By Anna Stroud
Energy crackled in the air – the kind that makes every hair on your body jig, from your nose to your toes.
It’s a powerful sensation watching nine teams brainstorm, craft and chisel away to create nine beautiful children’s books in less than 12 hours. And that’s exactly what happened on Saturday, 27 October, as volunteers drove into the heart of Johannesburg to participate in the 12th edition of Book Dash.
The Streetlight Schools in Jeppestown was the perfect home for the Book Dash crew. The schools started in October 2013 in a small store-room in Bjala Square and their aim is to create globally competitive schools in the most underserved areas in South Africa.
In 2016, they launched the flagship Streetlight Schools: Jeppe Park where we hung our hats for the day. Judging from the drawings on the wall and the wholesome menu on the blackboard, it’s a nice, caring place to learn.
The nine teams of three – writer, illustrator and designer, plus one editor for two teams – experienced that care first hand. The school’s support staff kept us fed, hydrated and happy as we worked our way to the finish line.
“Everything we do today is a gift to the world,” said Book Dash founder Arthur Attwell at the start of the day, while his six-year-old son (and unofficial Book Dash cheerleader) beamed at us from across the room.
Book Dash originated in 2014 from the founders’ belief that each child should own 100 books by the age of five. The books are available for free under the Creative Commons Attribution licence and in all 11 official South African languages.
The Book Dash model has been replicated by various groups in and outside South Africa, and the Android app recently hit just over 100 000 downloads worldwide!
This 12th edition was made possible by the Otto Foundation Trust, which allows Book Dash to print and distribute the books.
One of the reasons why I volunteered as a Book Dash editor is the feeling of positivity and goodwill that permeates the room.
Throughout the day, the love spreads from writer to editor, designer to illustrator, facilitator to support staff, barista to photographer to videographer, and back again, like a never-ending cycle of good vibes. (Yes, we had our own barista!)
In the morning, all the writers and editors gathered in the library to read their stories aloud and to give each other feedback. I’ve never experienced such an affirming group of people, who gave each other advice on how to make their stories better and built each other up every step of the way.
It wasn’t an easy feat.
As the day progressed, illustrators’ hands started to cramp, designers started to see double, writers and editors went back and fro with coffee, snacks and kind words to motivate them to the finish line.
Then the final stretch: proofreading for wayward punctuation, frowning at fonts with their own free will, and watching the clock count down to the final minutes.
And then – sweet release – the work was done and we could bask in each other’s glory.
The teams took to the stage and the writers read their stories aloud to roaring applause. The final book caused all the tired creatives to collapse in fits of laughter: somewhere in the night, a car backfired just as one writer read the line: “What’s that noise behind the tree?”
The books will be available soon – but here’s a sneak preview of the magical titles that came to life during the day:
• I don’t want to go to sleep!
• The Great Cake Contest
• The very tired lioness
• Dance, Mihlali!
• Let’s have an inside day!
• Mali’s Friend
• Auntie Boi’s Gift
• Lions are always brave
• What’s at the park?