Thursday, April 5, 2018

Cover-to-Cover Books

In 2011 teachers Dorothy Dyer and Ros Haden along with their friends Palesa Morudu and Mignon Hardie decided to establish Cover2Cover Books after Dorothy, who was teaching in Langa Township in Cape Town, realised no books reflected the lives of her students. Ros Haden explained to me in a recent interview that the students in Langa kids struggled to find books that interested them.
“There were very few books in the library that reflected their lives and excited them except for one series, The Blueford Series, set in the projects in the United States that was fast paced, about African American teens, that was about growing up in disadvantaged communities, where gangsterism was rife. Readers in her class liked these books and could relate to the issues the teens faced but still, it wasn’t a context they knew, the language wasn’t the colloquial language they were familiar with. The rest of the books were novels from the UK and very hard to relate to about teens growing up in very different circumstances.”
That was how Cover2Cover’s first title was born.  “Dorothy asked the class if they would like a ‘Blueford’ series but set in a SA township, they said this would be exciting. That’s when Dorothy asked me if I could write a short teen novel, along the lines of the Blueford novels and that’s how the Harmony High series was born.  I wrote Broken Promises chapter by chapter. The sheets were circulated in her class as I wrote them, and went viral in the school. I think that’s when we knew we were on to something that could hook these teens on reading and keep them reading,” Ros said.
They now had the Harmony High series, but just like in Botswana, getting books to teens is difficult. Books need bookstores and the kids need money to buy the books which they don’t have. Ros explained how Cover2Cover gave birth to FunDza to solve that problem.
“And so we formed The FunDza Literacy Trust, a non-profit, whose goal was reading for pleasure amongst black teens in SA.”  Stories are put up each week on the mobi site and can be accessed with a cellphone or computer.  The stories can be read for free online. Now FunDza has a big collection of short stories and books available to anyone who logs on. Ros continued, “They were a huge hit, with the Rattray Foundation, who work with rural schools in KZN, saying the teens couldn’t get enough of them and that FunDza had started a Reading Revolution.”
FunDza’s success is evident. “The mobi site: grew exponentially from when we started in 2011. We now reach 500 000 - 600 000 readers a month across South Africa and beyond with a regular readership of 60 000 readers who come on to the site every day to read the latest FunDza stories, blogs, articles, poetry and novels, and their own stories,” Ros said.
Cover2Cover has eleven titles in their Harmony High series now and has published a selection of FunDza stories in their Big Ups anthologies, Jayne Bauling’s Soccer Season series and Bontle Senne’s Shadow Chasers series too among other books for the trade market.
On the FunDza mobi site they also have places for fans to learn about writing. “We began a ‘Developing Young Writers’ programme  where teens and young adults can send in their writing, get it edited, get feedback and see their work published on and read and enjoyed by their peers. We also mentor a number of young writers into commissioned writers for our weekly stories,” Ros said.
Cover2Cover and FunDza have won quite a few awards both locally and internationally for their work around literacy and getting young people to get excited about reading again. I asked Ros, which prize as of late has had the biggest impact for them.
“FunDza was delighted to win the Confucius Literacy Prize from UNESCO for our work in improving literacy levels in South Africa - one of five global literacy award given by UNESCO in 2017. It was a huge honour and a great reward and international acknowledgement for the work we do in spreading the joy of reading with all its lifelong benefits of developing empathy, creative and critical thinking, creativity, a shift in attitudes, and confidence and ability in writing and reading,” she said.  
I’ve been writing for FunDza for quite a few years now and it is one of the things I am personally most proud of. We need more initiatives like this run by people with a commitment to reading and who are as excited about stories as these women are. Big congrats to these women and their initiatives!
(This originally appeared in my column It's All Write (Mmegi newspaper)  in the 9th March 2018 issue)

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