Archive for January, 2016

PEN SA and PRAESA Seminar on Transforming Children’s Literacy and Literature

January 28, 2016
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Alice Bah Kuhnke

PEN South Africa and the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) held the first in a series of discussions on children’s literacy development and literature on Friday 22 January at The Homecoming Centre in Cape Town.

The discussion, ‘Raising key issues for transforming children’s literacy and literature’, was held in honour of Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke who is visiting the country. Last year, Bah Kuhnke presented PRAESA with the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) in Sweden, which she says “has drawn attention to the outstanding work of PRAESA and will inspire organisations all over the world.”

PRAESA Director and PEN SA Board Member Carole Bloch welcomed everyone by raising the central need to entwine children’s literature and literacy teaching as urgently in need of government and big business support – for ALL children and not just for children of English speakers and the elite.

“We as adults, with the help of books, can guide our children to treat the world with curiosity and respect” – Swedish Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke

Bah Kuhnke gave an address that set the tone for the rest of the discussion. Many years ago Bah Kuhnke attended a conference for young readers from all over the world where a group leader, a South African man who had fought against apartheid and was living in exile, told her that the key to changing the world was to do it ‘man to man, person to person’. This guidance on the importance of connecting with people changed her life, Bah Kuhnke said, “That’s the reason I’m so happy to be here. You can see me, I can see you and we have the opportunity to connect to change the world.”

Six speakers from various organisations in the children’s literacy field and other cultural organisations then gave short presentations punctuated by discussions with the audience, many of whom also work in the field.

Ntombizanele Mahobe from Nal’ibali spoke about children’s literacy and the importance of stories, saying that it is all of our responsibilities to create a national reading culture. She mentioned that PRAESA and Nal’ibali are using the Reading for Enjoyment Campaign to achieve this. Palesa Morudu, Managing Director of Cover2Cover Books, echoed Mahobe’s call saying that what is needed is a more visible campaign to make reading appealing. She also spoke about the recent call for literary decolonisation, describing how Cover2Cover Books have addressed this issue with the types of books they are publishing for teenagers.

PEN SA Board Member and African Arts Institute Executive Director Mike van Graan discussed the position of literature in South Africa’s cultural policy and spoke about the Revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage of 2013. He said that twenty years ago we had a policy that speaks to the problems we’re experiencing today, but that it has not been implemented.

After a discussion break, translator and PhD candidate Xolisa Guzula spoke about language, ideologies and the implications of linguistic practices on language and literature development. She warned that the push for education to be in English leaves no requirement for the development of materials in other languages.

Discussing the uneven access to books across South Africa Genevieve Hart, Chairperson of IBBY SA, commented that, “You teach a child to read through enjoyment by reading a whole story, not from reading those remedial cards that many teachers use.”

Chairperson of Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, Elinor Sisulu, spoke about the lack of investment in the field and the complex administrative issues of applying for government funding. Bloch then acknowledged the many people in the room committed to making change and said that over the years there has been a huge shift in understanding the need to develop children’s literacy, however government support of these initiatives has been slow.

Bah Kuhnke’s final words were to emphasise the importance of seeing literacy as a democracy issue that should be treated with the same urgency as other issues that threaten democracy.

Text: Lindsay Callaghan PEN SA. First published at the PenSA web.

PEN SA and PRAESA’s series of discussions on children’s literacy and literature have been made possible by funding from PEN International. If you are interested in hearing about future discussions please contact

Photos: Carole Bloch, PRAESA.


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Visit to Nalibali reading club on Saturday January 23rd

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Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy visited Nal’ibali reading club

January 25, 2016

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Lovely photos from Saturday when Alice Bah Kuhnke, Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy, visited a Nal’ibali reading club in a township outside Cape Town. More info about this will come shortly.

The photos are taken by PRAESA’s staff.

Nominate to the 2017 award

January 25, 2016


Today the nomination process to the 2017 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award opens. All countries of the world are welcome to submit nominations, and to take the opportunity to present their children’s and young adult literature and their reading promotion activities.

To make its annual selection of interesting and innovative laureates whose works or activities are of the highest quality, the ALMA jury requires knowledge and information from all parts of the world. Nominating bodies with wide-ranging, in-depth knowledge of children’s and young adult literature or reading promotion activities at national or international level are therefore invited to nominate two candidates from their own country and two from other countries. The nominating bodies include international, national and regional organizations, children’s book institutes, organisations representing writers and illustrators, children’s sections and children’s literature centres at national libraries, research institutions, and NGOs.

