in June 2014, with funding from the European Union.[7] The same month there was an ASb summit at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to advance the goals of the initiative and forge connections with other organisations.[8][9]

Pilot countriesEdit

To test and get feedback on the website and stories, ASb worked in 2014/2015 with 14 pilot sites in South Africa, Kenya, Lesotho and Uganda – schools and community libraries that represent the target audience of the initiative. The pilot sites experimented with various methods of storybook delivery suitable for rural and peri-urban African contexts: digital projection of downloaded stories using data projectors and low-cost print versions of the storybooks for individual reading.[10] In addition, there is strong advocacy to promote systemic implementation in schools, teacher education and the library networks in the pilot countries.[11][12][13] Currently, ASb works with local-language champions in several countries to promote storybook development and translation into Africa languages. e.g.[14][15][16]


ASb has developed two apps which complement its website. African Storybook Reader allows storybooks to be downloaded on to a smartphone or tablet and read offline. With African Storybook Maker, a user can make their own picture storybooks offline on a smartphone using their own photos or with illustrations from the ASb image library. Storybooks created on a mobile device can be sent to the main ASb website (for sharing and printing) when the device is connected to the Internet.

Partner organisations and partner projectsEdit

Partners are key to the ASb, as it relies on other organisations and individual champions to advocate for local language storybooks in countries across the continent. Partnerships with people and organisations in communities are also crucial to ensuring that the published storybooks are appropriate for children in those communities. ASb has also collaborate with organisations doing similar work, including sharing stories, such as Pratham Books' Storyweaver, Book Dash, Room to Read, Molteno Foundation, Nelson Mandela Institute, Nal’ibali, Little Zebra Books, and READ Educational Trust.[17] The independent Global African Storybook Project was created in 2015 with the goal of translating the open-license ASb materials into non-African languages so that African stories can be accessible to children beyond the African continent. Storybooks Canada provides 40 stories from the African Storybook in the major immigrant and refugee languages of Canada with text and audio.

Stories of UseEdit

In additional to an ever-increasing multilingual collection of storybooks, the website also offers educator support material, and 'stories of use' of the books by ASb partners and supporters. The stories of use provide examples of how the storybooks and publishing tools have been used in a wide variety of settings across Africa.


  1. ^ a b c Welch, Tessa, Tembe, Juliet, Wepukhulu, Dorcas, Baker, Judith, and Norton, B. "The African Storybook Project: An interim report Archived 2016-04-24 at the Wayback Machine". In: H. McIlwraith (Ed.), The Cape Town Language and Development Conference: Looking beyond 2015. British Council, 2014, pp. 92–95.
  2. ^ "How African Storybook works to improve early reading in the languages of Africa". Parent. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  3. ^ UNESCO. "Education for All global monitoring report 2013/4: Teaching and Learning: Achieving quality for all". 2014.
  4. ^ UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. "Why and how Africa should invest in African languages and multilingual education: An evidence- and practice-based policy advocacy brief". 2010.
  5. ^ "Tribute to Tessa Welch". Archived from the original on 2020-09-24.
  6. ^ a b African Storybook .
  7. ^ Saide Newsletter. "Taking Forward Fruitful Partnerships from the ASP Website Launch in June 2014[permanent dead link]".
  8. ^ Saide Newsletter. "African Storybook Project (ASP) Summit at the University of British Columbia, 26 June 2014 Archived 30 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine".
  9. ^ UBC Faculty of Education. "The African Storybook Summit at the University of British Columbia". September 2015.
  10. ^ Norton, Bonny and Welch, Tessa. "Digital stories could hold the key to multilingual literacy for African children". May 2015.
  11. ^ Saide Newsletter. "Organising Access to Digital Stories in the African Storybook Initiative's Kenyan, Ugandan, South Africa and Lesotho Pilot Sites".
  12. ^ Saide Newsletter. "Kenya - the Pilot Sites".
  13. ^ Saide Newsletter. "Uganda - the Pilot Sites".
  14. ^ "Rural Nigeria". Archived from the original on 2020-04-05.
  15. ^ "Kenyan school".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "Ethiopia".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Saide. "African Storybook Project Archived 2014-08-10 at the Wayback Machine".

External linksEdit