Jessil Abner: Ministering Compassion & Human Concern Through Kids’ Literature
The Children’s Book Review
Published: February , 2012
Since the early 1990s, Jessil Abner has worked extensively with children of ages three through twelve as a summer camp counsellor, mentor, school governor, and teacher in America, Nigeria and England. Educated in BA (Hons) English, amongst other qualifications, her first novel Kingsview Kids Adventures: Internet Friend & Adventures in Africa is rich in cultural diversity. Abner’s goal is to provide children with good, clean fun and inspire them to enjoy learning every day.
Bianca Schulze: The inspiration for your book Kingsview Kids Adventures: Internet Friend & Adventures in Africa came from your own childhood. What moments from your early days would you say define you as a writer, in particular, the writer of this book?
Jessil Abner: As early as 5 to 6 years old in Peckham Primary School, London, I had an insatiable desire to read. Between 8 & 13 years old (in Nigeria) I read innumerable comics & adventure books most of which dealt with overcoming poverty and having fun. I always copied the characters of the comics/books in the good company of my siblings and friends. At about 9 years old I promised myself to have adventures and work hard to fight poverty and I always kept journals and slum books. I was top English/Literature student in my Primary and Secondary schools; this inspired me.
My love for English and Literature led me to study an English Degree at 17. My dissertation was in Children’s Literature; I also had two memorable projects of teaching English to children and reporting on an African storytelling night in rural parts of Nigeria. I learnt from both cultures: from the African culture that children measure one’s wealth and from the Western culture that money measures one’s wealth. I accept and blend both cultures and through my writing I hope to empower children to live healthy, wealthy and wise!
BS: You were born in London, England and have been a summer camp counselor, mentor, school governor and teacher in America, Nigeria, and England. How much of your teaching experience and observations of the children in these three varied countries and cultures, impacted the way you developed the characters and the cultural experiences they have?
JA: Wow, I love this question! Children are refreshing, intelligent and excitingly unique regardless of their cultures & backgrounds. I have reflected their carefree and natural kindness in my work. All the children I have worked/work with, love fun or a good & interesting challenge; they also have amazing ideas and are very creative. Most of their parents (from all cultures), instinctively protect their young and desire the best for them.
Poor/underprivileged children form 90% of the children I have worked with in these countries; so, my opinion is based on this 90/10 ratio to tackle cosmopolitan issues of riches and poverty. I observed most African children are content & hardworking; blissfully oblivious to the dangers & sacrifices unsung heroes (charity workers/sponsors) engage in to minister compassion to them. When they innocently ask why you are only just following up, they are unaware of the protocols in governments and personal commitments you survived to reach them!
Most of the Americans loved exploring their coast and the English/Nigerians the world…at least the wealthy 10% I worked with!
Children of Western culture are adventurous, inquisitive and compassionate and blessed with the wealth of their nations so would mostly seek rewards for their actions. The poor of these countries are middle class or rich in comparison with those in African countries; their waste is the other’s wealth. I chose characters of diverse cultures to truly reflect modern societies that various kids can identify with. I blended cultures when I took elements of the Western campfires and spiced it up with African story telling and deliberately expand kids’ horizons by making the characters travel to different nations…
BS: The Kingsview Kids are a mischievous yet loyal bunch. Is there one of these seven kids—Van and Vee Powell; John, Jess and Tony Peterson; Rita Patel and Tobi Clarke—that you feel more connected to?
JA: I connect to all the characters, even the minor characters. The purpose of my writing is a good cause —supporting charities and the poor and to empower children to enjoy childhood and contribute positively to their societies. So every character contributes a connection to my purpose.
BS: Working together and contributing positively to society are two strong themes highlighted throughout your book. Did you set out to deliver these messages or did they just naturally unfold as you developed the story?
JA: I set out on nurturing and inspiring kids to dream and aspire to greatness because kids do learn what they are taught. However I strengthened my themes in my writing after initial publishing feedback; e.g. page 108:
“Not bad, Rita. Let’s remember that God gave us riches to enjoy and to share. Why, oh child, would you let your neighbour languish, stooped in poverty, while you lavish your splendour?”
BS: Which age group do you feel your story resonates with the most?
JA: I created the series for 8-12 year olds mostly. Feedback so far shows the 10-12 year olds are enjoying it most, but 7 year olds want to read it too!
BS: Your book has been described as “an escape into childhood fantasy.” Why did you choose the genre of fantasy?
JA: I chose children’s fiction so I could creatively blend fantasy and realism. Children love fantasy and storytelling and they are powerful educative tools of empowerment. I have created a magical world where children rule and use their imagination. They live life to the full, have fun but get involved in their societies to fight poverty, greed and corruption (real issues). Their dreams are to have fun and work together to stamp out the evils of society:
“. . . I have a dream,’ Tobi said, mimicking Martin Luther King. ‘The poor will no longer be oppressed. The country’s wealth will be generated from the wealthy, with higher taxes imposed on them, for those who have more will give more.” Page 33.
This was my childhood fantasy and still is; and so with some humour I raise these cosmopolitan issues, subtly, dropping proverbs and wise sayings that would inspire children to creatively think how they can make a difference in their societies.
BS: When reading as a child, was fantasy your genre of choice? Which books from your childhood do you have the fondest memories of?
JA: Yes. As a child I recall I read anything I found interesting, I sure loved fairytales and African folktales/fables but as I grew I mostly chose books that inspired me to be adventurous and hardworking; e.g. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series and St. Clare’s School series. My imagination grew when I read these books and I went on to have many wonderful picnics, adventures, explorations, staged plays, school pranks, fund raisings etc. with my family and friends.
BS: Which current authors would you consider your greatest influences?
JA: Enid Blyton, William Shakespeare and Ngugi wa Thiong’o—author of Weep Not, Child. These writers are great inspirations and sustain my interest any day! I have used my interest in their works coupled with ancient fables to return to creating stories that teach morals. I did so because “I feel” the world is becoming quite self-centred, materialistic and morally depraved! But I do dream and have hope of better days ahead…through today’s children; but they must first learn and be taught of the choice between good and evil and that people’s choices impact society. So my books minister compassion and express human concern.
BS: You are writing a second book in your Kingsview Kids Adventures. When should we expect to see it on shelves? And will there be a third?
JA: Runway Italy ushers in a compelling cause to preserve our children’s innocence. This book would be out early next year. And yes, there would be another…Mr Zak.
BS: As a parting note, is there anything you would like to share with your readers?
JA: Thank you for your support and feedback. Please do dream and aspire to do something great in your society. Parents please do supplement your children’s education with books from this series…inspire your kids with the right adventures. “In the right hands, the future of today’s children is free from shame and promisingly bright beyond the telling of it.” For more information please refer to the press release.
Thank you Bianca for a wonderful interview. Peace.
BS: Thank you for your time and best of luck with Kingsview Kids Adventures: Internet Friend & Adventures in Africa.
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