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"Children are not colour-blind" - Mylo Freeman on racial diversity in children's books

Mylo Freeman

 
The Dutch author Mylo Freeman, who gained recognition for her Princess Arabella-series, which features a black princess as main character, recently wrote a piece for The Guardian on how the struggle for diversity in children’s literature still has a long way to go:

I’m a black Dutch author and illustrator of picture books and I’d like to tell you something about my work. The idea for my main character Princess Arabella came from a story I heard about a little black girl who was offered the role of princess in a school play, which she declined, simply because she didn’t believe that a princess could be black. I decided then and there it was high time for a black princess to appear in a picture book! Once the book was finished I had to look for a publisher of course. After some research I thought Eenhoorn, a Belgian publisher, would be the best candidate. I wrapped all the illustrations carefully and sent them by mail to Belgium. After that it was just a matter of waiting for a response…

“It was a rainy day,” my publisher told me later. “I had just attended what was supposed to be a meeting to celebrate an organization that provides books for children who are having difficulties learning Dutch as a second language. They were mainly children from a Moroccan background”. The books my publisher brought to read to them didn’t relate to them at all. Frustrated and disappointed she returned to the office only to find my first manuscript and illustrations for Princess Arabella carefully wrapped at her desk!

This was 10 years ago and now there are 10 Arabella books published and more to come! Princess Arabella’s Birthday was very well received, won prizes and was translated into many languages. However when it came to selling the rights to the US things got complicated. “It’s her hair”, white American publishers whispered, embarrassed, “her hair looks uncombed, our audiences will be offended”. I was baffled, how could Arabella’s and her mum the queen’s hair be offensive to anyone? I modelled it after traditional African hairstyles after all?

 
This of course had everything to do with African American history. A history marked by slavery and where generations after still reflected the white dominant culture. However, there has been a trend going on for some time now for black women to have their own natural hairstyles. And it seems that women nowadays get to make a choice as how to wear their hair and not out of an imposed sense of social pressure.

Continue reading here.

Princess Arabella’s Birthday
‘Once upon a time, there was a little princess called Arabella. She lived in a big palace with her father, the King, and her mother, the Queen. It was nearly Arabella’s birthday. But what do you give a little princess who already has everything?’Ruby-encrusted roller skates, a golden bicycle, a stuffed mouse, a cuddly mouse, a tea set, a doll’s pram carriage? No, Princess Arabella wants something different for her birthday: an elephant.But will she get what she wants?

Princess Arabella Mixes Colours
Princess Arabella thinks her room is boring. So she decides she’s going to do something about that – all by herself. She mixes up some paint and in no time at all her room looks fabulous.The latest book about the popular little Princess Arabella, with fun information about mixing colours.

Princess Arabella's Birthday

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Princess Arabella Mixes Colours

"Why did prominent members of the royal house conspire to kill Shaka?" - One of the many questions Laband tackles in his riveting new book

In this riveting new book, John Laband, pre-eminent historian of the Zulu Kingdom, tackles some of the questions that swirl around the assassination in 1828 of King Shaka, the celebrated founder of the Zulu Kingdom and war leader of legendary brilliance: Why did prominent members of the royal house conspire to kill him?

Just how significant a part did the white hunter-traders settled at Port Natal play in their royal patron’s downfall?

Why were Shaka’s relations with the British Cape Colony key to his survival? And why did the powerful army he had created acquiesce so tamely in the usurpation of the throne by Dingane, his half-brother and assassin?

In his search for answers Laband turns to the Zulu voice heard through recorded oral testimony and praise-poems, and to the written accounts and reminiscences of the Port Natal trader-hunters and the despatches of Cape officials. In the course of probing and assessing this evidence the author vividly brings the early Zulu kingdom and its inhabitants to life.

He throws light on this elusive character of and his own unpredictable intentions, while illuminating the fears and ambitions of those attempting to prosper and survive in his hazardous kingdom: a kingdom that nevertheless endured in all its essential characteristics, particularly militarily, until its destruction fifty one years later in 1879 by the British; and whose fate, legend has it, Shaka predicted with his dying breath.

