Your bookshelf can change the world: here’s how

Blog, On reading

If you’re reading this post, it’s fair to assume that you probably have a bookshelf or two at home, groaning under the weight of books you’ve already read. 

You might also, like me, be an advocate for increasing literacy stats in developing countries like South Africa. Because let’s face it, the more literate we are, the better informed and empowered we are. And that’s good news for everyone.

So how do these two ideas connect, you may ask?

It’s simple. 

Our used books can be shared in order to get more people reading. 

Here’s how …

Years ago, when I lived in London, I picked up a book on a Tube train platform. Inside was a label with a web link and a unique code, as well as a note from the person who left the book there. 

This person was a member of a passionate community of people called BookCrossers. They’re people who love books and reading and are generous and kind-hearted, just like you. 

The idea of BookCrossing is to share your love of reading by leaving your used books in public places so that they can be passed from reader to reader. You simply label your book (using the unique BookCrossing ID, which you generate from the website), leave it in a public place and then follow the book’s adventures online. 

The model is not widely used in South Africa (the most avid BookCrossers currently come from the USA, Germany and the UK), but I’m determined to change that. 

Are you with me? I dare you!

Click here to get started. 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

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If you enjoyed reading this post and are keen to grow the BookCrossing community, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear from you if you’re already using the platform – please leave a comment below. 

 

Here’s a surprising way to get kids reading

Blog, On collaboration, On reading

They say that in order to teach kids to eat well and appreciate all kinds of food, you have to get them involved in the food preparation process.

 

But how do you get kids to love books and storytelling? 

 

 

 

This, yes. 

 

 

 

 

And this.

 

 

 

But how about getting them involved in the story writing and book production process too?

 

This year I facilitated a ‘book sprint’ workshop with the children of Generation Schools Blue Moon, where all year groups from the littlies (3–6 yrs) to the seniors (9–12 yrs) participated in a collaborative story writing and illustration exercise in just one day. 

The result is this 32-page collection of stories, written and illustrated by the children themselves. The finished book was sold to the parents as a school fundraiser and guess what? The kids absolutely loved reading their own stories on its pages. Job well done.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

 

Here’s an idea worth spreading

Blog, On reading

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

In a country like South Africa, with its laundry list of problems and myriad causes to support, you can either sit on the fence and not do a thing, or you can pick a problem from the list and do just one small thing.

Childhood literacy is my thing. As a writer and editor, I’ve found my happy place volunteering for non-profit organisations that try to make a dent in South Africa’s sorry literacy stats. So last night on my travels across the internet, I was delighted to come across someone else who supports this cause and who is making a difference to South Africa’s reading culture in a completely different way.

Gill Grose is an ex-librarian who now volunteers at an under-resourced primary school in Cape Town. Her story, recorded for TedX Cape Town earlier this year, will hopefully inspire you to do that one small thing too. At the very least, it will make you feel that there is hope for our country and its dire literacy stats. And that, for me, is definitely an idea worth spreading.

Watch Gill’s 10-minute feel-good Tedx talk here.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

I have the answer to SA’s literacy crisis

Blog, On collaboration, On reading

Shared reading with my Book Dash book, The Best Thing Ever. Picture credit: Shine Literacy

The answer to South Africa’s literacy crisis is not a new one, but it’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s about getting children to read for pleasure from an early age and instilling a culture of reading in the home.

The problem

The problem is, that for the majority of South Africans, books are a great luxury, and while literacy and a love of reading are usually passed on from parents, many in South Africa don’t own a single book. Our literacy stats are a sad inditement of this fact  – only 20% of South African children are read to by their parents and by their fourth year of primary school a whopping 78% of children cannot read for meaning.

The solution

The answer is to make books more affordable in order to get more books into the hands of all South African children. It’s something that NGO Book Dash, along with its devoted team of creative volunteers, is working tirelessly to achieve. The Book Dash model cuts the cost of publishing so that books become cheaper and easier to distribute (each Book Dash book costs only R10 to produce) and importantly so that African children can see themselves in stories. The idea is that if books become more accessible, more children will read.

