Franschhoek Symposium Minutes

OCL GROUP of Organisations connected to Children’s Literature

Minutes of Symposium taken by Jay Heale held at La Fontaine, Franschhoek on 15 May 2013 at the invitation of the Children’s Book Network

Those present: Jay Heale (Chair), Lesley Beake (Convenor), Sindiwe Magona, Nonique Mashologu, Jean Williams, Carole Bloch, Mignon Hardie, Marjorie van Heerden, Margie Cunnama, Kathy Madlener, Phakama Matoti, Niki Daly.
Observer status: Jude Daly
Apologies: none

Much appreciation was expressed to the Franschhoek Literary Festival which had provided the venue for the meeting and most welcome refreshments.

The meeting started (early, at 1.40 pm) with a Welcome from Jay Heale (Bookchat : jayheale@afrihost.co.za which is an independent website providing news and reviews, especially of SA children’s books). He explained that the intention of the Symposium was not to establish any national organisation. Rather to establish a friendly relationship between those organisations represented and hopefully to improve communications. Each representative was then invited to outline the main focus and activities of their particular organisation.

Lesley Beake (Children’s Book Network : Lesley@lesleybeake.co.za )
Lesley outlined the activities of the CBN since its beginnings over a year ago. The importance of “networking” was stressed. She and Sindiwe were founder members with Gcina Mhlophe who was unable to be present at the Symposium. As an example of the lack of knowledge of other organisations, Gcina had been doing things in KZN that Lesley had not heard about. Several workshops had been held on the theme of “Home” for readers of varying ages. The most successful has been that at Redhill where, with support from Swedish Rotary, their new library is now a permanent project of the CBN. The workshops are fun, with drumming, storytelling and an emphasis on the beauty of language. The CBN aim is to reach children who have been left out. Funding has come from Rotary in SA and Sweden, and several individual donors. The CBN website will be in action soon and details will be circulated to those attending the Symposium. Copies of the CBN Annual Report for 2012 were circulated, and can be sent online to anyone requesting it.

Sindiwe Magona (Children’s Book Network : smagona@mweb.co.za )
Sindiwe told us about a particular project of the CBN: to translate books into isiXhosa and make these translations freely available on their website. She preferred to use the word “render” instead of “translate”. Work had already started on titles from Cambridge University Press, and copyright permission to use both text and illustrations had been granted. The final isiXhosa version, after incorporating any comments received on the online version, would be given freely to Cambridge.

Nonique Mashologu (IBBY SA : nonique@mweb.co.za )
IBBY SA is the South African national section of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People). Noni explained how IBBY SA holds many book events such as their own Book Bash meetings, the judging of the (biennial) Exclusive Books IBBY SA Children’s Book Award, the selection of the (biennial) IBBY Honour Books for exhibition at the next IBBY Congress. IBBY SA has the right to nominate candidates for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (AMLA), the Hans Christian Andersen Award (HCA) and the (annual) IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Awards. They were in liaison with Biblionef to provide (with sponsorship from Japan) books to underprivileged schools.

Phakama Matoti (Centre for the Book : phakama.matoti@nlsa.ac.za )
Phakama explained that she was the newly appointed Children’s Literature Coordinator for the Centre of the Book. She distributed copies of a leaflet on the Centre for the Book which included details of their activities for children. Their main aim was to promote literacy for children. She aims to hold workshops for writers, to motivate more children’s books in indigenous languages, and to develop book clubs at primary schools.

Marjorie van Heerden (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators : Marjorie@grafikon.co.za )
Marjorie (with Elaine Ridge in Johannesburg) heads the SA section of SCBWI which is an international organisation based in New York and Los Angeles, with 22 sections worldwide. It is a non-profit organisation which aims to help writers and illustrators develop their craft up to the point where the book is published. In that, the SCBWI differs from many other organisations represented at the Symposium, as they do not concern themselves with promoting published books. Their SA activities have included review sessions, retreats (with a motivational speaker), working sessions with publishers. Members can access the benefits of the SCBWI website, and the Society magazine written by writers and illustrators. Reference books of the organisation are published, and awards given to members.

