Book Dash Inspires Young Readers to Soar

Owning books opens the world to children.

Aug 11, 2021
Book Dash Inspires Young Readers to Soar | Owning books opens the world to children.

Books are magical and allow children to enter the world of fairy tales, jungles, and far away worlds. An organization in South Africa is making this happen for children across the country.

Book Dash, a literacy organization, publishes free books for young children in the 11 official South African languages to fulfill its mission that every child should own 100 books before the age of five. The organization believes that reading and  owning books is an important factor for children’s early development and future academic success.

Almost 60 percent of South African homes do not own a single book according to a 2016 South African Book Development Council report. According to the report, having as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact on a child’s going on to higher levels of education. The impact of having 100 is even more pronounced.

The reason that so few South African homes have books is because they simply cannot afford them, Book Dash’s  director Dorette Louw told the Christian Science Monitor. Many families cannot purchase glossy children’s picture books in bookstores. Printing short-run books for a South African market is very costly.

“We were devastated by the idea that having a book was a luxury good in South Africa,” Louw said. That’s why the organization decided to self-publish quality children’s books in a very unique way.

The Book Dash model, according to the organization that opened in 2014, is a unique 12-hour book making method (dash) to create quality children’s books in just one day from a rough design. All of the participants, authors, illustrators, editors, and designers, are volunteers. The only cost is for the printing.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie that develops, sitting around a table bouncing ideas and helping each other work,” Thokozani Mkhize, a volunteer designer told CSM. She has already participated in four dashes including two virtual ones due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Book Dash has already produced more than 100 books with stories that include a runaway pig, a sloth looking for a place to nap, to Circles, a book about a mother and son antelope that helps children understand death. The organization uses literary organizations and nonprofits to distribute the books to the children who need them.

Tanda, a literacy organization in rural Mtwalume distributes the books to encourage children to read at home. “We have a library, but we noticed kids were often reluctant to give the books back,” said Janet Duma who works with the literacy group. “Now anytime they want to read, they can grab a book from their shelf. They have books accessible to them at all times.”

Book Dash also makes PDFs of its books available free on its website, Android app, on literacy digital platforms, and has inexpensive copies available through its online bookstore. This open license, the organization said, means that anyone can adapt and reshare these books to reach children around the globe.

South Africa is far from the only country where there is book inequality. In the US, The Penny Hoarder blog has a list of 14 ways to get free books for kids that need them so that they can fall in love with reading and have greater success in school.

One of these is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Parton started her initiative in 1995 to give books to children in her impoverished home county in Tennessee and expanded it in 2000 to include all of the US, Canada, and the UK. All of these programs allow children to enter the world of imagination where anything is possible just by opening a book.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.