Using books to show girl empowerment and tenacity

Published on: 10 October 2023

Author Wakanyi Hoffman discusses how books can be inspirational to all children.

Growing up in Kenya, on the outskirts of Nairobi, I was surrounded by the enchanting beauty of an indigenous forest that became my playground throughout my formative primary school years. In those pre-digital days, my childhood was marked by endless hours spent outdoors, climbing trees, chasing butterflies, catching tadpoles, and discovering the unfolding mysteries of the natural world.

However, it was during the COVID-19 lockdown after my family had just moved to The Netherlands, that I was struck by the stark contrast between my idyllic memories and the realities of digital childhood as my four children sat glued to screens attending school via Zoom. I wondered how the children in remote Kenyan bush communities, devoid of digital devices, were learning. I discovered shocking reports of indigenous children who not only lacked access to education but were also subjected to archaic customs such as child marriages, a practice that still persists among the Samburu community despite being outlawed.

This revelation ignited a deep passion within me, a conviction that I possessed the power to tell a story of girls’ empowerment. Books can not only reflect children’s realities and make them feel seen, but can show inspiring possibilities. In a single sitting, I penned the tale of Sala, Mountain Warrior.

Sala’s remarkable journey of determination and hope begins when her school orchestrates an expedition to conquer a sacred mountain near her home. This mountain had always been the exclusive domain for training young boys, moulding them into warriors. Sala, with her audacious spirit, stands out as the only girl in her class to sign up for this challenge.

Sala’s quest to conquer this sacred peak serves as a potent symbol of defiance against societal norms. She dares to challenge the status quo, challenging the traditional path of an indigenous girl and forging her own destiny.

The importance of empowering stories

Books speak to everyone, and sharing stories like Sala’s shows children that they too can forge their own paths. Stories, whatever gender the protagonist, can help with children’s mental wellbeing and self-esteem. Reading also develops increase empathy. Boys who read about girls (and vice versa) will find more in common with them than they perhaps think. My hope is that as all readers immerse themselves in Sala’s journey of courage and empowerment, they will find resonance with their own stories of overcoming formidable obstacles to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Sala’s story transcends being a mere narrative; it stands as a testament to empowerment, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of gender equality. Sala’s journey embodies the spirit of courage to challenge limitations and break down barriers. It echoes the belief that true gender equality will only be realised when every girl sees herself, her dreams, and her potential reflected in the narratives that encompass our shared humanity.

In the end, Sala, Mountain Warrior is not just Sala’s story; it is the collective narrative of countless girls worldwide who dare to dream, push boundaries, and inspire us all to ascend to the heights of our aspirations. It serves as a chronicle of resilience, empowerment, and the enduring power of storytelling to shape lives and transform communities.

Through this tale, I hope to inspire young children worldwide to become the narrators of their own stories. Sala’s story serves as a powerful reminder that with resilience, determination, and the unwavering support of those who believe in us, we can conquer any mountain and shatter the confines of stereotypes. It is my hope that after reading Sala, Mountain Warrior, children worldwide will be captivated and inspired to ignite their inner warriors and overcome the obstacles that limit their potential to flourish and lead joyous lives.

Wakanyi Hoffman is an author, global educator, and Keynote Speaker on Ubuntu Wisdom, the African philosophy of human interconnectedness. She is currently a research fellow at The New Institute Hamburg.

Sala, Mountain Warrior by Wakanyi Hoffman and illustrated by Onyinye Iwu is out now.

Topics: Features


Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 16 titles.

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