How Representation in Children’s Books is a Powerful Tool in Uganda

A Ugandan girl with a childrens book written by Ugandan authors
A Ugandan girl with a children's book written by Ugandan authors | © 40 Days Over 40 Smiles

Culture Trip Writer

In Uganda, there is a saying that loosely translates to, “Children are the undergrowth that firms the forest.” It’s with this in mind that Nyana Kakoma and Esther Kalenzi decided to make children’s stories relatable to Ugandan children.

Loved by over 40s
Fireplace: Tot Tales

The publisher’s struggle to sell

“You don’t really understand how deep the poor reading culture, the under-appreciation for books truly is until you try to sell a book!” Nyana Kakoma tells Culture Trip, looking back to 2016. She’s the CEO of Sooo Many Stories and 2016 was the year when they had just launched their first publication, The Headline That Morning.

In order to improve the reading culture, Sooo Many Stories introduced The Fireplace: Tot Tales, a monthly gathering with children to read and discuss children’s stories—a fun way to make books a part of every childhood by sharing wonderful stories. They try to include as many Ugandan stories as they can find. Sometimes, they retell folk stories that have been passed on from generation to generation.

In instances where they read books that aren’t written by Ugandans, they make sure to interpret the stories in a way that children can relate to during discussions.

“There is something powerful about the written word. The Baganda always ask for bwino (where is it written?) because once it is written, it exists and it has life. When children see themselves in books, it validates their existence. It means that their lives matter and that their stories are worth sharing,” Kakoma affirms.

A happy Ugandan boy with a Ugandan children’s book

The time is always right to change the narrative

Like many Ugandans, Esther Kalenzi, CEO of 40 Days Over 40 Smiles, grew up reading the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and other fairytales. They always seemed so farfetched because it was hard to see the reality of her life in such stories.

“How can a little Ugandan girl relate to Rapunzel and her long soft hair while she struggles to comb her 4C hair?” Kalenzi asked Culture Trip. “Fantasy is good, but it’s even better when the protagonist is relatable. Your dreams suddenly seem more achievable when you can relate to the superhero in the story because they sound and look like you.”

That’s why for the Angaza project, a Swahili word for shine, the 40-40 team decided to enlist the help of 16 Ugandan writers to craft Ugandan stories for Ugandan children aged 7 – 14. It was a successful project that saw them publish four books with 18 unique stories that the children could relate to, because the characters in the stories had names similar to theirs or someone they knew.

“I know this impact will last a while and I cannot wait for the crop of leaders whom we are grooming through our positive, homegrown stories,” Kalenzi remarked.

Ugandan girls share a Ugandan children’s book

What the Ugandan writers say

Dilman Dila, a filmmaker and writer of A Killing in the Sun is thankful that his grandmother told him so many folk stories before he read Cinderella and the like. He admits that he actually got his hands on the Cinderella story as an adult. He told Culture Trip, “Children have very vivid imaginations and they feed these with things around them. When they learn to read, what they find in books fuels that imagination.”

Ophelia Kemigisha, a lawyer and writer, thinks that children, in their formative years, form thoughts based on what they are exposed to, including books, movies, and so on. So, they need characters that can relate to, people in stories that they feel connected to somehow. Reading stories that reflect their own surrounding, names they are familiar with, and the way that those characters tackle diversity is powerful. It empowers them to have the courage to dream beyond what they see and especially to know that it is possible for their own dreams to come true.

Happy boys bond over a Ugandan book
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.