Driving into Franschhoek is always a very special trip. The mountains loom over the little town protectively, concealing its beauty secretively. But once you are on the main road through the long, wide valley, it opens up and spreads its treasures before you, willing you to come closer, sample its delights.
And a trip to the French Corner just before the book opens on the main Franschhoek Literary Festival, is even more special, for this is the Book Week for Young Readers. The days are set aside for promoting reading and a love of books among children and teens. It is a vibrant time of hope and inspiration, and the perfect time to launch the Nal’ibali Storytime book in four new languages.
The reader is published in a partnership between the Sunday Times and Praesa, the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa. This year, through a donation of funds from readers and the Little Hands Trust, Times Media, the publisher of Sunday Times, has translated Nal’ibali Storytime from English into Afrikaans, Sesotho, isiXhosa and isiZulu. This is in line with Nal’ibali’s support and promotion of reading development in English as well as African languages, say the publishers.
The launch took place at Wes Eind Primary School, amid earthmovers and mud as the school undergoes a significant transformation. The media centre is brand-new and sparkling, with shelves still waiting to be filled. It is a sunny room, with a view across the school and to the mountains beyond. Read and the world out there is yours for the conquering, it seems to say.
Grade 7 pupils filed in quietly to listen to a reading of the story Mnr Haas ontmoet Mnr Mandela (Mr Rabbit meets Mr Mandela), by Chris van Wyk. “Reading is a place you can go on your own for solace, to follow your dreams, to learn about the world,” said Patti McDonald, a consultant to Times Media Education and the driving force behind Nal’ibali, in welcoming the children.
She quoted Nelson Mandela, saying: “It is important to read in your mother tongue. Reading in another tongue speaks to your head; reading in your mother tongue speaks to your heart.
“We are thrilled that we have been able to bring the magic of Nal’ibali to reach even more children. We hope that giving them the opportunity to read in their mother tongue language will develop and grow their love for reading.”
The books target the foundation and intermediate phases of school, and promote the idea of reading for enjoyment. Each Sunday, an excerpt is published in the Sunday Times for children and schools, libraries and others to collect. Together, they make up stories, written and illustrated by South Africans, for South African children. The storybook is the extension of this weekly publication.
Quintus van der Merwe, from Vriende van Afrikaans, delighted the children with an anecdote of meeting Mandela himself, before getting down to reading the story. The room was rapt as he told of the travels of Mr Rabbit into the big city. Coming to the end, there was laughter and clapping, and Van der Merwe’s colleague, Ria Olivier, said: “I watched you enjoying the story, and seeing how important it is to be able to read.
“Mr Rabbit was not so clever because he could not read. You must learn to read, and practise reading. Eventually you will be able to get a good job. Lees is lekker; lees kan ons ryk maak (reading is lovely; reading can make us rich),” she said.
McDonald encouraged the children to become active citizens: “The more you read, the more active a citizen you can be.” Van der Merwe also had some advice, telling the children they should read the stories to their younger siblings and old grandparents.
Storytime was introduced for the first time in English in 2013. The popular children’s book, aimed at children in primary school, consists of compelling short stories written by leading South African authors and comes complete with colour illustrations, say the publishers. It has also been changed from a single edition into two separate books: one for Foundation Phase, and one for Intermediate Phase readers. CTP printers have printed 18 000 copies for free.
Staff and children at the school also received copies of the recently launch Nal’ibali Children’s Literacy Charter. The multilingual charter lists the different kinds of literacy experiences children should have to best enable them to learn to read and write, and is a guide for parents and educators to putting these conditions in place.
Further copies of Storytime will be donated to Nal’ibali’s network of more than 100 reading clubs in the Western and Eastern Cape, Gauteng, the Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.