The Best Thing Ever, created at Book Dash on 5 March 2016

So far, I’ve participated in four Book Dash events, a bookmaking sprint that generates around 11 unique print-ready children’s books in just 12 hours. As promised by its model, my books have reached children with limited access to books. To date, 16 572 copies of my most popular title, The Best Thing Everhave been donated over the years and the book is used by Shine Literacy (another organisation working to improve literacy rates) as part of its reading programme in schools. The book has also been translated into five South African languages, 15 foreign languages and is shared widely online because of its Creative Commons licence.

A ‘dash’ with a difference

The team for the 13th Book Dash, 13 April 2019

Mostly, the books created at Book Dash events are aimed at three- to six-year-olds, but that changed at the 13th Dash held on 13 April. Hosted by the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography the event followed the same winning format as always, but with one big difference – all the books produced were specifically created for babies.

Books for babies

Illustration by Kobie Nieuwoudt from My Special Blankie, created at Book Dash on 13 April 2019

It’s a known fact that reading to babies stimulates cognitive development, improves attachment to caregivers and encourages a love of books and reading further down the line. Which is why this latest Book Dash initiative is a stroke of brilliance.

With the help of the very talented Kobie Niewoudt (illustrator), Claire Shaban (designer) and Claire Shortt (editor), my latest Book Dash book, My Special Blankie, written especially for babies and toddlers, was created at Saturday’s Book Dash. As always it was an inspiring day, made extra special by those good people at Book Dash. I feel privileged and honoured to be part of what I believe is one of the most exciting literacy interventions happening in South Africa at the moment. The book will be available on the Book Dash website in the coming weeks and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the cute hands and ears it has reached over the next few months. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I encourage you to share or donate a book to a child in South Africa who doesn’t have one. You’ll be amazed at the feel-good factor of this small gesture … and you’ll be helping improve literacy rates around the country.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

Books: the best gift ever

Blog, On reading

Over the past few years, I’ve written three children’s books for Book Dash. All with the aim of putting good quality local books into children’s hands so that every child can own a hundred books by the age of five.

One of these books, The Best Thing Ever, was inspired by my son, who on a country walk in Ireland one year, collected a pocketful of rocks and used them to create a beautiful sculpture.

The story of Muzi, who also goes on a trip away from home and makes something special with the items he collects on the way, has captured the imaginations of young children in South Africa and abroad. It has been translated into 13 different languages and brought joy to kids in countries as far afield as India and Korea. All because the story has been generously gifted to children, either by Book Dash itself, other literacy organisations like Shine and Wordworks or online via the Book Dash app or Storyweaver. The book is completely open source and costs nothing to print, translate or distribute.

Recently I went to the Book Dash offices to stock up on more copies of this title and got more than I bargained for. I received a pile of letters and drawings from children who have received this book for free. What struck me was the children’s absolute appreciation for the gift of a book. Some of these kids had never owned a book before.

In a country like South Africa with such dire literacy stats, the Book Dash model is a necessary intervention.

So if you’re at a loss for what to get your loved one for Christmas, consider a donation to this wonderful organisation on their behalf. It will bring the gift of storybooks to little people who can’t afford to buy them and that, in my opinion, is the best thing ever!

Read The Best Thing Ever for free here.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Arundhati Roy: hottest ticket in town

Blog, On reading

 

As I write this, I’m still smugly high-fiving myself for pouncing on an invitation I saw a few weeks back to attend an intimate evening with acclaimed Indian author Arundhati Roy (in conversation with Rebecca Davis, Haji Mohamed Dawjee and Kim Windvogel). Facebook is certainly good for some things.

When I arrived at the new lecture theatre at UCT last night I could sense the excitement of the audience. I even heard mutterings of equal smugness that these people had nabbed themselves tickets (free, nogal) to the hottest event on this year’s literary calendar.  

When Roy herself entered the theatre, the audience erupted into rapt applause; she hadn’t yet opened her mouth. And when she did,  we hung on her every word. It was like sitting at the feet of a guru – she commanded that much admiration and respect.

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel came out in 1997. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour and get a copy. It’s a rich and poetic story set in 1960s Kerala about two small children and a shocking event which reveals the complicated and hypocritical actions of the adults in their world.  It’s the only book I’ve reread three times – it’s beautiful. It also paints a very unflattering and vivid picture of the political and caste system in India, an act for which she has often appeared in court – for “corrupting public morality”. “For further ‘corrupting public morality’”, Roy jokes.  The novel won her a Booker Prize.