Kathy Madlener (BookMark : Kathy@bestbookmark.co.za )
Kathy (with Carol Ryan, both ex school librarians) runs a roving book-selling business with the aim of helping school librarians in the Western Cape to choose better books. These are In English, Afrikaans and Xhosa ranging from pre -school to matric. They take books to the schools and can talk knowledgeably because they have read the books. Teachers (who often “do not have time to read”) are faced with choosing books as “readers” for their classes, and too often go back on what they have used before. Their main battle is with suppliers. Kathy also supports the Kids Lit Quizzes which “make a sport of reading”.

Jean Williams (Biblionef SA : bibsa@iafrica.com )
Biblionef is the independent South African branch of an international book-donation organisation founded in the Netherlands. They provide new books in all 11 South African languages, plus Braille. By June this year, Biblionef will have donated one million books, each one hand-picked. In September they will launch their Second Million campaign for more financial support. Biblionef has also republished several outstanding children’s books, making them available in all SA languages. They work throughout South Africa, and in Lesotho (published in Sotho Lesotho) with plans for Botswana and Swaziland. A recently introduced concept has been the “Book Bag” containing books and toys, designed for teachers of Grade R. Recently, they took over 150,000 books from Via Afrika Publishers which might otherwise have been pulped. Jay was present when Biblionef gave a World Book Day gift of a book to every one of the 1,190 pupils of a primary school in Kuilsriver.

Carole Bloch (PRAESA, Nal’ibali : Carole.Bloch@uct.ac.za )
Carole wears several hats! PRAESA, the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa is based at UCT and aims at children’s literary development. From that has come the Nal’ibali storybook initiative which is a national reading campaign. This includes storytelling (oral language use), creating book-making supplements which go our through provincial newspapers reaching 6 provinces, and publishing. (Their collection of 10 African stories, Storytime, was launched in Franschhoek the morning after this Symposium.) They set up “clusters” of book activities such as reading clubs. Her initiative, the Little Hands Trust, creates books for babies in many languages. Carole circulated examples of the newspaper supplements, the paper books created from them, and some Little Hands board books. All this aims to create a feeling of “I’m a reader”. She has a dream of a huge translation project with stories from around the world.

Mignon Hardie (Fundza : mignon@fundza.co.za )
Fundza, according to Mignon, is a fairly new kid on the block, starting off in April 2011. They aim to create reading materials specifically for young South Africans, 13 to 25 yrs old. They want to make a “reading revolution” for teenagers, popularising reading, making it a daily habit. So far it seems that both youngsters and their parents like the products. So far they have made much available online, published several in their “Harmony High” series, started off a Big Ups! Series of short story collections (copies were passed round), as well as issuing one chapter a day on cell phones. They want young adults to read as well as write. In contrast to many book publishers, “We are not despondent at all.”

Margie Cunnama (FLF Library Fund librarian : mcunnama@gmail.com )
Margie is the librarian for 4 under-resourced schools in the Franschhoek area that are being assisted by funds from the Franschhoek Literary Festival. She spends one day of each week in each school. “Children treasure the books because they are allowed to take them home.” (Jay saw clear proof of her popularity when he visited Dalubuhle Primary the next morning.)

There was general discussion around the table about ways to increase communication within our organisations. Jay offered to place direct links on the Bookchat home page for any organisation that wanted this. (A link with Nal’ibali is already in place.) Lesley said that she plans a regular Newsletter from the CBN website. This can be sent to organisations, and they can decide whether or not to circulate to their mailing lists. Both IBBY SA and Nal’ibali have Facebook pages.
The idea of a regular Newsletter run by a person paid to do so was discussed. Jean pointed out that it can take 2 to 3 weeks to put a newsletter together. Mignon hoped for lists of the best SA books saying “This is a great book because …” The idea of a Blog with contributions from our organisations was mooted. Certainly, online methods seemed the best. Jean said that Biblionef would soon have the use of volunteer interns. No one was quite sure how to make use of this offer, as interns need fairly constant supervision!
Carole questioned whether we were talking about sharing information or about more collaborative efforts? It was suggested that perhaps better communications might lead to more collaborative efforts. No decisions were made. Jay promised, as a first step, to circulate Minutes of this Symposium.