John Laband is the author of several highly regarded books on the Zulu Kingdom, including the seminal Rope of Sand: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century. Laband is Professor Emeritus at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada; a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge; a Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a Research Associate in the Department of History at Stellenbosch University. He lives in Cape Town.

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Also available as an eBook.

University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English 2016 winners announced

 

The University of Johannesburg is pleased to announce the winners of its annual literary award:

The main prize of R75 000 is awarded to Nthikeng Mohlele for Pleasure (Picador Africa).

The debut prize of R35 000 is awarded to Mohale Mashigo for The Yearning (Picador Africa).

A formal prize-giving ceremony will be held later in the year.

Publishers who wish to submit entries for the UJ prize for works published in 2017 should contact Prof Ronit Frenkel (ronitf@uj.ac.za).

Background information

The prizes are not linked to a specific genre. This may make the evaluation more challenging in the sense that, for example, a volume of poetry, a novel and a biographical work must be measured against one another, but the idea is to open the prize to as many forms of creative writing as possible.

Approximately 60 works were submitted this year, from which the following books were selected for the shortlist:

Main Prize:
Pleasure by Nthikeng Mohlele
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Sigh the Beloved Country by Bongani Madondo

Debut Prize:
The Yearning by Mohale Mashigo
Loud and Yellow Laughter by Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese
Tjieng-Tjang and Other Stories by Jolyn Philips
The Keeper of the Kumm by Sylvia Vollenhoven

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Page through Andy Lee's hilarious Do Not Open This Book

This guy will do anything for you not to open this book. Threats, bribes, reverse psychology – you name it. A hilarious new book from radio extraordinaire and all-round funny guy, Andy Lee. Young readers will love doing everything they’re asked not to. With bright and entertaining illustrations this story will become a family favourite.

 
 
Click here to page through Lee’s delightful book.

 

Do Not Open This Book

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"We built our wall across America three years before Trump used it in his election campaign" - Frank Owen on South

“The USA has been ravaged by Civil War. It’s thirty years since the first wind-borne viruses ended the war between North and South – and still they keep coming. Every wind brings a new and terrifying way to die. The few survivors live in constant fear, hiding from the wind – and from each other.

In this harsh Southern expanse, brothers Garrett and Dyce Jackson are on the run from brutal law-enforcers. They meet Vida, a lone traveller on a secret quest. Together, they will journey into the dark heart of a country riven by warfare and disease. Together, they will discover what it takes to survive.” – SOUTH, Frank Owen

Michael Sears, co-author of the Detective Kubu-series, recently sat down with our sunshine noir author(s) for August, Frank Owen, the writing duo comprised of Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer. During the interview they discussed their post-apocalyptic novel South; human nature; the novel’s themes of segregation and prejudice, reminiscent of apartheid-era South Africa; and researching mushrooms.

Alex Latimer and Diane Awerbuck

 

You both come from rather different backgrounds. How did you come to write together, and what motivated this unusual premise for a novel set in the U.S.?

AL: When I was releasing my first novel, The Space Race, I’d just finished reading Diane’s heavy-hitting but wonderful book, Home Remedies, and so as a fan, I asked her to interview me at the launch. With some bribery, she agreed. We do come from different backgrounds, but we realized early on that our interests are quite similar. The idea to write together was just for fun, initially, because it’s difficult to know how that process works without getting into it.

The premise for SOUTH came from chatting over coffee during a particularly cold and windy Cape Town winter. Everyone was sick and had been for what seemed like months. The idea of wind-borne viruses was literally in the air. But at the same time, I think the premise of building walls and keeping people apart was also floating about in the global zeitgeist. We built our wall across America three years before Trump used it in his election campaign. Fiction has a hard time keeping up with reality.

As one-half of a writing couple myself, I’m naturally intrigued to know how you actually write together- by chapter, character, draft? And is there any significance behind the name Frank Owen?

DA: Frank is a name from a side of my family, and Owen came from Alex’s. So the ancestors are doing their bit there.

