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Can this local author's children's book change the way we think about family?

Via Danielle Hess, for Beautiful News

On Wednesday, 25 October 2017 Beautiful News released Elena Agnello’s short-film that relooks the chapter on diversity and shows a variety of families through her storybook. To watch the video click here.

In South Africa, only a third of our children are raised in homes with both parents. Agnello from Cape Town, seeks to address the misperceptions and representations by rewriting the script on family diversity.

The mother of one is a children’s book author. Her first book, I Am Alex, was published last year and deals with diversity in family structures. When Agnello had her daughter she was surprised by the uniformity of the homes represented in literature. Having grown up in a household headed by a single mother, she understands the need for kids to see themselves and their unique family structures in the stories they read. “I think it’s vital that we have this conversation with our children,” says Agnello. “I wish that children would be taught more about others and their traditions.”

Her book is set at a birthday party and introduces readers to different families through the characters depicted as guests. Like Agnello, one child at the party has a single parent, while another is being raised by adoptive parents. The point is for kids to feel included in society and to develop a culture of incorporating others into their world views. Families aren’t defined by numbers or the closeness of relatives, but by an environment of care formed between people who love one another.

Book details

Finding the real universal themes in storytelling - a conversation with Lucy Hawking

Nal’ibali Column 14: Term 5. Published in The Sunday World, Daily Dispatch, and Herald
By Carla Lever

Say the name Hawking and it’s impossible not to think of science. Stephen Hawking has become the most instantly recognised and globally beloved scientist of our time, thanks in no small part to his global popular science bestseller A Brief History of Time.

Stephen and Lucy Hawking, authors of George’s Secret Key to the Universe

Stephen’s daughter, Lucy, shares this desire to make science compelling and accessible, working with him for several years to create a series of rollicking adventure books for children. The multi-book tales of George and Annie take children on adventures across the cosmos, encountering everything from blue moons to the black holes Hawking is so famous for studying.

The Hawkings’ science adventure series has been translated into over 40 languages now, but it’s the latest additions that are proving so exciting to South Africans. In association with The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), Jacana Publishers has added isiXhosa and isiZulu to the list of translations.

“Ideas can only spread as far as they can be understood,” commented PRAESA Director Dr Carole Bloch. “Lucy has done great work in making science thrilling and accessible for children. Thanks to translators, Xolisa Guzula and Phiwayinkosi Mbuyazi (isiZulu) these ideas can now reach so many more South African children, as it is only right they should.”

This October, Lucy Hawking was in South Africa promoting the book series in English, isiXhosa and isiZulu. “We’re very proud of this,” she said. “I grew up with storytelling as a family tradition on one side and science on the other side.”

“My father is an amazing science communicator – he has an extraordinary ability to speak in very simple terms about complex things. A young boy at my son’s birthday party once asked my father what would happen if he fell into a black hole. No-one knew quite how to answer that, but Dad simply said, ‘You’d turn into spaghetti.’ The adults were puzzled, but all the kids instantly got it! In that moment, I realised that this was the start of a story – and that we were ideally placed to write it. I could tell the story and my father could provide the scientific information. That’s how George’s Secret Key to the Universe – the first book in the series – was written.”

The Hawkings are no strangers to storytelling, being the subjects of the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne. Now, though, it’s a different kind of narrative they are focused on.

The message in the children’s books? That science is fun and that anyone can understand it. “Don’t think science is something that belongs to other people,” Hawking exclaims.

Just how simple can you make award-winning scientific theory, though? “Not everything can be simplified, but we’ve tried to use the power of storytelling so that you have an experience,” Hawking observes. “Through having that, hopefully it makes an abstract concept easier to understand.”

Together, the father and daughter team have tackled storytelling around everything from robotics to the big bang, climate change to astronomy.

“I wanted to write these books as adventures stories because I believe that scientists view their work as an adventure, as thrilling journeys of discovery into the unknown in order to unlock the secrets of the universe,” said Lucy Hawking.

“Our children are going to have to make very big decisions about the planet in the future,” Lucy Hawking points out. “The sooner they start understanding that their opinions are worthwhile, the better. They’re starting on a journey they will continue all their lives.”

Stephen and Lucy Hawking’s George’s Secret Key to the Universe, is now available at Exclusive Books and other bookstores in English, isiZulu and isiXhosa.

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:

George's Secret Key to the Universe

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My ensiklopedie van baie belangrike dinge: die perfekte naslaanboek vir jong feitevrate

My ensiklopedie van baie belangrike dingeHier het ons ’n fantastiese eerste ensiklopedie, propvol feite, perfek vir jong slimkoppe wat nie kan wag om alles oor die wêreld te ontdek nie. My ensiklopedie van baie belangrike dinge verken temas soos diere, mense, planete, en baie belangrik, jouself!