Roy’s visit to South Africa is to promote her second foray into fiction: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which I devoured with equal fervour. Her writing is sublime.

“How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.”

The story is an epic journey from the streets of  Old Delhi to its present-day metropolis, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India. It is a tapestry of a diverse country played out by characters including a Muslim hijra, an upper-caste Hindu, an officer in the intelligence bureau, a Sikh, a Christian – almost everyone is represented.

“People—communities, castes, races and even countries—carry their tragic histories and their misfortunes around like trophies, or like stock, to be bought and sold on the open market.”

The treat of the night for me was hearing Roy read her own words. If her writing is like poetry, her reading was like music. And in a flash, it was over and throngs of people gathered at the signing table for another piece of this awe-inspiring woman.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Why you should stop buying books

Blog, On reading

About a year ago, my six-year-old son jumped on my Kindle and it died, never to be resurrected.

I figured that with a bookshelf creaking under the weight of real books, I would survive the loss, but I couldn’t let it go and eventually bought myself the Kindle Paperwhite. My sanity was restored.

Being an editor, books are my business and though I love the smell and feel of a real book, I do love my Kindle. Please allow me to explain:

Not only is the Kindle really user-friendly (its designers have thought about everything from how to make it look just like printed words on a page to its nifty size), there are also these five amazing benefits of reading on Kindle.  

1. Everything is at the touch of a button

  • I can highlight passages and take notes without feeling guilty about defacing my books.
  • I can see ‘popular highlights’ to know which passages other people thought were important
  • I can bookmark my spot and ‘dog-ear’ pages I want to come back to. I need never worry about losing my bookmark or my place.
  • I can easily search the whole book for a word, phrase or even character name (this last one is particularly helpful when I can’t remember when a character was first introduced – think epic historical novel!).
  • And my absolute best: I can look up the definition of a word with a simple tap. No more reaching for that heavy dictionary.

    2. A library on the go

These days when I go on holiday, I never have to worry about adding any weight to my luggage; the Kindle’s handy size makes it perfect for tucking into my handbag on the way out the door. And best of all, I don’t even have to first pick my holiday read – I have a library at my fingertips. 

3. Free classics

And on that note, there are so many books to choose from. There are literally thousands of popular classics that are free to download. The Great Gatsby? Jane Eyre? Mine for free at the touch of a button.

4. Read your own documents

This is an important one for me. The Kindle allows me to read my own files on my device. This is so helpful to me as an editor when I’m reviewing a manuscript. Reading it on Kindle and experiencing the text the way a real reader would, helps me catch errors and get a real feel for the quality of the text.

5. Perfect for night owls

And at the end of the day, when I climb into bed with some pleasure reading, I can rest assured that the side-lit screen and e-ink interface won’t affect the quality of my sleep. Best of all, when my husband turns out the light and I want to finish a chapter, I can … and the next one and the one after that … 

I promise you this is not a plug for Amazon and I do still love the books on my shelf. But it’s time to embrace the future people – go on … buy one already!


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Long live the book festival

Blog, On reading

For the past thremonths or so I’ve been working behind the scenes on one of the new literary festivals on the block – the Jewish Literary Festival – which takes place this Sunday (17 June) at the Gardens Community Centre.  

When asked to volunteer my skills to make this event possible, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because I’m a shameless bibliophile and because the thought of attending (and more especially being involved in the creation of) an all-day event dedicated solely to the love of books is my idea of heaven. It’s the same impulse that guides me away from my errands at the mall and into the nearest bookshop, where I’ll lose myself for hours in the solitary and intimate pastime of flicking through the stories that capture my imagination and deeply inhaling the smell of fresh paper that puffs up from their pages.

So what is it that makes book festivals draw such crowds? And why does a team of unpaid volunteers sign up to put on such an event with no reward other than the pure joy of seeing others flock to author signings, new book launches and panels of writers gathering to discuss how their stories and ideas intersect?

