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For Black History Month, author Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl shares the personal history behind her award-winning books, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba and Sing to the Moon, and why reading about everyday, seemingly mundane Black experiences matters.
I grew up in the United States with my heart always looking towards Uganda.
I was born in Cambridge, MA, a university town, and later moved to the suburbs of Boston. Aside from my cousins or family friends, I never came across Ugandans. I certainly didn’t see my country of origin reflected in popular culture or the media (aside from the oft-cited dictator reference -- “Oh, I know Uganda, Idi Amin”).
As a child, I registered the absence, the invisibility, but I didn’t really think that I had the means to make a shift in what I thought was a terribly misaligned cultural narrative. Uganda was a small country anyway. What did it matter?
Fast forward 30 years and I now have my own children. That wound had not fully healed. More importantly, I didn’t want my children to have a similarly invalidating experience. So I started where they were and I wrote two children’s books -- Sleep Well, Siba and Saba and Sing to the Moon (both illustrated by the brilliant Sandra van Doorn) -- centred in Uganda through the haze of my own wistful recollections.
I wanted to reflect both cultural specificity, but also those universal experiences that are shared by humanity (hoping, dreaming, wishing, etc.). What I learned through this process is that I did have a unique perspective and something distinct to offer.Nansubuga at the book launch of Sing to the Moon at David Krut Bookstore in Johannesburg with two young readers.Photo credit: @cehi_pomie (Instagram)
Although there were a number of children's books on Africa and many more featuring brown faces (albeit not enough), there were not any that spoke about Uganda in the way that I did. As it turns out, while we all have shared experiences and I do believe we are all connected, we still have unique voices that are waiting to be heard.
Writing for children is a powerful way to expand our collective consciousness, how we see ourselves, and how we see the world.
As we celebrate Black History Month, I hope that my books have added some depth of perspective about just how wide in scope Black experiences are and how many more Black voices still need to be heard.
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born in the United States to Ugandan parents and works in international development in East and Southern Africa. She is the award-winning author of Sing to the Moon, which won Best Book at the Children's Africana Book Awards, and Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, a Kirkus Best Picture Book of the Year.