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 staceyfru.co.za). “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.