Kinders kan uitvind wat ’n woestyn is, hoeveel kontinente daar is, leer om “hallo” en “totsiens” in verskillende tale te sê, en nog hope meer. Maak kennis met vegetariese dinosourusse, oulike troeteldiere, en reusagtige blouwalvisse; verken die verlede saam met grotbewoners, Vikings en Farao’s; kyk hoe ’n plant uit ’n saadjie groei; en ontdek waaruit ’n wolk bestaan.

My ensiklopedie van baie belangrike dinge is ’n asemrowende kombinasie van eenvoudige, treffende illustrasies, indrukwekkende foto’s en lewendige teks – ’n baie belangrike boek vir baie belangrike mense, en die perfekte eerste naslaanboek vir jong feitevrate.

Launch: Flame of Truth by Bontle Senne (18 October)

Only the Shadow Chasers, with their magical knives, can save the world from the evil that lives in the dreamworld.

“Scary riveting fun! Escape in this magical and modern South African fantasy.” – Nonikiwe Mashologu, childhood literacy specialist

“I love the book because it’s scary and cool. Nom is a very brave girl.” – Gugulethu Machin, tweeny reader

Flame of Truth is the third in the Shadow Chasers series, an Afrocentric fantasy adventure for pre-teens (9 to 12 year olds.)

Bontle Senne is a book blogger and literacy advocate. She is a former managing director at the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, a trustee of READ Educational Trust and a part owner of feminist trade publishing house Modjaji Books.


Book details

Read an excerpt from the third book in Bontle Senne's Afrocentric fantasy adventure, Shadow Chasers

Only the Shadow Chasers, with their magical knives, can save the world from the evil that lives in the dreamworld.

“Scary riveting fun! Escape in this magical and modern South African fantasy.” – Nonikiwe Mashologu, childhood literacy specialist

“I love the book because it’s scary and cool. Nom is a very brave girl.” – Gugulethu Machin, tweeny reader

Flame of Truth is the third in the Shadow Chasers series, an Afrocentric fantasy adventure for pre-teens (9 to 12 year olds.)

Bontle Senne is a book blogger and literacy advocate. She is a former managing director at the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, a trustee of READ Educational Trust and a part owner of feminist trade publishing house Modjaji Books.
Read an excerpt from Bontle’s extraordinary book:

They hear the piercing scream of the Lightning Bird as another ball of flames falls from the dark sky and explodes on the patch of sand at the cave opening.

Nom and Zithembe lie on their bellies in the dirt, trying to stay low in the shadows so that the Lightning Bird does not come into the cave to find them.

“Nom, when we get out of here … ,” Zithembe whispers bitterly, pressing his cheek to the ground so he can look at Nom and she can see how annoyed he is.

Nom rolls her eyes and shifts her attention to the cave opening. She can’t hear the Lightning Bird, but that doesn’t mean it’s not waiting for them just outside the cave, ready to drop another ball of fire. “There was no way I could have known that it was going to come all the way up to the mountains,” Nom says. “I thought these things stayed in the forest!”

“Who told you that?” Zithembe snaps.

“Rosy! Well, kind of Rosy. I think that’s what she said …” Nom thinks back to a few weeks ago when she and Rosy, Zithembe’s cousin, had come into the dreamworld and were chased by the Lightning Bird. The giant black bird had flown over them, circling, stalking. With its long, curved beak, shaggy chest feathers, two sets of wings, and two long, orange legs, it had terrified her and brought back Rosy’s darkest memories.

Now, when Nom reaches out and her hand finds the cave wall, the stone feels cool and wet. She feels the magic of the dreamworld buzzing lightly through the tips of her fingers. It’s the same feeling she sometimes gets when she holds her knife. A Shadow Chaser’s knife has powers that she and Zithembe are only just starting to understand.

“We could go back,” she suggests, already guessing what Zithembe will think of that idea. Zithembe groans as a clap of thunder booms from outside the cave.

“We cannot just go back,” he says. “We have to find my mother. How can we find her if we go back?”

“Zee, we’re not going to be able to get out of here without getting roasted. We can use the special powers in your knife to get home, and then try another night. We can come back in a few days with – I don’t know – a plan or something.”

It is weird for Nom to suddenly be the one with a plan. She’s never really been known for thinking things through. They got stuck here in this cave because when Nom saw the Lightning Bird she turned and ran before Zithembe could even ask what was going on. They had scrambled further up the mountain they were exploring. Then Nom dragged Zithembe into the cave just as the balls of fire began to rain down on them, burning holes the size of soccer balls into the sand. Nom had been right to be afraid, but she could have at least warned him before she started running.
It was so often “act and then think” with her. At least Zithembe had finally gotten used to that.

“I have a better idea,” Zithembe says. “You should use your knife to turn yourself into a Lightning Bird.”

“What?” Nom asks, even though she’s pretty sure she heard him.

“You should turn yourself into a Lightning Bird,” Zithembe repeats, replaying what his mother had told him about the power of Nom’s blue knife to change her into someone – or something – else. “I’ll jump on your back and we can fly out of here and into the forest.”

