Stacey Fru: pub­lished au­thor at nine

Nine-year-old Stacey Fru, one of SA’s youngest pub­lished au­thors, says she wants to help peo­ple who can’t read or write


ON THE face of it, she’s just like any other nine- year- old: she en­joys play­ing with her friends and sib­lings, jump­ing on the tram­po­line, watch­ing TV and stro­king the fam­ily dog, Di­a­mond. But how many other tweens have pub­lished a book, won an award for it, ad­dressed stu­dents and aca­demics at the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand and given talks to more than 800 learn­ers at var­i­ous Johannesbu­rg schools?

Wel­come to the world of Stacey Fru, one of South Africa’s youngest au­thors. The am­bi­tious young writer hopes to have writ­ten 12 books by the time she reaches Grade 10 and her sec­ond en­deav­our is al­ready well on its way.

“I just love be­ing cre­ative,” the pretty lit­tle girl says, chat­ting to us at her fam­ily’s five-bed­room home in Waver­ley, Joburg. “I also want to make my fam­ily proud.”

But she’s driven by some­thing else too: she hopes her books will in­spire other kids to learn to read, es­pe­cially un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren.

Her first book, Smelly Cats, is about two cats, Mark and Mack – cousins who go to the same school for six years. They’re al­ways fight­ing be­cause they’re very dif­fer­ent. “At the be­gin­ning, Mark has all the girls af­ter him and Mack has all the flies chas­ing him,” she says on her YouTube chan­nel, Stacey TV (yes, she has one of those, too). “A lot hap­pens in the cats’ lives but ev­ery­thing works out in the end – and the flies stop chas­ing Mack, too.”

Stacey con­cludes Smelly Cats with the words: “Life is not a bed of ha­tred. You grow bet­ter when you fight to spread the love and have fun in a child’s way.”

The colour­ful 108-page pic­ture book, il­lus­trated by graphic de­signer Steven Mu­laudzi, re­cently re­ceived a cer­tifi­cate of ex­cel­lence for Best Early Child­hood Devel­op­ment (ECD) Pub­li­ca­tion. It was also given a stamp of ap­proval by the Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment for sup­ple­men­tary read­ing for ECD, and is now in the li­braries of sev­eral pri­mary schools in Gaut­eng. She’s proud of her­self, Stacey says. She took five months to write Smelly Cats. But writ­ing comes eas­ily to her and she of­ten wakes up with ideas in her head. “Writ­ing makes me happy,” she says.

But she and her friends don’t re­ally think much about her be­ing a pub­lished au­thor be­fore her 10th birth­day.

“You just think about hav­ing fun and play­ing,” she says.

THE YOUNG scribe and her sib­lings – broth­ers Shanon (11) and Syd­ney (5) and sis­ter Syn­claire (7) – are raised in a home where value is placed on books and edu­cation. Her fa­ther, Dr Em­manuel Fru (43), has a PhD in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and runs Train­ers with­out Bor­ders, a lear­ning and devel­op­ment con­sul­tancy, and her mom, Vic­torine Shu (38), has a mas­ter’s de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and runs a com­pany that does ev­ery­thing from train­ing and pub­lish­ing to venue hir­ing and cater­ing.

Stacey’s bed­room is burst­ing with books and she loves read­ing – Roald Dahl is her favourite au­thor and she’s just fin­ished one of his au­to­bi­ogra­phies, Boy: Tales of Child­hood.

She didn’t tell any­one she was writ­ing a book un­til she was nearly fin­ished. She freaked out, she says, when four pages in, Syd­ney sneaked into her room and erased them all. “I cried,” she says. “Then I called my mom but she couldn’t find the work ei­ther. I had to start all over. I hit him,” she says.

So she’s a nor­mal nine-year-old, af­ter all? “I wouldn’t say I’m re­ally nor­mal,” she replies. “I’m the youngest in my grade, I think I’m the fourth smartest in my class and I write books.”

