Volunteers create new children's books in just 12 hours
The global pandemic has hampered many things, but reading definitely is not one of them
— and for South African not-forprofit book publisher, Book Dash, producing high quality reading material for children across the country has not been put on hold either.
The organisation will host an online Book Dash event on Saturday [October 17] which will see 21 volunteers from eight countries join forces in cyberspace. The volunteers will work tirelessly to create six brand new children s books in
’ just 12 hours.
Book Dash was founded in 2014 by a group of like-minded friends who hoped to flood the country with new, high-quality, affordable African storybooks.
Since then, the organisation has created 140 original children s books which have been translated into all of SA s official
’ languages to build a library of almost 500 titles.
The first Book Dash events were held in May and June in 2014 in Cape Town. Heartened by the quality of the books and the enthusiasm of the creative volunteers, co-founders Arthur Attwell, Michelle Matthews and Tarryn-Anne Anderson established Book Dash as a registered not-for-profit, voluntary association with the aim of continuing to create, print and distribute more books to children
and to prove that high-quality books in many languages can be affordably produced and distributed, explained Book
Dash director, Dorette Louw.
She said books were generally very expensive and the majority of children in SA would not be in a position to own books.
In an unequal society like ours this means that books are an unaffordable luxury for families living in poverty.”
Louw said according to a study done by the South African Book Development Council 58% of households in SA don t
’ own any leisure books. She said this worsened the existing inequalities because children growing up in homes with many books received the equivalent of three years more schooling than children who grew up in bookless homes.
While Stats SA puts the youth (ages 15- 34) literacy rate at 93,9%, the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) revealed that 78% of Grade 4 learners in SA cannot read for meaning in any language.
Louw said Book Dash aimed to address this literacy crisis in SA and flood the country with books. She said Book Dash s
’ vision is that every child should own one hundred books by the age of five ”.
Book Dash events take place up to three times a year, with their upcoming virtual gathering being the 16th instalment and second one online.
Louw said due to the pandemic, the events could not continue in their usual format and the team opted to have their first experimental virtual Book Dash in April. It was
“wonderful to still be able to create new books despite lockdown, said Louw. People often think that it s
’ enough to have books in a school library, but under lockdown it became clear to everyone how important it is that children also have books at home something Book Dash has been advocating for since our inception.”
This will be our second virtual Book Dash and we re so
’ excited that our talented Book Dash alumni, who live around the world, can participate in this event and create new children s books. Without the generous gift of their time and skills, Book Dash would not exist, and hundreds of thousands of children across SA would not have their own books to love and read.”
The events condense the usual lengthy process of creating books into just one day and usually sees 10 teams comprising one writer, an illustrator, a designer and an editor pair up to make stories come to life.
The events have become so popular that we usually receive at least three times the number of applications that we can accommodate on the day! We usually have a mix of experienced creatives and talented beginners, and this makes for a magical collaboration,” Louw said.
They start the Saturday at 9am with only the outline of a story, and they end the day 12 hours later having created a brand-new children s book.
The new books are published on our website under a Creative Commons license which means that anyone in the world can read, download, translate, adapt and even sell the books there are no restrictions.
This year, only six teams could take part in each of the virtual Book Dash events, but the gatherings albeit online have a similar format. The Book Dash model reimagines the publishing process and cuts down about 80% of the normal publishing costs,” Louw said.
She said this was done by relying on the time, passion and skill of volunteers.
This means that over the years we have paid nothing, nada, zilch in writer s fees, illustration
’ fees, design fees and editing fees, because no-one is paid for their time at a Book Dash event everyone regards their contribution as a gift to the world, Louw said.
This enables Book Dash to break down the barriers to literacy by publishing incredibly affordable books where the only cost is printing. Because of this extreme reduction in production costs, we can offer our books at only R10 a copy to our partners who fund large print runs.”
She said 2020 had been particularly exciting as Book Dash had reached the impressive milestone of distributing its one millionth book, despite the pandemic.
We continued printing and distributing books and have distributed close to 350,000 books since the beginning of 2020.
Amy Slatem, an Australian based illustrator who will be taking part in her second Book Dash event on Saturday described Book Dash as a wellorganised,
“exciting, stressful, but inspiring event.”
Due to the different time zones, Slatem will be working through the night to illustrate a brand new children s book this
’ time round.
Ghanaian designer, Benjamin Tetteh said the feeling of completing a storybook for Book Dash was priceless.
Book Dash makes it possible “for creatives like me and others around the world to create African storybooks that children can relate to,” said Tetteh who will also be collaborating with Book Dash for a second time on Saturday.
Also joining Book Dash for a second time, UK based South African writer Sam Beckbessinger said: Getting involved
“in Book Dash is one of the most meaningful things I ve
’ ever done with my life.” The book we made has a life “of its own; every now and then, I see photos of kids all over the world holding that book, loving it, knowing it is theirs. Nothing else I have ever “done has rippled through the world like that, in such a simply good way.”
Taking part in Book Dash for a third time, South African designer Natalie Pierre-Eugene said she loved the community spirit of her first Book Dash experience in 2019.
I have always had a love for “children s books but I wasn t
’ ’ expecting to leave after the 12 hours with such a full heart. What Book Dash has created is beyond words and to be a part of it was actually quite surreal, it s hard to not have a smile on your face the entire day.”
To live stream the event on Saturday or find out more about Book Dash visit www.bookdash.
FULL SPEED AHEAD: Ten teams of creative volunteers work together to create brand new children's books in just 12 hours during a previous (pre-Covid) Book Dash event.