My favourite kind of people are the ones who say they are going to do something, ignore the muttered voices saying it isn’t possible, and then go right ahead and do it. Book Dash people are that sort. One Hundred books owned by every child under five is a serious undertaking. Some people raised their eyebrows. I didn’t. I’ve met Book Dash!
Everything they do is alternative, different from traditional methods of getting a book in a child’s hands. First, there is the creative process where writers, illustrators, editors, book designers and the generally committed, are invited to 12-hour days where they will, in one sitting, produce a book. It is immense fun (fueled by excellent catering) and the results speak for themselves. For those of a numerical cast here are some figures to impress:
– 140 original titles created at 15 Book Dash events
– Over 500 local language versions of those books, available on the website
– 900,000 physical copies distributed to children for free, through 200+ literacy promotion initiatives across the country. Let me repeat that number … nine-hundred-thousand! A million, here they come.
I run one of those literacy initiatives and you should just see the eyes of the children light up when those easily recognisable square little books appear. Because they know they will be owning them by the end of our workshop and taking them home. There is no other measure of a book, for me, than the eyes of children. They speak, quite clearly of the desperate need in our communities for stories – and books.
Because of the really wide range of people involved in the workshops, the topics are also completely out of the box – and made by the team, not dictated by the need for publishers to cater for the slim pickings of educational buy-in. So they are free and unfettered, flying like little literacy kites across a clear blue sky, unhampered by commercial necessity.
The books are intended for younger children but, given the sad state of our reading levels, work with older ones too. One of my favourites is Rafiki’s style – a story where Rafiki finds out that trends change and hairstyles that were out, can suddenly be IN. I love it that this addresses the dangerous issue of boy’s hairstyles. Traditional publishing can all to easily fall into stereotypes and ‘what is expected’. Book Dash doesn’t have to bother with all that.
Another book deals with ‘A very Busy Day’ in which ‘Mama and’ I go shopping (including for shoes, but some stereotypes are more than that, they are True Life). With plenty of opportunity to expand on the vocabulary and ideas in the story, it is also pure fun – and close to the real experiences children actually have in South Africa.
Some of the books are for slightly older children (or more experienced young readers). Graca’s Dream is one of these. With a bit more text, and some more challenging vocabulary, it introduces the concept of biography in simple, understandable – and interesting terms.
Children need, ought to have, are desperate for, CHOICE in their reading. With these little books priced at R45 each, that becomes possible – and for many who can’t afford even that, donations help to make it happen.
Do I approve of Book Dash? Well … you should have worked that out by now. But International recognition has also recently come in the form an award from the IBBY Yamada Fund and also from the Library of Congress Award. Prestigious stuff!
To download the books free, to translate them into whatever language you wish (also free) go to https://bookdash.org/ Is it a nice website? Um … Ja.
To buy the books, try Exclusive branches and other good bookshops, which should have a selection.
Review by Lesley Beake