In answer to the suggestion that another similar Symposium be hosted by another of our organisation (perhaps on a rotating basis), Phakama offered the Centre for the Book as the next venue. To be held in about 6 months time (November?) – in a larger venue, with more organisations represented. It was generally agreed that we should keep the informal “round the table” format.

Niki Daly (Author & Illustrator : njdaly@iafrica.com )
Our special guest was then urged to share with us his prepared thoughts on “The challenges faced by children’s book writers and illustrators in the economic climate here and overseas.” Some extracts from this are reproduced here.

It’s safe to say, I think, that we are having a hard time. Even my dear agent has few words of comfort. Of course, we stand in line with many other people who face cuts in income, or worse, unemployment. But for now, I’d like to make us an exception – part of an ‘essential service’ – that is, providing children with good books, which I do believe is essential to the development of a curious and vital mind.

It would seem that most families lived rushed lives – children with school and after mural schedules that get them home late afternoon, mum and dads, who are likely these days to both work, arriving home in time just to flop in front of the TV to catch fictional characters acting out equally frantic lives or the news that simply adds to our worries and stress levels. In all the rush it takes a concerted effort to include in one’s day reading to one’s child. Indeed, I am always thrilled when I hear of parents who manage to fit a shared reading with their children into their day. Much of the rush is undoubtedly unavoidable, but I do think some of it is imagined – an attitude that makes me want to tell tired parents to throw off their shoes and lie down for 10 minutes with their child by their side, and a book in between. I speak from experience- it’s a lovely way of reconnecting with your child after a day’s rush. Not only that, it’s a wonderful way to reconnect with the your own inner child – the child that knows the secret of play and is the keeper of the keys to an imaginary world – a world that becomes more distant as one is forced to rush about, forgetting who you are – a human being, not a robot.

I want to end with addressing some negative myths that have been built up during this bleak time in publishing.

One is – books are difficult to sell
And the second is that – today’s children are less interested in books than children of the past.

I have recently visited over 30 schools where I read my latest book The Herd Boy to halls filled with children – some of them containing 500 at a time. After the reading I signed books – many, many books – until my signature started to resemble an overcooked noodle. To me this debunked both myths.
• Books are not hard to sell and children love listening to stories and buying books.
There’s a self-perpetuating gloom that hangs over us about the future of books – formed, as I see it, by these two myths. We need to do something about it. And this is what I suggest:

• Editors need to reclaim their role as specially qualified people with a reliable instinct for what makes a good book.
• Marketing personal need to discover exciting ‘out of the box’ approaches for promoting books, such as organized national school visits and capitalizing on book fairs.
• Booksellers need to read children’s books and spread enthusiasm for what they enjoy around their store.
• And children book creators need to learn how to turn school visits into exciting events, backed by a team from your publishers who see a school visit as major sales opportunity and a sure way of promoting reading and a love of books.

Now, this is the part where a Salvation Army Brass Band would really drive home what I finally want to leave with you.

All of us in the book industry need to find joy in what we do, we need to get rid of the negativity that clouds our vision for a future in which childhood and children’s books are inseparable, and we need to put aside unfounded beliefs that sabotage our best offerings to children, which are our magical, exciting, celebrating, life changing books.
Thanks were expressed to Lesley Beake for conceiving the idea of the Symposium and to the CBN for hosting it. Jay was also thanked for his facilitating contributions. The Symposium closed at 3.45 pm. Subsequent discussion with those who lingered was that Niki’s thoughts were exactly what was needed to round off a worth-while afternoon. (Too late for many, wine was discovered in the fridge.)

These Minutes to be circulated to all those of the OCL Group attending the Symposium. Jay requests that he be informed by email of any glaring errors or omissions. Also an indication (with logo) if you wish your organisation to have a direct link from the Bookchat page.

Known websites:
Bookchat – www.bookchat.co.za
Centre for the Book – www.nlsa.ac.za
Nal’ibali – www.nalibali.org
Biblionef – www.biblionefsa.org.za
IBBY SA – www.ibbysa.org.za
Fundza – www.fundza.co.za
BookMark – Kathy@bestbookmark.co.za (no website)

Join the CBN mailing list