National Book Week : Celebrating budding child authors
September is a significant month in South Africa’s literary sphere. It’s the month when we celebrate National Book Week, an initiative of the South African Book Development Council and the Department of Arts and Culture which runs from September 2 to 8.
Book Week aims to encourage South Africans to take up reading as a fun and worthwhile activity. This is a noble initiative, given our country’s dire reading statistics. In 2016, we ranked last out of 50 countries in the Progress in International Reading Literacy study, which tested the reading comprehension of pupils in their fourth year of school. The study found that an alarming 78% of Grade 4 pupils could not read for meaning. A year later, research by the University of Pretoria told a similar tale - eight out of 10 Grade 4 pupils “still cannot read at an appropriate level”.
Although we can’t determine the impact of Book Week on reading standards, we can use this week to celebrate people who are thinking of innovative ways to address literacy issues. One such person is Glad Kaiser, who has established a publishing house for authors between the ages of seven and 18.
About Bala Books
Bala Books is a publishing house which focuses on children’s books written by children. “Children don’t have a voice and what I mean by that is it’s always adults that are representing children. We never stop to ask what children want or what children think,” says Kaiser.
Through this initiative, aspiring child authors learn about the process of storytelling and book authoring in a series of modules.
Kaiser says the inspiration behind the company was the need to create an inclusive learning environment that allowed children to express themselves by writing their own books.
“I realised that so many children are left behind in aspects of learning, so I wanted to create learning that ensures that no child is left behind,” he says.
While this is a noble cause, it’s not without its hurdles.
Many children have literacy and learning problems because of the cracks in our education system. According to Child Gauge, 65% of learners in prestigious schools are “advanced” in their literacy, while fewer than one in 10 in the poorer schools get anywhere near that level. While Kaiser’s initiative aims to bridge that gap the cost of taking on the 12 modules, which eventually lead to a published book, is too great for many. As a result, the initiative ran the risk of being inaccessible to the ordinary South African child.
“Kids in the private schools can afford to go on to our programmes but we still had a lot of kids in public schools that couldn’t pay,” he says.
To ensure that his business remained in line with its motto of inclusive learning, he worked out a model where private schools would adopt public schools. In other words, for every child who registered and paid Bala Books, one was sponsored.
Developing the future of South African literature
Nelson Mandela once said: “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future,” and it seems Kaiser has taken this to heart with his aim of developing the future of this country.
“I would urge parents to bring their kids on these book writing programmes because they’ll definitely walk away with a writing and reading skill set, and an opportunity to make money for their education, which is also important seeing that we have a crisis in our country.”