If you can read this blog post, you have a gift

Blog, On education, On reading
Photo by Oluwakemi Solaja, Unsplash

If you are reading this blog post right now, it is assumed that: 

  1. You once learnt to read as a child and
  2. You are able to access and use information technology with ease.

We take these things for granted. We do business, we read and write on social media platforms, we study (so much of which is online now) and most importantly, we are able to improve the quality of our lives and often our income as a result of what we learn.

Photo by Scott Graham, Unsplash

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that as a child: 

  1. You had no access to books,
  2. Your parents couldn’t teach you how to read because they didn’t know how, and
  3. You had no access to the internet. 

Now imagine that, with all these compounding factors, you couldn’t go to school as usual and had no access to the online learning tools that more privileged children had. 

What would your outcomes be?

This is the lived reality of millions of children in developing countries right now. Though most are returning to regular school as the pandemic shows signs of slowing down, the foundations, which were weak to begin with, are crumbling even further.

Go back to your mental picture. What future would your imagined child have now?

Being able to read and write and use information technology is a gift. It’s that simple. It’s time we paid it forward. 

Photo by Bill Wegener, Unsplash

Here in South Africa,  eight out of every 10 nine-year-olds cannot read for meaning; they are functionally illiterate. This means that without a serious intervention, the next generation is likely to enter the workforce without the skills they need to raise themselves out of poverty. It’s a vicious cycle. 

On International Literacy Day 2020 (8 September), be grateful that you won the birthday lottery and received your gift of literacy. Now, consider paying it forward to someone else. Here are three of my favourite organisations, which work to improve the literacy outcomes and lives of the children you imagined earlier. There are probably similar organisations in your part of the world too. Find them.

Dig deep. Pay it forward. 

Shine Literacy 

Who they are: Shine Literacy offers literacy support programmes in 77 primary schools around South Africa. Children work with trained volunteers once or twice a week, during the school day, for at least one year. 

How you can help.

Book Dash

Who they are: Book Dash gathers creative professionals who volunteer to create new, African storybooks that anyone can freely translate and distribute. Their vision is that every child should own a hundred books by the age of five.

Get involved.

World reader 

Who they are: Worldreader works globally with partners to support vulnerable and underserved communities with digital reading solutions that help improve learning outcomes, workforce readiness, and gender equity.

Take action.


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 15 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

Do you know of other literacy organisations in your part of the world not mentioned in this post? I’d love an introduction so please share in the comments below.

A child-centred approach to education in 3 quotes

Blog, On education

When my eldest son rallied against his mainstream education in second grade, I was forced to find an alternative solution. 

And so I did. 

Driven by my maternal need to see my child happy and thriving, I researched our available options and eventually settled on a Montessori school.

Montessori schools do not follow traditional teaching models and are renowned for developing independent thinkers who enjoy what will become their lifelong learning journey.

Now eleven, my son is becoming the best version of himself, with thanks to his new school and the vision of this woman …

Today (31 August 2020), on what would have been Maria Montessori’s 150th birthday, I’d like to celebrate the Italian doctor, educator and visionary by sharing three quotes, which for me, sum up her child-centred approach to education.

The child is not an empty being who owes whatever he knows to us who have filled him up with it. No, the child is the builder of man. There is no man existing who has not been formed by the child he once was.

– Maria Montessori

One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.

– Maria Montessori

The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’

– Maria Montessori

Those who owe their education to this remarkable woman’s vision include self-directed self-starters like the world-famous cook, Julia Child, holocaust author, Anne Frank, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Nobel-Prize-winning novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And of course, now, my two boys.


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 14 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

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If you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks. I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

Education has a bright future, thanks to this man

Blog, On education

I was so sad to hear about the passing of Sir Ken Robinson recently (21 August 2020). His work in the field of education innovation was truly inspiring.

Among his deep beliefs was this:

“Creativity is as important as literacy in education and we should treat it with the same status.”

His 2006 TED talk, in which he asked the question “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is brilliant and funny and inspiring. Not surprisingly, it’s also the most-watched TED talk of all time. It’s helped me navigate my own children’s education trajectory. And I confess, I’ve watched it more times than I can count. (The answer is yes, by the way).

