| May 3, 2017

Pan-African Children’s Book Creation with Book Dash


collaboration at book dash in south africa with worldreader

It’s 9am and the start of Book Dash in Johannesburg—a 12-hour marathon for 42 creative professionals, making 12 new story books. The titles are made available for free distribution, download, and translation under a Creative Commons license and will soon be available in the Worldreader library for readers across Africa and worldwide.

Launched in 2014, Book Dash aims to make fun, quality books available to children who cannot afford them with a goal of providing every child in South Africa with 100 books by the age of five.

This first, pan-African event, sponsored by Worldreader and the Goethe Institut in February, included six authors and six illustrators from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Togo, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. Fueled by coffee and armed with computers, graphic tablets, drawing materials, scissors, crayons, and paints, the volunteers on 12 teams created the books that can be seen and downloaded here.

In the morning the writers, who submit their stories in advance, work with editors to polish their text. The illustrators start the day with a clear idea of the techniques they will use and how the main characters of the stories will appear, but they still must complete 12 illustrations during the day. The designers set the text and layout illustrations to complete the final 24-page books, working non-stop.

Everything has to be done in one day, when under normal circumstances the process could take months. This keeps the adrenaline and excitement high. And because everybody is working together in the same room, the experience is unique:

“The fact that you get the energies of each person simultaneously is a huge bonus to the creative process,” says Nabeela Kalla, the editor of two titles for Book Dash. “Meeting the writers and illustrators in person during a normal publishing process rarely happens, because everybody is working from different locations.”

Working across the table from one another also highlights the contributions of each professional to the books.

“This experience of producing anything is a collaborative activity,” says Jennie Marima, a children’s author from Kenya. “When the illustrator and designer read my work, they came up with brilliant visual ideas that I had never thought of. I love the fact that they made the main character sit on the moon and hold the sun up on her head when she’s talking about these seemingly mundane things.”

In the middle of the afternoon, sweet treats provide the energy everybody needs to get through. But some illustrators and designers are so busy working they forget to eat. When night comes, some of the teams are already finalizing their books, while others are still struggling to fill in all 24 pages.

By 9pm, all work stops and it’s time for each team to present their book. The pages are projected on a large screen, the authors read the stories aloud on a microphone, and the audience laughs, participates, cheers, and claps loudly.

The stories created in this Book Dash are as diverse and fun as their creators, featuring characters like a little chef, a sly fox, and mysterious creatures called doof-doofs, and set in places that range from a traditional playground to a chili-eating contest.

book dash worldreader partnership books africa

book dash worldreader partnership books africa

The making of great African children’s books in one day would have almost seemed magical if I hadn’t witnessed all the intense work that went into creating them. What makes Book Dash work is a combination of things: a thorough participant selection process, a very detailed, structured organization, the gathering of creative minds in the same place, and the teamwork, excitement, adrenaline and sense of purpose that participants bring. Finally, but even more important, the fact that the titles are, as the organizers put it, “a gift to the world.”

More than 80 books have been created since the first edition of Book Dash and 110,000 copies were printed and distributed to school children thanks to sponsors. On Worldreader’s platforms, more than 5,000 e-books by Book Dash are being read on Kindles and almost 2 million pages have been read on our mobile app thanks to partners like Opera.

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