AL: I don’t really think of our collaboration as two writers writing the same story. Diane’s writing style and my writing style are quite different – so the process was more about combining my skills with hers rather than sharing the load. I’ve always been intrigued by pace and plot, whereas Diane’s writing is much more lyrical. We tried a few ways of working, but in the end we’d just chat about where the story was going and then I’d put down the first draft of a chapter and Diane would double it, concentrating on character and atmosphere. We wanted a fast-paced action narrative told in a “literary” style.

Your lead characters Dyce and his brother are heading for the sea on the run from a powerful family, while Vida is trying to save her mother and her mother’s knowledge of natural remedies. They have different agendas, but join forces from necessity, despite the ongoing tension between them. Is it an axiom that this type of thriller needs to be more character driven than plot driven?

DA: Most of us readers are interested in characters as people. I definitely read novels because I hope to find answers to all sorts of dilemmas. Complex, believable characters are a way to talk about serious issues without tub-thumping.

AL: We were quite conscious about spending time doing both character and plot. My default would be plot first – but then who cares what happens in a novel if they don’t care about who it’s happening to? It’s a tricky balance.

SOUTH is a dark vision. People are automatically suspicious of any stranger who may be the carrier of a new and usually fatal disease. There is little cooperation with the exceptions of one community which protects itself and generally excludes strangers, and a hospice-type community where everyone is already sick. Yet many of your characters – including Dyce and Vida -are trying to help and support others. Would you call yourselves optimists about human nature, and was exploring the behavior of intrinsically good people in intolerable circumstances part of your theme?

AL: I’m certainly an optimist about human nature. Why can’t we all just get along? For me apocalyptic fiction is all about whittling away the parts of life that are non-essential. There’s no dry-cleaning to be done, no dog food to buy, no peeling fascia boards that need attention. You get right into the essence of a person. But as dark as that sounds, we realized early on that every single character in the book had to be hopeful in some way – because without that hope they’d already be dead. It’s a lovely space to explore human nature and the will to survive.

DA: It’s something that fascinates me, and the only answer I’ve found is Viktor Frankl’s, in Man’s Searching for Meaning. What makes one person give up, and another keep fighting? Even medical doctors call it the will to live: they don’t know exactly what it is, either – but we all know it when we see it.

Continue reading Michael’s interview with Alex and Diane here.

Click here for an excerpt of South.

South

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The Space Race

 
 

Home Remedies

Book bites: 30 July 2017

Dying to LiveDying to Live
Michael Stanley (Orenda Books)
****
Book mystery
When a witchdoctor goes missing and a body is discovered in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, detectives David “Kubu” Bengu and Samantha Khama are called in to solve another head-scratcher of a case. While the police try to piece it all together, a group of malefactors continue their quest for a plant that will increase one’s longevity. Themes of rhino-horn smuggling, biopiracy, corruption and greed permeate Michael Stanley’s sixth crime novel, while the beautiful setting of Botswana captures the imagination. Kubu is an endearing protagonist both as a detective and a dad, devoted to his family. This is a crime story with a generous dose of tenderness.
- Anna Stroud @annawriter_

A Piece of the WorldA Piece of the World
Christina Baker Kline (HarperCollins)
****
Book buff
An historical fictionalised account about the life of Christina Olson, the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s famous 1948 painting Christina’s World. Olson, who lived in the Maine farmhouse in the painting, suffered from a debilitating neuromuscular disease and the book describes her determination to live life as full as possible despite this. Olson’s life straddled two world wars and one ancestor who was a judge in the Salem witch trials. Through the Wyeth painting, now in the Museum of Modern Art, she transcended the piece of New England where she felt trapped. An enjoyable read. – Vuyo Mzini @vuyomzini

Spire Spire
Fiona Snyckers (Clockwork Books)
***
Book thrill
In remote Antarctica, the South Pole International Research Establishment houses a frozen box of viruses. Dr Candice Burchell, surgeon and virologist, is called to the infirmary after an employee falls fatally ill. The centre is ravaged by an outbreak of diseases that haven’t been dealt with since the Middle Ages. More people turn up dead. Dr Burchell is about to be left all alone – or is she? Snyckers’ novel drops a stone into the pit of your stomach. – Kelly Ansara @QueenKelso

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