If they weren’t trapped, crawling on their stomachs in the dark, Nom would punch Zithembe. “But the forest is where it lives!” she says, feeling deeply frustrated.

Nom remembers the forest from her visit to the dreamworld with Rosy, when they fought the Mami Wata.

She remembers the muffled sounds of moans, crying and wild giggling drifting out to them from inside the dark and unknowable Thathe Vondo Forest. Rosy had explained that the forest exists in the real world and the dreamworld at the same time. In the real world, the people who live near the forest believe that it is full of spirits and monsters. In the real world, the people are just as afraid of the Lightning Bird which they call Ndadzi, as Nom is, here in the dreamworld.

“OK, then we fly to the Clearing or to the Lake of Memories,” Zithembe suggests.

Being annoyed isn’t helping, so Nom sighs and tries to be kind instead.

She says, “Zee, listen to me. There are soldiers of the Army of Shadows everywhere. Even now, the shadow men must be marching towards us. Your knife’s power can get us out of here safely. I know you want to find your mom. I want to find her too, Zee, but not today …”

They are quiet for a few minutes.

Nom isn’t sure whether Zithembe is still trying to think of ways to get out of this cave and keep exploring the dreamworld or whether he is trying to accept the truth in her words. As she waits for him to speak again, Nom sees a cloud of pale orange dust float into the cave.

The dust cloud stops just in front of them, blocking their view of the cave’s opening, and then drifts down low to the ground where they lie.

“Nom … Zithembe,” says the soft, faraway voice of a girl.

Zithembe twists his head to look at the floating dust and then back at Nom.

“Did that dust thing just speak?” Nom asks, saying out loud what both of them are thinking.

“I have a deal for you,” whispers the dust. “Help me rescue my friend fromthe Army of Shadows and I will help you find Itumeleng.”

Itumeleng. Zee’s mother.

“Who – or what – are you? Why should we believe you?” Zithembe asks.

There’s a trace of anger dripping into his voice. He wants to save his mother, but how can he trust a floating cloud of dust? Any of the magical things in the dreamworld could trick him into trapping himself or Nom here.

Book details

Die immergewilde Babalela en Betty Misheiker-reeks: ideale leesstof vir die jongspan hierdie Oktober


Die Babalela-storieboek
Martie Preller
Illustreerders: Andries & Erica Maritz

Diep, diep in ’n donker bos
waar die son net soms deur die takke loer,
diep, diep in ’n donker bos
waar die varings welig diepgroen staan,
diep, diep in ’n donker bos,
in ’n hol boomstomp, net onder ’n blaar,
woon die Babalela.

Duisende Afrikaanse kleuters ken die betowerende openingsrefrein van Martie Preller se immergewilde, bekroonde Babalela-boeke. Meer as 85 000 eksemplare van die vier titels in die reeks is al verkoop.

Kom kuier saam met die Babalela en sy maats Meermoskat, Knortand, Potifant, Wrrrumpie en die lawaaierige Fripperwakkies in die bos; kom beleef hope avonture!
Vir die eerste keer verskyn al vier Babalela-boeke nou saam in een storie-omnibus. Dit sluit vier stories in:
* Babalela
* Diep, diep in ’n donker bos
* Los ons uit!
* Ons kan!

Die Betty Misheiker-reeks

Hierdie reeks bestaan uit drie oulike prenteboeke gebaseer op die lirieke van Misheiker se immergroen kinderliedjies “Die lappop”, “Die eensame krokodil” en “Die dapper muis”. Geslagte Afrikaanse kinders het grootgeword met Betty Misheiker se prettige liedjies. Nou word hulle in hierdie pragtige, volkleurformaat uitgegee.

Die dapper muis
Betty Misheiker
Illustreerder: Chris Venter

Ek’s ’n dapper muis, kyk hoe stap ek deur die huis,
en daar’s niks waarvoor ek skrik nie.
Vir niemand is ek bang, daar is niks wat my kan vang,
nee, daar’s niks waarvoor ek skrik nie.
En sê nou daar’s ’n kat …?

Die eensame krokodil
Betty Misheiker
Illustreerder: Johann Strauss

Ooo …
Ek is ’n eensame krokodil.
Mense kyk vir my en gril.
Ek soek maters hoog en laag,
maar almal sê ek vreet te graag.

Die lappop
Betty Misheiker
Illustreerder: Karen Ahlschläger

Iemand het ’n lappop op ’n ashoop weggegooi,
sy was gedaan en stukkend,
verbleek en nie meer mooi nie.
Op die ashoop hoor sy stemme praat
en dié verwelkom haar.
Maar o, ellende, toe sy kyk,
wat sien die lappop daar?
Net ’n vrot pampoen en ’n stukkende skoen,
’n grammofoonplaat en ’n kous sonder maat,
net ’n leë bottel bier, ’n verlepte angelier,
’n gelapte binneband en ’n ou koerant.