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"I think a child without anyone to tell them stories is an abandoned child" - a Q&A with author and JRB City Editor, Niq Mhlongo

Nal’ibali Column 6, published in the Sunday World (18/02/2018), Daily Dispatch (19/02/2018), Herald (22/02/2018)

By Carla Lever

Niq Mhlongo, author and City Editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books

 
How do you think storytelling helps us understand place – can it make sense of where we are from?

It’s really fundamental. If Joseph Conrad didn’t write Heart of Darkness I don’t think people like Donald Trump would have had the audacity to call African countries ‘sh*tholes’. Perhaps is he had been forced to read Emecheta, Laye, Mphahlele, Ngugi and others he would have had a clear understanding of Africa.

So much of our cultural geography is imported – TV shows and novels glamorise places like New York or Paris. At the same time, African cities tend to be written about, often in negative terms, by outsiders. Why is it important that we write about African places and cities and create our own literary maps?

Someone once told me that the biggest commodity that America was able to sell to Africa was its culture. I agree. Cultural geography, as you call it, is a very powerful tool that powerful countries have used to dominate other countries. When South Africans today talk about ‘decolonization’ I think it is a legitimate appeal to break away from, among other things, the shackles of cultural dominance. So when authors write about African places and cities they contribute a lot in creating our own literary maps that have been disregarded by the imposed colonial narratives of places and spaces that we live in.

Your upcoming book Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree, takes us into the places you were born and raised in. Can you tell us a little about why you wrote the book and how it felt to be making a place meaningful to people through your writing?

I wrote Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree because I could not find a good written story about Soweto that I could read and actually identify with. I was tired of the meaning of Soweto always being confined to Vilakazi Street and the Twin Towers. I decided to write that story I was searching for myself – in fact, as an insider, it made perfect sense that I do it!

You have weaved African oral traditions, cultural practices and storytelling traditions into your previous novels, too – I’m thinking here particularly of your novel Way Back Home. What does it mean to you to be called an African author? Is that a useful description or one you find unnecessary?

There is no problem being called an African author. It all depends on the context in the context in which the name is used. If it means that my writing is inferior compared to the so-called ‘European author’ or ‘American author’, then such a name is already loaded with negativity.

I know you write adult fiction, but you have written for children too! Can you tell us a little about writing for the TV series Magic Cellar and why projects that get young people excited about stories are so important?

Ah, let me not exaggerate my involvement with Magic Cellar. In fact, I only wrote one script for them. But the project trained me as a children’s story writer. During the same period I actually wrote a script for children based on African folktales. It was animated for a children’s program on SABC 2…so I suppose I learned something!

I think a child without anyone to tell them stories is an abandoned child. Stories make all of us happy, and give us a sense of belonging in society. They guide us and give us hope in the world. Any project that give young people that kind of wholeness deserves full support from everyone.

What changes would you like to see in the South African literary scene? Are there things (maybe organisations, new spaces for writers or publishing initiatives) that you find exciting?

I would like to see a full government involvement in the South African literary scene by supporting any literary project, especially projects that make children read. I would like to see government officials and schools reading and prescribing more South African literature. I would like to see more political leaders at the ABANTU Book Festival this year and years to come. The JRB, ABANTU, Nal’ibali, Longstory Short are some of the most important literary projects in South Africa today which give me a right to write.

How can we get more children excited about reading, particularly proud of our own, rich African literary heritage?

We need to prescribe more South African books and make things like Shakespeare optional in our school curriculum. In that way we can show them our rich African literary heritage.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org.

Book details
Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree

 
 
 

Way Back Home

Reading revolution reaches deep rural schools

By Michael Cekiso, Story Powered Schools Project Manager

What’s the best way to improve a child’s school results across the board? What if there could be one magical intervention that could skyrocket a child’s progress in every area of their lives? What a dream it would be for funders. What a gamechanger it would be for learners! As it turns out, there is a gamechanger: books.

Policy experts, educational specialists, and statisticians all agree: a child who reads and is read aloud to, is a child who learns. In fact, reading proficiency is the number one indicator of future academic success greater even than a child’s economic background or school choice. But what does this mean for South African children? The short answer is: a challenge.

Books are expensive and disposable income is tight. What’s published depends on what makes publishers the most profit and how many children’s stories have you seen in isiZulu or isiXhosa recently?

