Tad Hills Brings The Magic of His Books To Students in Kenya and Ghana
By Nancy Brown
“How can I be like you?” a young girl asks in a soft voice.
He was used to answering questions from students, but usually these questions were about his characters, like for example, disapproval over the duck being yellow as opposed to something cool like purple.
The girl repeated her question. This time loud enough for the entire class to hear, “How can I be like you?”
Tad Hills spends much of his time on the road. As a Penguin Random House author and illustrator, Tad travels to schools, libraries and book fairs to read his books and share the process of creating them. In May with Worldreader, Tad traveled a bit farther from his home in New York– to Kenya and Ghana.
The trip started in Narok, a rural town outside Nairobi, Kenya just on the edge of the Masai Mara near the Great Rift Valley. In a classroom filled with more students than desks, Tad animatedly read his book How Rocket Learned to Read to forty young girls at St. Mary’s Primary Boarding School. At the edge of their chairs, giggling over Tad’s goofy reading voices, a once reserved class of students was now powerless to the joys of storytelling.
St. Mary’s was the second of four school visits that Tad made in May, as part of the inaugural Worldreader and Penguin Random House Author Ambassador Program. Penguin Random House is one of Worldreader’s oldest and most generous publishing partners. Last fall, when we brainstormed new ways to collaborate, both teams fell in love with the idea of connecting beloved authors with students in sub-Saharan Africa whose lives are better thanks to their books. Tad was a natural fit and to date 9,292 of his books have been delivered to our students in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa via e-readers.
The Author Ambassador trip lasted two weeks, beginning in Nairobi, Kenya and ending in Accra, Ghana. At Suhum Municipal, a school located in the Eastern Region of Ghana, Tad met a boisterous group of primary students, but it was 9 year old Dominik who approached him after the presentation. Dominik carried a small sheet of paper with a crayon sketch of a yellow duck almost identical to Tad’s famous feathered friend. Without skipping a beat, Tad asked Dominik to take a picture with him, each holding the other’s drawing with pride.
The three week trip was filled with intimate moments. Moments between Tad and his young readers who he didn’t know he had, in places he’d never been. In the corner of a sunlit classroom in Narok, Tad sat with three girls as they read Drop it, Rocket aloud from their e-reader. Their voices carried in unison with interspersed laughter over Tad’s endearing lack of experience navigating his stories on a Kindle. In fact, this was Tad’s first time seeing his books on an e-reading device!
This glimpse into digital reading was not the only thing leaving a mark on the New York Times best selling author. Tad witnessed a true thirst for books, a desire for knowledge among the students. “The children I met understand how essential reading is for their future. They want to learn to read. They want to read stories. They want to explore the worlds in these stories.” Tad had witnessed an insatiable hunger for books in a part of the world where his stories hadn’t previously arrived.
The students desire left Tad with a clear call to action — write more books.
Back to Narok. Tad began his presentation by sharing a story he wrote when he was 9 years old, The Lion and the Mouse, a 34 page book written on red construction paper. While holding a copy of the cover of The Lion and the Mouse in one hand and an e-reader with 13 of his published books in the other, he told the class, “Read everything. Write down your observations. Tell your story”.
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