New superhero in town
Thato Lekoko is a new offering in children’s fiction in the swelling wave of books, films, TV shows and comics that has swept across the continent, offering African consumers home-grown superheroes they can identify with. Precious Maseko chats with the author, Lauri Kubuitsile Thato Lekoko: Superhero by Lauri Kubuitsile Oxford University Press 104 pages R79.95
‘You’re doing good things with the powers you’ve been given, and the ancestors are pleased. But remember, everyone has power, don’t forget that,” says a character to Africa’s latest superhero, Thato Lekoko. It’s a message that resonates. As young South Africans, we have grown up with the culture and mind-set of thinking that only the rich and famous – TV stars, politicians, sports stars and anyone with considerable beauty or wealth – are capable of achieving great things.
Thato Lekoko: Superhero says that’s nonsense. The new children’s-cum-young-adult fiction book from Botswana-based writer Lauri Kubuitsile could not have come at a better time. It teaches us about personal power and self-love, and sends a message that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things.
Thato Lekoko is a regular teenage girl with much to deal with. She’s being bullied at school, her friends are demanding, her mother has left and she now has to take care of her little sister.
But, fortunately, Thato has a secret power. She is also Tseke, a superhero in a lime-green costume with a hood covering her head and a black mask on her face. Her cape is neon orange and there’s a ‘T’ emblazoned on her chest.
Tseke flies through the skies, using her superpowers to help solve the country’s problems. For Tseke, anything is possible, unlike poor Thato, who is always late for school, doesn’t have the time to help her friends out and has a difficult time dealing with rumours in the village about her mother’s absence.
It’s a children’s book, but, much to my surprise, I found myself turning page after page. The book speaks directly to African children’s lived experiences through a clear and simple plot.
It’s educational, too, being an Oxford learning book, with regular usage of Setswana words and phrases with English translations. My Setswana vocabulary was certainly expanded once I finished reading the book.
I was also compelled by the bright cover and cool drawings, which bring the story to life.
This was the first time I’d read a story about a rural African girl who is a superhero. It tells its readers that there is a hero inside us all; that we are heroes simply by doing good for others.
Parents will be pleased to know that the back of the book comes with questions. Answering them together could be turned into a fun activity for younger readers, while testing their understanding and developing their reading skills and memory.
I was so in love with Thato Lekoko, I decided to get in touch with the author. Here’s how our email chat went: Why did you write this book? Was it to correct the imbalance and show African children there are superheroes who look like them?
My main motivation was a response to the celebrity culture we find ourselves in. I wanted kids to see that all of us are superheroes in our own lives if we’re just a bit brave and if we take a few chances. Thato Lekoko as Tseke is powerful and does amazing things, but she’s also just a normal girl living a normal life with normal sorts of problems. But in that normal life, her friends and her solve a big problem facing their village. What age group do you write for? I think kids from about nine to 14 or 15 would enjoy the book.
You have worked as a children’s party clown, a schoolteacher and other things to do with kids. How did this shape your book?
I think when you’re a writer, all experiences in your life are used in your writing. Of course, being a teacher was wonderful and I loved it, and some of that finds its way into my writing. I’m a parent as well, but I was also once a child.
Did you ever imagine becoming a published author?
You know, not really. I am a committed generalist; I love many things and have done many things in my life, and I hope that continues. I write across all ages; I have written books for the very early stages of reading, for older children, for teens and for adults. I also write romance and detective mysteries.
In May, my first historical novel for adults was published, titled The Scattering (published by Penguin Random House SA).
I get to step into all sorts of lives and try them on and, for a little while at least, pretend that life is mine. Is Setswana your mother tongue? No. I try to speak Setswana, though I’m not very good. But I do love the language. There is an inherent respect and an acknowledgment of our common humanity in Setswana. How lovely is it to greet someone with ‘dumela’, to start off with such a word of peacefulness?
What is the most difficult part of writing a children’s book?
I don’t think writing a children’s book is any harder or easier than writing any other sort of book. For me, the most important part is to get the rough draft down. I usually do a lot of prework by hand to prepare for the rough draft. But having an idea with enough steam to get to the end of the story is perhaps the most challenging part.
What do you want children to take from the book?
I would like children to realise that each of us is special and unique, and we have our own powers, even if we’re not necessarily superheroes in the strictest sense of the word. Order the book online at oup.co.za
Thato Lekoko is a children’s superhero novel by Laurie Kubuitsile
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