In it, he reminds us that the public school system was created to serve the needs of the first industrial revolution and that education today requires a completely new approach. Why? Because we don’t even know what our children’s future will look like so how on earth can we be sure we’re educating them for it?

Did you know that the top in-demand soft skill for 2020 is creativity? It’s what employers these days seek most in a candidate. So why is it that we steer our children away from creative subjects like art, drama and music and insist that they all excel in STEM subjects?

And why do we first medicate our kids for ADHD, when they might just need a learning environment that allows them to engage their whole bodies, not just their heads?

Given how education has changed in just a few months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more importantly how we’re being reminded that the way of the future is very different to how we’re living now, Sir Ken Robinson’s clarion call rings true now more than ever.

“We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”

Rest in peace, Sir Ken Robinson. May your precious legacy live on.


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 14 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks. I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

Why you (and your kids) should give BUJO a go

Blog, On productivity

“What have you done today?”

I ask my 10-year-old son this question at the end of his (at-home) school day.

“Uhm …” he starts, sheepishly. Directly translated, this means “absolutely nothing, except watch YouTube videos about the Nintendo Switch”. I shudder at the thought of hovering over him the following day to make sure he gets things done. 

In a world full of distractions and seemingly endless tasks, it’s not easy for adults to get things done either. I get it.

That’s why I swear by the bullet journal (BUJO) method. 

And so, to avoid the hellish hovering I had envisaged, I share my secret with my son.

His verdict?

“Before my mom showed me the BUJO method, I was a slacker. Now, I’ve finished all my work for the day and I’ve already planned my day for tomorrow.”

Why does this system work so well for kids?

Teaching kids to write down their goals helps them to see their progress and take responsibility for their own productivity. It’s a known fact that if you write your goals down,  you are 42 percent more likely to achieve them. Kids have big dreams – I say encourage this from an early age. 

So what is the BUJO method?

The bullet journal is a planner system devised by Ryder Carrol. There’s a really cool video to explain it in detail, but put simply in the creator’s words, it’s a way to “track the past, order the present and design the future.” 

And what makes it different from other planning systems?

All it is is a simple paper journal. No tech required. Its unique feature is the different types of bullet points used, which indicate tasks, events, notes etc. Also, it has a key and index, making it easy to find what you’re looking for. 


So far, my son is using the BUJO method simply to keep track of his school tasks and events. But the system is so flexible that eventually, he can use it to record the books he reads or create a collection for his big dream to buy a Nintendo Switch console. He can even plan his own birthday party for when lockdown finally ends.


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 14 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

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If you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

How to use italics like a pro

Blog, On editing

Command i. It’s so easy to use this keyboard shortcut, especially when you’re working with a text that contains many foreign-language words.  The general rule in publishing is to italicise foreign words in English text, but have you ever considered whether the word you’re setting in italics really needs to be italicised?

Take for example, this piece of text written especially for a Jewish audience before the important holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

So, as the Jewish New Year begins and the sound of the shofar is heard in shuls around the country, I want to wish you a sweet and prosperous year.

The words ‘shul’ and ‘shofar’ come from Hebrew and so it would be tempting to italicise them. BUT.

Here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style says in its foreign words section:

7.52 Roman for familiar words. Foreign words and phrases familiar to most readers and listed in Webster’s should appear in roman (not italics) if used in an English context; they should be spelled as in Webster’s.

Oxford’s recommendation as set out in its Oxford Guide to Style also says to:

“Take into account […] the intended reader’s expectations”.

So given that the words shul and shofar appear in the dictionary and that the Jewish audience reading the text would understand them, there is no reason to italicise them.

Two simple questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is the word in the English dictionary (as suggested by the client’s house style)?
  2. Would the average reader of this text be familiar with this word?

Sweet and simple.

So on that note, Shana Tovah to all my Jewish readers. Wishing you a sweet and prosperous New Year!


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.

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

 

Let’s Connect

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.