New su­per­hero in town

CityPress - - Voices -

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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