Belgians encourage children's writers, illustrators

22 July 2002
A WORKSHOP for writers and illustrators of children's books held recently at UCT hopes to produce more books for children, especially in African languages. According to Carole Bloch of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), there is a lack of storybooks in African languages for children, especially children under the age of six.

"Nothing has ever been written for toddlers in an African language in South Africa. Most middle-class English speaking children by the time they are six and go to grade one have had about a thousand stories read to them. If we want children to be literate in South Africa, we have to have the material to equip them," explained Bloch.

The idea of the workshop was to recruit potential writers and illustrators who had not been previously published. Bloch says they were looking particularly for African language speakers. "What often happens is that you have English speakers trying to interpret African cultural practices, which is fine to a certain extent but it cannot only be that," said Bloch.

The Ministry of Culture of the Flemish Community supported published Belgian writer, Leen van den Berg, to conduct the workshops for writers, and her Belgian colleague Jan de Kinder to supervise the illustrator's workshop.

The two-week long workshop was divided into two sessions; the focus of the first week was on developing literature for children from ages 0-8, while the second week was targeted at writers and illustrators who wanted to cater for older children.

"The exciting thing about all of this is that we a have co-publishing agreement with New Africa Books to publish stories that are produced from these workshops, that we both like and think is appropriate," Bloch enthused. "PRAESA will buy them from New Africa and sell them cheaply or give them to the schools where we do our work. We did not simply want to train people in this workshop, we wanted to produce books out of this project."

PRAESA is a UCT-based unit that works in multilingual and mother tongue education for children at school level and beyond.

Its aim is to promote the use of African languages, as well as English in all domains of society.

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