My guess is that it’s the appeal of that rare opportunity of face-to-face interaction between readers and writers. For so many authors, solitude is their way of being in the world and for the hungry reader, this makes book festivals all the more thrilling. At these events, authors are willing to show up and speak about their craft and we as readers get to glimpse the magician who conjures up lives and stories from words. We want to be able to know how they do what they do and we want them to know that they’ve touched us with their stories.

“I loved your book,” we gush at the signing table; it hardly conveys the depth of our appreciation for their words. But I guess it’s the reason why they do what they do and why we merely flock to the places they gather.

Some of the authors you can look forward to interacting with at the festival on Sunday are Rahla Xenopoulos, Gail Schimmel, Stephanie Urdang, Lyndall Gordon, Joanne Jowell, Mark Winkler, Mandy Wiener, Damon Galgut and Rachel Zadok.

See you there!


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

The most stolen library books of all time?

Blog, On reading


As we celebrate South African Library Week (19–25 March), I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some interesting facts about libraries around the world.

To start, you’re probably wondering what the answer is to my question. Here it is, along with other interesting facts about libraries here and abroad.

The most stolen library book in the world is the Bible, closely followed by The Guinness Book of World Records.

The South African Public Library in Cape Town, now known as the National Library of South Africa (Cape Town) was the first library in South Africa, established in 1818 by Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony at the time.

The oldest library still in operation in the world is St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, Egypt. It was built in the middle of the 6th century.

The largest library is the Library of Congress in Washington DC, with more than 160 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The smallest is a bright yellow plastic structure outside 32 Prince Street, New York City. It houses 40 books and has space for just one reader at a time.

According to Guinness World Records, the highest library is the library on the 60th floor of the JW Marriott Hotel at Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, China. It’s situated on the 60th floor, which is over 757 feet above street level.

And finally, the largest overdue fine for a library book was $345.14 (around R4,000). The book in question was a poetry book called Days and Deeds checked out of Kewanee Public Library, Illinois, USA in April 1955 by Emily Canellos-Simms. The book was 47 years overdue.

The good news for you though, is that if you take your overdue book back to your local library during South African Library Week, you’ll pay nothing, whether it’s one day or 47 years overdue!

For more information about libraries in your locale or about SA Library Week, visit the Library and Information Association of South Africa.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

5 things everyone can learn from Dr Seuss

Blog, On reading
Illustration by Steven McKimmie from open source children’s book, Little Ant’s Big Plan

Today would have been the 114th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss.

For over three-quarters of a century, children have delighted in the colourful and whimsical stories of this prolific writer. My own children have enjoyed the satisfaction of reading their very first words in Hop on Pop, a book which displays Seuss’s amazing talent for teaching kids how to read.

Possibly the best thing about his books is that though they all have some kind of lesson or moral, these aren’t overtly spelled out, making them a pleasure for even adults to read.   

In honour of his birthday, I’ve created a list of five life lessons all kids can learn from his stories.

1. Learn to Read: Dr Seuss’s ABC

It’s a classic, which breaks from the traditional ‘a is for apple’ books. Like all his other books there’s a heap of nonsensical words, which make learning letter sounds fun for kids.

2. It’s Good to Try New Things: Green Eggs and Ham

As a parent, I know how picky children can be, especially when it comes to food. This book provides a great lesson for kids on trying something new. Kids will discover, just like Sam I Am, that when they try something new, they might actually like it!

3. We Must Protect the Environment: The Lorax

We’re reminded in this book of how important it is to reduce waste and to protect the environment. Though it’s a heartbreaking read, especially the part where the Lorax gets up and floats away, the story ends on a hopeful note. Kids are reminded that if they do their bit to protect our Earth, the Lorax and his friends might just come back.

4. We Should Live with Others in Peace: The Sneetches

After a race to try and be better than each other, both the Star-belly and the Plain-belly Sneetches realise that ‘Sneetches are Sneetches’ and that no kind of Sneetch is the best. It’s a valuable lesson for children to see that people are people regardless of their differences and that we can all live together in harmony.

5. Life is an Adventure: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I received this book as a gift for my 21st birthday. It inspired me then and it still sits on my bookshelf today. The story tells us that no matter how old we are, or where we are in our lives, there are always new things to see and do. It also touches on the reality that sometimes life can be hard, but that there is always something new to learn. Kids (and grownups) can take great joy in this – that life is an adventure and we get to make it so!

 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below.