South Africa doesn’t have an established reading culture, and as research conducted by the South African Book Council (SABC) shows, the nation’s children are paying the heaviest price.
According to the report, only two in every three parents or caregivers read to their children; and only 5% of parents and caregivers think reading to children before they can talk or read helps them to learn.
Meanwhile, almost 60% of households in the country don't have any books at home.
The result, according to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), is that 78% of grade 4 learners in South Africa can’t read for meaning, while 47% of grade 4 learners in South Africa report that they’re not confident about their reading skills.
These findings are part of the reason that Global Citizen has launched the #TurnThePage campaign.
It’s a reading campaign and book drive aimed at making books accessible to families and communities that don’t have resources.
#TurnThePage is a partnership with the Mall of Africa and the Exclusive Books outlet at the mall to launch a pop-up library.
The library, which will remain open until Aug. 7, is the main donation hub where Global Citizens can buy or drop off children’s books that will be donated to different communities around South Africa.
However, there is more to #TurnThePage than getting books into hands; children also need to discover the joy of reading through events and other experiences that bring them closer to books.
With this in mind, Global Citizen will be co-hosting a reading club with Book Circle Capital, and Bala Books in Thokoza, in the East Rand on Aug. 9.
Book Circle Capital is an independent bookstore in Melville, and Bala Books publishes books authored by children. The reading club is open to families from Thokoza.
Despite issues with reading and access to books, South Africa has a very vibrant child author scene that's still growing thanks to Bala Books, which offers writing workshops to school children. Some of the stories developed in workshops end up as published books.
The reading club will also feature book readings by #TurnThePage ambassadors — child authors Stacey Fru, Ngcali Metu, Christian Fatouros, Relebogile Mothema, Imaan Bhana, Michelle Nkamankeng, Reabetswe Kungwane, and Daniel Nyamgero. There will also be writing workshops for children.
We asked the #TurnThePage ambassadors why reading is so important for them, and for other young people.
1. Stacey Fru
“Reading is very important to me because it helps me relax and teaches me many new and amazing things,” Stacey Fru tells Global Citizen.
At only 12 years old, she is already considered a publishing industry veteran. Her first book, Smelly Cats, was published when she was eight years old.
Her other books are Bob and the Snake, Smelly Cats on Vacation, Where’s Tammy, and Tim’s Answer.
Fru has won awards for Smelly Cat, and received a Young Leader award in 2016. Earlier this year, she was awarded the 2019 World Youth Forum’s Arab and African Youth Platform award.
In her speech to receive the award, she said: “This has inspired me to want to do more and help people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, through my foundation.”
The Stacey Fru Foundation was launched in 2015, and supports education initiatives for children from under-served communities.
2. Ngcali Metu
Ngcali Metu, 11, discovered her talent after going to a writing workshop. This led to her publishing her first book, The Clever Twins, in July 2019. The book was written in honour of her grandfather.
Metu says she initially found writing challenging at first: “I’m really happy with the book I wrote,” she says. “I didn’t love writing at the beginning but after I attended the Bala Books writing course I did.”
Metu, who is from the Eastern Cape, loves books because they feed her imagination.
“I think reading is amazing because you can imagine the story in its own way,” she tells Global Citizen.
3. Christian Fatouros
Like Metu, Christian Fatouros, 12, discovered that he’s a writer at a writing workshop held at his school, which led to his first book The Dinosaur Jungle.
He describes himself as “a kind boy who is good most of the time”, and says writing his book boosted his confidence. “I am happy and extremely proud that [I] wrote [The Dinosaur Jungle],” he tells Bala Books.
He is inspired to share books because, as he tells Global Citizen: “I like reading books because they are so captivating.”
He adds: “Stories are exciting.”
4. Relebogile Mothema
Relebogile Mothema, 10, took an experience that’s common for many school children, bullying, and turned it into a book.
Bizzarcar, her first book, was written when Mothema was seven years old. It was inspired by her experience with bullying and childhood obesity.
“What we need to learn from children isn’t childish, but childlike. We have to take care of one another and give each other a voice,” she told Bala Books.
“It’s like being the person in the front and the person in the background that never gets to speak, all at the same time,” she adds. “So, I feel like we should give each other a voice and we should all stand in the same lane.”
She says she is drawn to books because they expand her world. “Reading is a great way to grow your imagination,” she tells Global Citizen. “It takes you somewhere you’ve never been before.”
5. Imaan Bhana
“Reading takes you on a journey to a perfect place,” says Imaan Bhana,11. “I’d like all kids to have this experience.”
The author of Moon Child, Bhana has been a reader from when she was very young. “I have always loved reading good books,” she says.
Moon Girl was published in 2019, and encourages readers to value life lessons about education and friendship. Bhana has already started working on a sequel.
6. Reabetswe Kungwane
Reabetswe Kungwane, 9, is already living her dream of being an author. Stories You’ve Never Heard Before is a collection of short stories that each has a moral lesson.
“Reading exercises and challenges my mind to be creative and smart,” she tells Global Citizen.
Kungwane also has a foundation, Reabetswe Life Lessons for Little People, that helps provide young people with a "psychology for life”.
The foundation promotes character development and excellence in young people.
As well as books, her other passion is dance and, just like her literary career, her star is shining bright.
She competed at the 2017 American Dance Award Championships in South Africa, and was chosen to represent the country in the Hollywood leg of the championship in 2018.
Reabetswe was also invited to be part of Walt Disney World Summertime Spectacular dance parade at Disney Parks, in Orlando in 2020, and will be releasing her first Sepedi language children's book at the end of 2019.
7. Daniel Nyamgero
“Reading is exciting,” Daniel Nyamgero, 9, tells Global Citizen. “It grows your imagination, and most of all it’s fun.”
His first book Spy Andy and Diaper Baby is about two feuding brothers who end up becoming friends.
Nyamgero has been writing since he was in grade 2. “However, it is not how young one is that matters, but how big one’s imagination is. That is what books and movies do for me.”
8. Michelle Nkamankeng
Michelle Nkamankeng, 10, is passionate about using literacy to empower others, which she does through her motivation speeches, her books, and the Michelle Nkamankeng Foundation.
She started writing in secret when she was five years old and just a year later, in 2015, she started publishing her books.
Waiting For the Waves and The Little Girl Who Believes in Herself were written she was five, and The Little Mouse and The Golden Ring when she was seven. She is currently in the process of publishing The Little Mouse and The Golden Ring.
“My message is clear, stay encouraged and follow your dreams,” she says on her website.