Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sola Togun-Butler, Ph.D., Author of Where Do You Keep The Lions? An African Girl's First Day of School in America


Today we are interviewing Sola Togun-Butler, Ph.D., author of a children's book, titled, "Where Do You Keep The Lions? An African Girl's First Day of School in America."

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am an Assistant Professor at a private college and a clinical therapist providing counseling services in person and online. I am very passionate about education and social work, so I consider myself blessed to be in both fields. I love to read as reading has ability to transport the reader into the world of the character(s) and develop powerful imagery in the process. In addition to reading, another one of my favorite hobbies is traveling as I love to learn about cultures. It never ceases to amaze me that I get on a plane and 8-12 hours later, enter a whole new culture. I find it very exciting!

Describe the plot of your new book, “Where Do You Keep The Lions? An African Girl's First Day of School in America,” in a few sentences.
The underlying plot is that young children can also incorporate into their belief system stereotypes about other cultures, and innocently use the same stereotypes when they interact with classmates from those cultures. Therefore, we have an African immigrant whose emotions of happiness turns to sadness and anger by the end of the school day.

Who do you think would most appreciate this book?
I believe that both children and adults will appreciate the book. The book identifies the origin of stereotypes about the African continent and how those stereotypes can be very hurtful when we use them as a means of connecting with people from African countries. 

Tell us a bit about the protagonist, Kemi.
Kemi is an 8-year-old African immigrant who is excited about her first day of school in America. However, she is unprepared to be confronted with negative comments and questions about Africa. Her excitement turns to anger and sadness as she tries to figure out the origin of the negative comments and questions related to the continent.

The story was loosely based on your experience as a young African immigrant in 1988. Can you share with us a bit about your experience? 
As a young African immigrant, I was also confronted with many negative questions and comments about Africa. I had classmates that were shocked that I spoke English, knew what a television was or that I lived in a house in Africa. As an adult, I still deal with hurtful questions about Africa. I have turned that hurt and anger into showing people another side of Africa that they often do not see. I offer free presentations entitled, “Challenging Myths About Africa”. I have done the presentation at high schools, colleges, churches, elementary schools, etc. to encourage cultural awareness and sensitivity.

One of the themes of your book is encouraging children to ask polite questions when they’re curious about other cultures. Do you have any tips for parents who want to have this discussion with their children?
Curiosity about other cultures is normal and should be encouraged by parents. However, it is important for parents to talk to their children to identify any stereotypes or biases that they might have about other cultures. By identifying those biases and challenging them, we can teach our children how to assess if the questions they are about to ask are polite questions. A polite question would be “Can you please tell me about your culture?” An impolite question would be “Is it true that you are all starving in Africa?” There is a big difference between both questions.


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Children's book author Sola Togun-Butler.
You’ve been in the field of social work for more than 15 years, with eclectic experiences, from foster care to gerontology. How has your diverse work experience influenced your writing and how you tell stories?
The field of social work requires that you engage in ongoing self-awareness to identify any biases that might impact interaction with a client population. The best part of my work is meeting clients from all over the world and learning about their amazing cultures. People go into the field of social work to change the lives of their clients, I can honestly say that my clients have changed my life as well. They have taught me what it means to be resilient and to embrace the beauty of diversity.

You’re also involved with the Victoria Ibironke Togun Scholarship fund, which provides educational opportunities to young girls in developing countries. Can you tell us a bit about this?
As a social worker and educator, I am a firm believer that everyone should have access to a quality education regardless of their socioeconomic status. In some developing countries, parents cannot afford to send their children to school. I decided to start the scholarship to give young girls the opportunity to access quality education. I named the scholarship after my maternal grandmother who believed in the importance of education and even as a widow with limited funds, ensured that all four of her children got an education.

Are there any authors who have influenced your writing style?
The three authors that I have influenced my writing style are Chimamanda Adichie, Buchi Emecheta and Chinua Achebe. The title of their books grabs your interest and the story line maintains it. Therefore, it was important for me as a writer, that my title grab the interest of the reader and maintain that interest till the end of the book.

How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since the age of 12 but this is the first book I have published. I believe I got my “writing genes” from my father who is also a published author.

The book was illustrated by Bang Qhodir. What was it like working with Bang? Did you have a vision for the illustrations before you started?
I really enjoyed working with Bang Qhodir as he is a very talented illustrator. He was able to capture my vision for the book and add his creativity to it. I will work with him again on future projects.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?
I would like to publish more books that teach the importance of cultural competency, awareness and sensitivity in our interaction with others. The world is becoming smaller, so it is important that we teach our children these skills.

How have your readers responded to the book so far?
Readers have responded very positively to the book and felt it was important that issue of cultural awareness and sensitivity be addressed with young children, so they are cognizant about it at an early age. African immigrants have also identified with the character in the book and shared the impact negative questions/comments have had on them.

Is there any aspect of writing that is challenging for you?
Coming up with a title can be very challenging for me. I am still struggling to come up with a title for another children’s book that I would like to publish. It took me some time to come up with a title for this book. It was while I was staring at my computer screen that I remembered the question about Africa a classmate asked me that I have never forgotten, “Sola, where do you keep the lions?”

Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how'd you deal with it? If you have not had writer's block, why do you think you haven't?
I feel that all writers at some point deal with writer’s block. The best way I have dealt with it is to go for a walk around my neighborhood to clear my mind.

What do you have in mind for your next project?
My next project focuses on tension within similar groups and how that tension is communicated to our children. Even though a child might be similar to a peer in terms of their racial/ethnic background, he or she might be told by family members not to associate with that peer because of socioeconomic status or place of residence.

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about your book?
It is my desire that this book take both parents and children on a journey of cultural awareness and sensitivity. To understand the origin of our stereotypes and detrimental impact those stereotypes can have when interacting with others from different cultures. In addition, I hope that readers see the value of taking on the learner perspective when curious about other cultures because that perspective helps generate polite questions.

More Information
Buy the book on Amazon.
Visit the author's page on Amazon.

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