Only nominating bodies approved by the jury have the right to nominate candidates. To you want to see the list of nominators in our country? Have a look here.

Each nominating body is allowed to nominate a maximum of four candidates: two candidates from the nominating body’s own country and two candidates from a different country.

The final day for submitting nominations is May 16, 2016.

Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy to visit South Africa and PRAESA this week

January 20, 2016

Alice Bah Kuhnke. Photo: Stefan Tell

Today Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke begins a one week visit to South Africa. The purpose of the trip is that Sweden wants to strengthen the cultural exchange between the two countries by appointing a Counsellor for Cultural Affairs at the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria. The trip will include a visit to 2015 ALMA laureate PRAESA (the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) headquartered in Cape Town.

– I see PRAESA’s work as immensely prominent, and their methods are well worth a depth study, says Alice Bah Kuhnke to Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter. The Swedish culture that arouses most interest in South Africa is children’s culture, which is the main reason why I go to South Africa.

The minister’s visit also includes participation in a meeting arranged by PRAESA, SA PEN, SA IBBY and the Swedish Embassy. The focus will be on the failure of the South African school system and how to support children’s literacy learning and development. Issues of social justice, approaches to literacy teaching, the role of families and the importance of translations, publishing and access to appropriate books in African languages are topics to be discussed.

More about the South Africa visit later!


A Reading Club meeting. Photo: PRAESA


Nal’ibali is a network of reading clubs that uses media campaigns to encourage children to read and inspire parents, grandparents and teachers to read with them. Photo: PRAESA

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Need some inspiration? Things to think about when it comes to The Book of Everything

January 18, 2016

Guus Kuijer. Photo: Stefan Tell

Started a new term and are in need of some inspiration? Have a look at our reading guides and get to know works by the ALMA laureates. They are meant to be used in book circles, in schools or just as inspiration for further reading, and written by members of the ALMA jury.

The Book of Everything is written by the Dutch author Guus Kuijer, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2012. It is about nine year-old Thomas and is set in 1951, in the shadow of the Second World War. The main character was born in the same year as Kuijer himself. Thomas’ father is an authoritarian patriarch who demands absolute obedience from his wife and his children. His son is beaten for putting the tiniest foot wrong and when his wife attempts to defend him, she too is abused. They go to church on Sundays and the Bible is the only book his father will tolerate. After meals he reads aloud from the grim Old Testament story of the plagues of Egypt – which, when he is abusing him, Thomas hopes will be inflicted on his tyrannical father himself.

And so they are, in a sense. Here the book sometimes crosses the line into the fantastical. When the water in Thomas’ aquarium suddenly seems to have been transformed into blood, we understand that Thomas has poured red juice into the water. But when Thomas sees millions of frogs outside the house and then they start coming in through the letterbox, we don’t know what we are supposed to believe. Especially when even Thomas’ neighbour, “the witch” Mrs Van Amersfoort, has seen them too; it even seems to be her who conjured them up.

Mrs Van Amersfoort knows what is going on in Thomas’ home and helps him. She sometimes lets him listen to Beethoven – music he finds so beautiful that he suddenly floats up into the air in his armchair. Mrs Van Amersfoort was in the resistance during the war and hates brutal tyrants. Now she spearheads a women’s revolt against Thomas’ father. She writes a letter which Thomas places in his father’s Bible and when as a result of the letter he once more attempts to abuse his son, Thomas’ sister Margot suddenly puts a knife to his throat. The revolution has begun.

Despite its dark subject, the tone of the book is light and it is full of humour and poetry. Thomas dreams of being happy. The first step towards happiness is not being afraid, says Mrs Van Amersfoort, and this is exactly what Thomas learns as events unfold. The woman next door becomes his role model but he also receives a lot of help from the books she lends him – and which are a sharp contrast to his father’s strict Bible. She also teaches him to love literature which doesn’t mean anything at all, but just makes life worth living.

The perspective is always that of Thomas, who besides the frogs, also sees tropical fish in the canals of Amsterdam. He talks to Jesus from time to time. We also get to read the different thoughts and ideas that Thomas writes down in his diary “The book of everything”. It not only includes his experiences in the home and his love for Eliza, seven years older than him and disabled – he also loves words, especially ones that he doesn’t understand. Thomas’ obsession with language is demonstrated in the way the story is told, in an almost musical way; the author subtly repeats phrases and linguistic fragments, bringing them back and varying them like a theme in a piece of music.

