South African Womxn Writers – Day 5: More Books, to More Children, In More Languages – Dorette Louw of Book Dash.

Book Dash is a South African social impact, non-profit publisher of new African children’s books. Our vision is that all children should own one hundred books by the age of five.It sounds like a lot of books, but research indicates that owning many books can radically improve the chances of academic success for children living in poverty. Unfortunately, 58% of households in South Africa do not own a single leisure book — that’s where Book Dash comes in. 

Our publishing model is magical: we have re-engineered the process to reduce the costs associated with publishing children’s picture books by 80%. We do this by harnessing the power of creative volunteers: at our 12-hour book-making events (called a Book Dash) teams of professional writers, illustrators, designers and editors collaborate to create brand-new children’s picture books. Because no-one is paid for their time, the only cost that remains is printing. In this way we have created and published 146 books on our website under an open license, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world read them for free.

Of the 146 books, a whopping 60 were created by all-female teams. Some of our most popular titles are a product of this woman-powered creative passion. You can read them all for free on our website, and in particular, you can search our Books page for these titles that feature strong female protagonists: 

  • Mrs Penguin’s Perfect Palace , by Helen Brain and Celeste Beckerling, is the funny story of how women often have to take matters into their own hands to get what they need.
  • My Special Hair, by Candice Dingwall, Jess Jardim-Wedepohl, and Renate van Rensburg, is about a little girl who loves her hair, encourages self-love.
  • Together We’re Strong, by Liesl Jobson, Alice Toich, and Nazli Jacobs, is the inspiring story of Albertina Sisulu’s life.
  • Lara the Yellow Ladybird, by Catherine Holtzhausen, Martha Evans, and Nadene Kriel, is a story about a ladybird who doesn’t want to be different, but finally comes to accept herself.

After publishing the books on the website, we source funding to print and distribute books to children who would never otherwise be able to own them. Since our inception in 2014, we have printed and distributed 1 million books, mostly at a cost of R10 (70 US cents) a book.

It’s very important that young children in particular read books in the language that is most familiar to them. Sometimes we’re lucky, and our writers produce more than one language version of their story on the Book Dash day. But we also source funding to translate the books into the 11 official South African languages. Our library of translated titles stands at just under 500 titles, and it’s constantly growing as we add more translations. Versioning and translation is an integral part of what we do, so we plan for it from the beginning by designing the pages to allow enough space to place translated text, which is often a lot longer than English.

Many of the translations are done by the expert team of translators at Nal’ibali, an organisation we often partner with. They use our books for their multilingual reading supplement that is distributed nationally to schools and reading clubs. We also commission many of our own translations, and we have built up a trusted and experienced team of freelance language workers (translators, editors, proofreaders) in all the languages to ensure that we send high-quality translations into the world. Our brief to the translators and editors is always that the language used should not be too formal or academic: the register must be friendly and inviting, and familiar to children. The feedback we get from organisations about our translated books is generally very positive, with comments that the kind of language used is warm, informal and appropriate for young children. 

More books, to more children, in more languages – that’s what we’re all about at Book Dash!

Dorette Louw worked in educational publishing for more than 20 years, initially as commissioning editor and later at various levels of management. She waved the corporate world farewell when she joined the non-profit Book Dash in 2018. Her specific areas of interest and expertise are children’s literature, early literacy, reading acquisition in multilingual contexts, and the impact of increased literacy levels in combating inequality.

This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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