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 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 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.
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 Ever, have 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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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