Things to think about

The book begins with a conversation between Guus Kuijer himself and Thomas Klopper. What is the significance of this introduction? Would we have read the book differently without it?

Describe Thomas’ father. What values does he have, what does he think of books and music, what does he think of people?

The action takes place in 1951 and we get glimpses of the Second World War. What role does the war play in the story?

The boundaries between reality and imagination are crossed on several occasions. Can you give some examples?

Mrs Van Amersfoort is sometimes depicted as if she wasn’t actually real. Give examples.

In the first chapter Thomas says that he saw a hailstorm that blew all the leaves off the trees. What is the symbolic importance of this vision?

Jesus appears at various points in the story. What is it that triggers his visits? And what function do Thomas’ conversations with him have?

What picture do we get of Jesus? Try to describe him.

Jesus has similarities with at least some of the other people in the book. Which? And what are the similarities?

What picture does the book give us of God? What does Thomas think about God?

Which books does Mrs Van Amersfoort give Thomas?

Continue reading about things to think about here.

More about Guus Kuijer here.


The Book of Everything (Allen & Unwin 2006)

Save the date for this year’s announcement!

January 12, 2016

The announcement of the 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) will be opened by Ulrika Stuart Hamilton, Chair of the Swedish Arts Council, and Alice Bah Kuhnke, Minister for Culture and Democracy in Sweden. The press conference will take place at the National Library of Sweden, Stockholm on April 5th at 1:00 pm CET.

Jury Chairman Boel Westin will announce the laureate of 2016. The announcement will be followed by a presentation of the laureate by the jury.

ALMA rewards authors, illustrators, storytellers and reading promoting individuals and organisations. For this year’s award, 215 candidates from 59 countries are nominated. Check out the list of nominated candidates here!


What makes a mother? Kitty Crowther about her latest book Mother Medusa

January 7, 2016

Kitty Crowther´s latest book Mother Medusa will soon be published in Swedish. It´s the story of little Irisée who lives with her overprotected mother Medusa. But Irisée is attracted by the other children and wants to go to school.

Hi Kitty, how did you come up with the idea to Mother Medusa?

I was once working on a big drawing that was to be printed very large so the children could colour it. While you’re drawing/colouring at that size, you get the feeling that you’re becoming ‘part of it’.

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Photo and illustration: Kitty Crowther. Colored by Laurent ,Théo and Violette Ancion.

Then I did a poster… and there was this character who kept coming back.

A young and yet almost old lady. She has this amazing long hair which has this huge capacity of being alive, like a part of her body (her hand or arm) … but in my head, the story was that it was very tiring to move all that hair.

She looks like a witch, has these catlike eyes, pointed teeth. She is a young woman in the body of an old one; she lived so many lives, but there’s something broken inside. While I write this, I almost feel her presence and I realise how much I love her. In the beginning, I wanted her to live in a cave, with all this algae seaweed as her main comfort. Sand, shells. She has this very ancient world personality. An archaic type.

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And I was wondering what her life would be like if she had a little daughter. A little person so charming and so normal. Very polite, very loving, even though her mother is dangerous because life treated her so badly. You see, Medusa is like an alcoholic, a thief, a violent person, or a prostitute (I was thinking of Calamity Jane, who had two children. I also thought of this beautiful book called ‘Letter to my daughter’, even though a lot of people don’t give credit to the authenticity of those letters from Jane’s hand… Still, it’s a beautiful book). We are all responsible for those people who struggle in life. Those borderline types. I get very upset with publicity photos showing the perfect family. There are so many types of family. So why is the one that’s shown always dad/mum/daughter/son?

I was thinking about what makes a mother. Even though some mothers seem to love wrongly, it’s still love. So my Medusa is very possessive towards her lovely daughter because she wants to protect her in the way that she herself hasn’t been protected in her life.

I am also fascinated with Medusa from Greek mythology. I felt a lot of empathy for her and I wondered why! She has this terrible appearance and would let no-one love her. But it’s an upside-down story again; she has been abused by Poseidon (in one version of the myth) and punished by Athena… And so my Medusa is a descendant. (In the myth, Medusa gives birth to Chrysaor and Pegasus from her neck after Perseus beheads her.) And I do believe that these dramas are linked, and travel through the generations. One can decide to face it or not, but it does hide in the genes. I don’t have a very scientific side, but more an intuitive side. That’s how we have a therapies called ‘constellation familiale’ (family constellation) which I find very interesting. Interesting to see how things are linked to one another.

