Following on from our meeting with librarians-turned-publisher in Bologna, I recently discovered Silly Mammo by Yohannes Gebregeorgis (African Sun Press, 2002), the first ever bilingual English/Amharic book. It’s the story of a boy who keeps making mistakes by following instructions given in hindsight – starting with his mother telling him to put his earnings into his pocket so he doesn’t lose them (ie coins)… and then he is paid with a bottle of milk, which he then pours into his pockets… and so the story progresses: until he wins the hand of a beautiful girl by making her laugh. It’s a delightful story, which will make young listeners laugh aloud.
The illustrations are by Bogale Belachew, an Ethiopian artist, who has given the story a contemporary setting. This reflects the books initial raison d’être, which was to provide Ethiopian children with a story in their own language from their own culture.
“Yohannes emigrated to the United States half a lifetime ago. He became an American citizen. But he came back, giving up a comfortable life as a children’s librarian in San Francisco, because it bothered him that while Ethiopian kids may go to school, they have no books.”
He founded a mobile library with a difference in Awassa, Ethiopia: drawn by donkeys; and has then gone on to publish books for children to read in local languages. Silly Mammo was the first of these.