These are predominantly the mother tongues of children living in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal who are now well into the swing of 2018 and have either just started or are back at school. What that looks like for millions of children across SA is peak hour traffic jams, homework, and lost lunch boxes. But for children living in the rural areas of these provinces – it looks radically different.

In the Eastern Cape, for example, the lack of basic facilities is heart-breaking. Only 26% of schools in the province have a library, and only 10% of learners may borrow books. It will be no surprise then to discover that school results are just as poor and compounded by poor economic circumstances. Many children are attending school on an empty tummy, do not live with their parents, and live in homes without toilets. South African children simply aren’t getting the basic tools they need to make the leap out of poverty.

If access to books makes the difference between a child who can and can’t read, in one generation it makes the difference between a country that is economically thriving and one which is caught in a poverty trap. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that small actions can have big results, if they are sustained.

2017 was the first year of our pilot project, Story Powered Schools, which introduced the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign’s proven approach to literacy development to 240 rural schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. These are schools that have been given a powerful injection to move progress forward, schools that have been given books and literacy support.

Based in areas that would otherwise receive almost no developmental opportunities, these schools were identified by the Department of Basic Education who brought District Education officials on board to help with a roll-out that included principals, teachers, and community members. We employed 48 ‘Story Sparkers’ and eight Literacy Mentors from local communities to keep fanning the flames of our big idea.

How did it work? Every school that participated received five hanging libraries, one suited for each grade from R to 4. These mobile units each housed 150 exciting storybooks for children in their mother tongue as well as English. And, every fortnight, schools received copies of the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment supplement packed with bilingual stories and activities to keep any reading club motivated.

Although supplements are available in newspapers across the provinces, they often don’t reach deep rural areas, but, putting story power back in to the hands of communities, we made a commitment to take supplements to them and well over half a million were donated and delivered last year.

It doesn’t end there. Through continued face-to-face support, we made sure that each school received weekly visits from our Story Sparkers, who in turn were paid a stipend. Not a huge amount, but in many cases, it made a significant difference in their lives. Some financed studies through UNISA, others were finally able to purchase that two-bedroom house for their families. It’s a project that has knock-on benefits for the whole community.

And, although it’s hard to benchmark direct benefits – that depends on schools having the time to participate in far more monitoring and evaluation activities than they have resources for – what we have seen has been encouraging. Not one school we approached opted out.

Close to 100 000 children were reached last year and 799 reading clubs were launched by school children, parents, and community members. Schools reported a significant decrease in absenteeism and late-coming, and children became excited to attend schools where there were steady streams of new stories to feed their minds and imaginations. Teachers also noticed an increase in confidence with children telling stories and discussing ideas in class. Stories, it surprises none of us to hear, make children excited.

And that was just our first year! 2018 sees the graduation of our 2017 school group, and the intake of 244 new schools across the Umgungundlovu and iLembe districts of KZN and the Bizana, Lusikisiki, Mount Ayliff and Maluti districts in the Eastern Cape where we aim to keep changing the narrative of our schools, communities, and nation one story at a time.

Story Powered Schools is a Nal’ibali initiative endorsed by the Department of Basic Education and made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information about the campaign or the power of reading and storytelling, visit: www.storypoweredschools.org and www.storypoweredschools.mobi.

Jong dinosourus-liefhebbers sal gaande wees oor Philip de Vos se vertaling van Julia Donaldson se Tyrannosaurus Drip!

In die oertyd in ’n oerwoud waar dit wemel van die gras
was daar platbek-dinosourusse wat swem in die moeras.
Hul roep: “Hoera vir water en vir riete en vir gras.
Hoera vir waterblommetjies, want dis lekker om te plas!”

Wie het al ooit gehoor van ’n vegetariese tirannosourus? Hierdie klein dinosourus land in die verkeerde nes … Hy mag dalk klein wees, nie mooi weet waar hy hoort nie en net plante eet, maar Tirannosourus Sot is slim!

Julia Donaldson is een van die top kinderboekskrywers wêreldwyd. Sy was die VK se “Children’s Laureate” 2011–2013 en het al meer as 100 boeke vir kinders geskryf. Haar boeke het al verskeie pryse gewen, onder andere die Red House Children’s Book Award en die Blue Peter Award. Sy woon in Glasgow, Skotland, saam met haar man, Malcolm.