Point taken! And in be­tween she does bal­let, plays the gui­tar and is on the net­ball team at her school, Sa­cred Heart Col­lege.

Vic­torine says her daugh­ter has al­ways been ad­vanced. When Stacey was a tod­dler at crèche, she cried ev­ery day in the baby class and the staff would de­spair. But one day her par­ents went to pick her up and found her in an older class.

“The teacher said she’d been cry­ing non­stop but kept look­ing at the class next door. So they took her over there and as soon as she set her foot in the class, she stopped cry­ing.” She just wanted to be where she could see the kids do­ing more in­ter­est­ing things.

By the age of three, Stacey could re­cite and write the al­pha­bet and could read and write sen­tences by the time she started school. She was writ­ing lit­tle notes to her mom: “I’m sorry, Ma,” when she and Shanon got into trou­ble, and “Stay out! Boss’ of­fice” at Vic­torine’s place of work.

Yet Vic­torine and Em­manuel didn’t re­alise just how ex­cep­tional their daugh­ter was un­til she barged into their bed­room one morn­ing last year and an­nounced she’d writ­ten a book.

Vic­torine nod­ded and smiled, think­ing she was talk­ing about a school project. But Stacey led her mother to her com­puter and showed her the words on the screen.

“And she says: ‘Mommy, it’s my book’. I read it but I wasn’t happy – I thought she’d copied some­one else’s work. I said, ‘Stacey, where is this book from?’ And she an­swered, ‘My brain.’ ”

To make sure, Vic­torine took out her phone and googled the ti­tle and the first para­graph but found noth­ing. Amazed, she asked her daugh­ter why she’d writ­ten it. “She told me, ‘Be­cause there are so many peo­ple who can’t read or write and I want to help them.’ ”

Vic­torine found a pub­lisher for Stacey’s book but in the end de­cided to pub­lish it her­self. “I didn’t want her to be too com­mer­cialised – she’s too young for that.”

HER PAR­ENTS have spent more than R100 000 mak­ing sure her book was pub­lished and 800 copies have al­ready been sold (they can be or­dered from “I tell peo­ple I’m broke be­cause of Stacey’s book,” Vic­torine laughs.

“But re­ally it’s not about the money. See­ing my child’s dream re­alised is enough.”

Af­ter Smelly Cats came out, Stacey was in­vited to speak at the Wits In­ter­na­tional Lan­guage and Lit­er­acy Sym­po­sium in Au­gust last year and she ad­dressed sev­eral schools in and around Joburg.

Now book num­ber two, Bob and the Snake, is un­der­way. It’s about a boy, Bob, who loves snakes with all his heart, Stacey says.

“His birth­day is com­ing up and he’s su­per happy be­cause he hears his par­ents say­ing they might buy him a real snake.”

A few dra­mas later, Bob runs away from home – but we’ll have to buy the book to find out what hap­pens next. Em­manuel comes into the room. “I’m a re­served per­son but I now have to talk a lot be­cause peo­ple al­ways ask me about Stacey’s suc­cess,” he says with a chuckle. “She’s a gift from God.”

So can we as­sume she’s go­ing to be a writer when she grows up?

“No, I want to be a doc­tor. I don’t just want to help peo­ple with ed­u­ca­tion – I want to help them with their health.” And off she goes to lie on her bed. “I wish tomorrow were Sat­ur­day,” she says, kick­ing her legs in the air.

“Then I could just sleep and not have to go to school.”

She’s just like any other kid, af­ter all.

LEFT: Stacey’s par­ents, Em­manuel and Vic­torine, are proud of their daugh­ter and sup­port her writ­ing.

LEFT: Stacey is an avid reader and de­vours two books a week. RIGHT: She uses her com­puter to write when at home and her notepad when at school. BE­LOW: Stacey en­joys play­ing with her sib­lings, broth­ers Shanon and Syd­ney and sis­ter Syn­claire.

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