My Medusa refuses to be this young/old witch woman. She wants to be beautiful. So we had to find a way. The little girl was very much there from the beginning. And I put a story from the west cost of Sweden where my Morfar (Grandfather) came from. I also used colours as if they were music notes.

Well, there is a lot to say about it. I could also talk about the jellyfish, which I find fascinating. I actually sent a copy of ‘Mother Medusa’ to a big specialist of jellyfish in France, Jacqueline Goy. And she very kindly wrote back to tell me that she would invite me to the inauguration of a new museum of jellyfish in Paris. Can’t wait!

And we could also talk about hair; the evolution of the hairstyle. And what it meant to have very long hair in each century. It’s also a form of freedom; to let it loose. We also hear that to have long hair is a form of power… Well, I could go on till the day turns into night. But I’d better stop here.

The book was first published in French by Pastel—l’école des loisirs in the autumn of 2014. What have you been working with since then?

I did a big project with Ville cultural Mons in 2015. I proposed to paint in a room. They built a special wooden box for me. This all happened in an art nouveau house which was getting restored. A very beautiful old house. The first house to have electricity in Mons.

I was getting very interested in painting large-scale for a change. I got fascinated by the refuse tips . There are 320 in Belgium, left by the coal industry. The miners had to go down 700 meters and dig out 10 tonnes to get only 1 tonne of coal. That’s how those small mountains are formed. The descendants say that their ancestors only left them stones. But I had this impression that they left a form of Eden. Because on those hilltops very unusual plants grow. Rare animals go there too. Because inside those baby mountains, it’s still really hot. It’s in combustion. When you walk on their heads (the hills) and dig a small hole, you can warm your hands. I was fascinated by the process of nature. After 600 million years, wood appears that grows on bogs (in this area for sure). It would drown by its own weight. And then grow again. Like breathing. So men dug out the coal, and it would take only 100 years or so to make it disappear… but from all the digging would grow another forest. So, Eden. My friend Carl Norac (author and poet) wrote a very beautiful poem about my paintings. He was born in that area. It’s in French; it’s called Eden.

I had another exhibition in Skärhamn, Sweden. It was at a very beautiful watercolour museum. I had the idea to do an exhibition with three of my favourite author-illustrators: Eva Lindström, Harriët van Reek and Nadja. We worked together on the same drawings for a week, and the museum made a fantastic fanzine catalogue from what we produced. It’s called Elk me.

And then we got together for another week where we painted in a tiny room. It was such a fantastic opportunity to work side by side with those three amazing artists/women.

I also worked on a story for a Flemish publisher that happened during the First World War. In Flemish, the title is Getekend door de oorlog. Publisher : Manteau.

It´s written by Karla Stoefs, and several illustrators took part. I illustrated the story of Rachel. It’s a book to explain war using stories that really happened to children.

I’m currently working on an activity book based on all the workshops that I’ve been giving. There will be a kind of story running through it. It’s a very funny character; I think this will be my funniest book. But it’s a really slow process. I keep having projects popping up that need to be done straight away.

I’ve also done a few workshops where I included dance and drawing. I realise how much people don’t move. And drawing is a form of dancing, like everything else actually. How you move and how much you are present in the movement.

I got very inspired by this fantastic artist called Segni Mossi, who gives workshops to kids. Dance Draw Play (sounds like the perfect programme to me). I think dancing should come back into the schools until kids are 18… or older.

I think we should do singing/drawing/dancing/meditation alongside science and literature… then we would have a happier society.

What are your plans for 2016?

I am doing a book. Once a year, a museum in The Hague and the publisher Leopold publish a book about an artist. Not to explain the life of the artist, but just to catch a side of them that the author/illustrator sees. They’ve asked me to work on Jan Toorop.

I only knew one of his paintings. He was born in Java, Indonesia, and he left the island with his family to travel to Holland at the age of 11. He become a painter – most famous for his symbolist period. In fact, the more I learn about him the more I like him.

It’s a great challenging work; I have to be close to him but not ‘be him’ of course.

And in March 2016 there will be a new Poka and Mia book: A Gift for Grandmother. Mia finds a beautiful shell, and wants to give it to her grandma. But it turns out that there is someone who lives inside. Uhoh.
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Kitty Crowther. Photo: Greetje Van Buggenhout