David Roberts studeer modeontwerp in Manchester voordat hy Hong Kong toe verhuis om daar as ’n hoedemaker te werk. Sedert sy terugkeer na die VK word hy ’n besondere suksesvolle kinderboekillustreerder.

Philip de Vos (1939) is veral bekend as fotograaf, skrywer en digter. Hy doen baie rymvertalings en het heelwat lirieke vir animasieprogramme op TV geskryf. Hy is ook al bekroon met die ATKV-kinderboektoekenning (1989), M.E.R.-prys (1996) en die Alba Bouwer-prys (1998). In 2004 het hy ’n IBBY-toekenning ontvang vir sy vertaling van Die spree met foete.

Boekbesonderhede

World Read Aloud Day: over one million children reached!

World Read Aloud Day was celebrated on the first of February 2018 and South Africans certainly made a significant contribution to the 24 hours dedicated to reading aloud to children, thus encouraging a love of books and ensuring an increase in literacy achievements.

Nal’ibali – the reading for enjoyment campaign – called on South Africans to contribute towards creating a South Africa where children read for enjoyment, meaning and understanding, emphasising the value of reading aloud to children:

Reading aloud to a child is one of the most important things a parent and caregiver can do with children. Not only does it build a strong language foundation, it introduces vocabulary and can help develop empathy, curiosity and critical thinking.This World Read Aloud Day we’re calling on YOU to add your pledge to read to the children in your life.

This year’s story was ‘The final minute’ written by Zukiswa Wanner (available to download in all 11 official languages) and over one million (1 294 345, to be precise) children countrywide were treated to a reading!

Viva, World Read Aloud Day, viva!

Katherine Paterson se Bridge to Terabithia in Afrikaans beskikbaar!

Jess Aarons se grootste droom is om die vinnigste in sy graad te hardloop. Hy het die hele somervakansie geoefen en kan nie wag om sy klasmaats se gesigte te sien wanneer hy hulle almal wen nie.

Maar op die eerste skooldag is ’n nuwe meisie dapper genoeg om die seuns aan te durf en boonop almal uit te stof.

Dis nie ’n baie belowende begin vir ’n vriendskap nie, maar Jess en Leslie Burke word onafskeidbaar. Saam skep hulle Terabithia, ’n magiese koninkryk in die woud waar hulle twee as koning en koningin heers.

Dan is daar eendag ’n verskriklike tragedie.

Eers wanneer Jess hierdie tragedie begin verwerk, besef hy uiteindelik hoeveel krag en moed Leslie vir hom gegee het.

Wenner van die Newbery-medalje.

“Roerend en met groot impak.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Hierdie storie is merkwaardig ryk en diep, pragtig geskryf.” – The Horn Book
 
 
 
OOR DIE OUTEUR
Katherine Paterson is die outeur van meer as 30 boeke, insluitend 16 kinder- en jeugromans. Sy is twee keer bekroon met die Newbery-medalje: in 1978 vir Brug na Terabithia (Bridge to Terabithia) en in 1981 vir Jacob Have I Loved. Sy is onderskeidelik in 1998 en 2006 bekroon met die Hans Christian Andersen-prys en die Astrid Lindgren gedenkprys.

OOR DIE VERTALER
Kobus Geldenhuys het in 2015 die Elsabé Steenbergprys vir vertaalde kinder- en jeugliteratuur in Afrikaans ontvang vir Cressida Cowell se Hoe om jou draak te tem: Hoe om Drakonees te praat (Protea, 2014), en in 2016 is hy met die Alba Bouwerprys vir kinder- en jeugliteratuur bekroon vir sy vertaling van Michael Morpurgo se Hoekom die walvisse gekom het (Protea, 2015).

Boekbesonderhede

Book Dash is looking for a project manager!

Book Dash gathers volunteer creative professionals to create new, African storybooks that anyone can freely translate and distribute and their looking for a project manager!

Children in South Africa need more books, but they cost too much purchased from publishers. The cheapest books have no publisher – then the only cost is printing. So our participants do the work of publishers in a single day. After that, anyone can get print runs sponsored and put finished books into the hands of children.

We believe every child should own a hundred books by the age of five. In South Africa, that means giving 600 million free books to children who could never afford to buy them. Every day we lose, more children grow up unable to read and write well, and to enjoy the worlds that books open up.

If you’re passionate about encouraging – and ensuring – a love of reading and literature among South African children, look no further – click here to apply!