The kids’ book rev­o­lu­tion

Free books for kids? Don’t be silly, noth­ing’s for ma­hala. Ex­cept it’s true. An amaz­ing pro­ject called Book Dash aims for ev­ery South African child to have 100 books by the time they turn five. finds out more

CityPress - - Voices - To down­load the free books, sim­ply visit book­dash.org, or visit the site and do­nate some money for Book Dash to pay to stage events and print books so they can be dis­trib­uted The next Book Dash is in Cape Town on March 5. To find out more, fol­low @bookd

Some amaz­ing new chil­dren’s books have passed across my desk re­cently. There’s the one about Nita, who’s hang­ing up­side down, and her friend Navi tries to fig­ure out why. And Amaz­ing Daisy, a chicken who be­lieves she was put on this earth to fly. And then there’s the in­spir­ing tale of Zanele Situ, who is told she will never walk and ends up be­com­ing a world-fa­mous ath­lete in a wheel­chair.

Of course, you’d ex­pect them to cost at least R200 each – you know how it is with the price of books th­ese days. But what if I told you that all of th­ese books – plus an­other two dozen and count­ing – are free?

All you have to do is print them off the in­ter­net and they’re yours to give to chil­dren who need more books in their lives. Es­pe­cially this kind of book – rel­e­vant, easy to read, gor­geously il­lus­trated and with a hid­den ed­u­ca­tional or moral les­son.

In fact, Book Dash, the site that houses th­ese books un­der a cre­ative com­mons li­cence, also raises funds to pro­fes­sion­ally print books to dis­trib­ute.

How did Book Dash man­age to defy all the laws of our fail­ing education sys­tem and the eco­nomic down­turn? Well, for starters, the con­tent is kindly do­nated by peo­ple who want to help rev­o­lu­tionise chil­dren’s books in South Africa.

They do this at a cre­ative jam ses­sion called a Book Dash cre­ation day, where about 40 writ­ers, il­lus­tra­tors and de­sign­ers come to­gether, for free, to com­bine their tal­ents to pro­duce books for chil­dren in 12 hours. The books then find their way to the ever-grow­ing on­line Book Dash li­brary. Some of the books have also been trans­lated into in­dige­nous lan­guages, de­pend­ing on what free trans­la­tion ser­vices are avail­able.

One of the founders of this not-for-profit ray of sun­shine is tech fundi and dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing ex­pert Arthur At­twell, the chair­per­son of Book Dash.

My first ques­tion for At­twell was whether the state got be­hind the pro­ject.

“We haven’t asked for help from govern­ment – we sim­ply hope that our work sup­ports theirs. If our books make it pos­si­ble for govern­ment to help chil­dren, for in­stance by im­prov­ing early child­hood de­vel­op­ment cen­tres [crèches] or stock­ing school li­braries, that’s great,” says At­twell.

“And they don’t need to go through us: any­one can print and dis­trib­ute our books freely, in­clud­ing govern­ment. Book Dash is our con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try.”

Of course, Book Dash is not the only pro­ject of its kind. Civil so­ci­ety and govern­ment have launched sev­eral ini­tia­tives to raise child­hood lit­er­acy lev­els. The state’s Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Pro­gramme co­or­di­nates a num­ber of projects in sup­port of the de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, and for­eign aid agen­cies have built nu­mer­ous li­braries in town­ships and ru­ral ar­eas.

But the prob­lem is of­ten that the books be­ing stocked in th­ese li­braries and pro­moted are not lo­cal or in African lan­guages.

It’s re­ally civil so­ci­ety that’s break­ing ground. The Pro­ject for the Study of Al­ter­na­tive Education in SA (Praesa) won a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional award (the Alma) last year for its ef­forts in teach­ing chil­dren how to read.

Tra­di­tion­ally, teach­ers start by teach­ing chil­dren their ABCs, fol­lowed by pho­net­ics – where kids sound out words. While this is an im­por­tant part in the process, Praesa be­lieves more has to be done. Chil­dren learn through tak­ing part in a so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence – by be­ing im­mersed in oral lan­guage. Praesa be­lieves chil­dren need to view read­ing as a fun and en­joy­able pas­time.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion holds sto­ry­telling ses­sions in which chil­dren can cre­ate sto­ries by dic­tat­ing them to scribes. Th­ese works are then pub­lished for free by Praesa, and any­body can dis­trib­ute them. Be­tween Praesa and Book Dash, there’s a glim­mer of hope – and many high ad­ven­tures – on the hori­zon.

No one can ac­cuse At­twell of dream­ing small – the Book Dash ini­tia­tive’s mis­sion is that ev­ery South African child owns at least 100 books by the age of five. Book Dash wants to flood the streets with knowl­edge by pro­duc­ing 600 mil­lion free books for chil­dren who could oth­er­wise never af­ford this lux­ury ... no, ne­ces­sity.

Amaz­ing Daisy

Why is Nita Up­side Down?

ZANELE SITU: MY STORY By Liz Sparg (writer), Jesse Breyten­bach (il­lus­tra­tor) and Andy Th­e­sen (de­signer)

HO TSAMAEA ’MOHO (WALK­ING TO­GETHER) By Louwrisa Blaauw, Bianca de Jong (il­lus­tra­tion, de­sign) and Jade Mathieson (writ­ing)

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