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Book Dash is a home-grown project that pro­duces free chil­dren’s books on­line. at­tended its most re­cent gath­er­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg last month, where 12 books were cre­ated in 12 hours

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Out­side, rain clouds tower over the Jo­han­nes­burg sky­line. In­side, in a large, open room packed with 12 work sta­tions hous­ing teams of au­thors, il­lus­tra­tors and de­sign­ers, an air of in­tense fo­cus is rup­tured by stir­rings of cre­ative ac­tiv­ity. At one ta­ble, a painter mixes colours on his pal­ette. The il­lus­tra­tor sit­ting next to him tweaks a char­ac­ter on his MacBook to match the new scheme. This is tra­di­tional art and tech­nol­ogy work­ing in har­mony.

At another ta­ble, an au­thor de­scribes the story she is writ­ing to her team. It is ded­i­cated to her son, who passed away in 2015, and is about a mir­a­cle child born with a full set of teeth. Mag­i­cal cre­ativ­ity

Anyone stum­bling across this room at the Goethe-In­sti­tut of Lan­guage Stud­ies in Rose­bank would be im­pressed at see­ing such talent in ac­tion, es­pe­cially when told of the ob­jec­tives of the cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Called Book Dash, this as­so­ci­a­tion of vol­un­teers works to cre­ate 12 chil­dren’s books in 12 hours. The fin­ished prod­ucts are then avail­able free of charge. This is the ninth col­lab­o­ra­tion thus far. Book Dash was con­cep­tu­alised three years ago as a call to har­ness the skills of pro­fes­sional African writ­ers, il­lus­tra­tors, de­sign­ers and edi­tors, with the aim of cre­at­ing chil­dren’s books for free use and dis­tri­bu­tion lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“Book Dash is an or­gan­i­sa­tion that be­lieves that ev­ery child should own a book by the age of five,” says co-founder Arthur At­twell.

At­twell, who is in­volved in the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try, says one of the big­gest ben­e­fits of an ini­tia­tive such as this is that fun­ders and spon­sors part­ner with Book Dash to pro­duce large print runs of the books, which can then be given away to thou­sands of chil­dren and li­braries around the coun­try.

To date, more than 120 000 printed copies have been given away, and hun­dreds of thou­sands of free on­line down­loads have oc­curred.

This year, a move to­wards har­ness­ing Pan-African talent has emerged.

“To­day, we have books writ­ten and il­lus­trated by peo­ple from Nige­ria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Zim­babwe, Ethiopia and other coun­tries, which is very ex­cit­ing,” says At­twell. De­coloni­sa­tion for chil­dren

Topics such as the de­coloni­sa­tion of lit­er­a­ture, in­creased ac­cess to books and more African sto­ries have been the fore­front of pub­lic de­bate re­cently, and At­twell is a firm be­liever in how the Book Dash move­ment is help­ing to trans­form the in­dus­try.

“The bot­tom line is that many coun­tries in the world, par­tic­u­larly African coun­tries, suf­fer from a poorly de­vel­oped pub­lish­ing in­dus­try for rea­sons re­lated to colo­nial is­sues and the con­se­quences of colo­nial­ism, as well as the sim­ple dif­fi­culty that books are seen as lux­u­ries,” says At­twell.

Another pri­mary aim of Book Dash is to make books avail­able cheaply or free of charge, so they come to be re­garded as ev­ery­day items rather than as lux­ury goods that can only be pur­chased once in a while.

“This is a goal that so many dif­fer­ent coun­tries share. One of the other chal­lenges we share is that, of­ten, the books we want for our chil­dren are im­ported ti­tles,” ex­plains At­twell.

Of the many as­tound­ing fea­tures of Book Dash is that the books can be – and are – crowd-trans­lated, through open-source li­cens­ing, by any per­son or or­gan­i­sa­tion which down­loads them, mak­ing them ac­ces­si­ble to an even broader au­di­ence.

“On our web­site we have about 200 dif­fer­ent ti­tles, if you add in all the lan­guages that are avail­able for other or­gan­i­sa­tions or in­di­vid­u­als to use,” says At­twell.

All are avail­able in English, and you will also find mul­ti­ple of­fer­ings in isiNde­bele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Se­pedi, Se­sotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshiv­enga, Xit­songa, Afrikaans and French.

Re­cently, or­gan­i­sa­tions from Brazil and Pak­istan got in touch with Book Dash.

“The other day, we were sent im­ages of our books, which were trans­lated into Urdu from some­one in Pak­istan, and a team in Brazil was trans­lat­ing the books into Por­tuguese,” says At­twell. Mogau has a gift

The books are cre­ated ac­cord­ing to strict guide­lines, and have a 32-page count – 12 pages are il­lus­trated and 24 have text. “This is in or­der to en­sure that these books can be suc­cess­fully pro­duced within the time limit of 12 hours,” ex­plains At­twell.

Sim­ple char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and sto­ry­lines are con­cep­tu­alised, the goal be­ing to pro­duce diverse, high-qual­ity books.

Lo­rato Trok, who started writ­ing from the age of eight, was one of the writ­ers in­vited to be part of to­day’s Book Dash.

“There were hun­dreds of writ­ers who ap­plied for this. I was one of the few who was se­lected, so I am very happy to be here,” Trok said. Hers is the story ded­i­cated to her late son.

“It is a per­sonal story, called Mogau’s Gift, in cel­e­bra­tion of my son’s life. In a nut­shell, it tells of a mir­a­cle boy, born with a full set of teeth. The vil­lagers were as­tounded by this boy, who came along and changed their lives. By the time he was six months old, he could walk and talk and paint,” said Trok.

“His mother took him out of the vil­lage. The two trav­elled and vis­ited a vil­lage which looked ex­actly like the one Mogau had painted. He even­tu­ally be­came king of the vil­lage.”

Trok has just met the il­lus­tra­tor and de­signer she is work­ing with.

“Writ­ing for chil­dren is not easy, but you have to put your­self in their shoes and be­come a child in that sense. For me, you cannot write with­out first be­com­ing a reader,” she says with a smile on her face.

.The books are free to down­load at book­dash.org

PHOTO: AVANTIKA SEETH

BUSY BEAVERS Teams of vol­un­teer writ­ers, il­lus­tra­tors and de­sign­ers are hard at work to meet their tight dead­lines at the Book Dash in Rose­bank, Jo­han­nes­burg – the ninth so far this year

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