30 days of Writing #1: Welcome to the African Storybook project


If you are a South African teacher reading this we would like to tell you about a writing opportunity and a free online writing course that is coming up with SchoolNetSA  as part of this amazing African Storybook project and website that is being developed for Africa. Our 30 days of writing posts will lead up to giving more information about this. WATCH THIS SPACE!


Submitted by Fiona Beal. Portions of this post are adapted from the Saide December 2012 newsletter.

Saide (South African Institute of Distance Education) has launched an exciting new project aimed at contributing to the improvement of reading and literacy for young African children. The project, known as the African Storybook Project,  is funded by Comic Relief in the United Kingdom. The exciting thing is that SchoolNet is participating in this project so you’ll be hearing a lot more about it from us!  I have previously submitted a post on the initial workshop of the African Storybook Project in Johannesburg – Introducing the African Storybook Project.  Tessa Welch of Saide is the project leader in this exciting venture.


What is the African Storybook Project?

The African Storybook Project (ASP) is a project that will create and encourage the use of a digital library of stories for the first few years of reading in digital formats, openly licensed, with a process and tools for translating and versioning stories for local African languages and contexts. These will be shared on a website which is in the process of being created. This will enable users to upload and share versions of the stories in their local languages, providing numbers of stories in a range of languages way beyond the scope of conventional publishing.

In this way we aim to provide African children with sufficient familiar language stories for enjoyable reading practice to create a firm basis for literacy development.  The initial pilot will take place in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda.

The initial workshop

An initial workshop was held  on 10th November 2012 to explore the key issues before starting the project. The poject leaders thought it would be a good idea not only to discuss but also to experience different ways of creation, presentation and translation/versioning.

The presentation on the Japanese art of Kamisihibai by Jemma Kahn held us spellbound, and this was followed by a discussion  of how the techniques and rules of Kamishibai could work digitally for children’s stories.

Jemma Kham illiutrating the japanese art of  Kamisihibai

A session of games, riddles, and tongue twisters was led by Sheila Drew. One of the activities involved taking a portion of a cut up puzzle picture, finding the group members with the rest of the picture and creating a story together. One member of each group related the group’s story to all the participants.

Sheila Drew

The group creates a story

The presentation of child created/illustrated stories, with ideas for how this kind of project could described and replicated was given by Glynis Clacherty. Glynis elaborated on the process of story development she used with refugee children during a holiday programme in Johannesburg.

Glynis Clacherty

The translating and versioning of stories session was based on a humorous story called Refiloe and the washed chickens. It centred around performances of a section of the Refiloe and the washed chickens story in Setswana and isiZulu with a discussion of translation issues in treating comedy led by Nicholas Welch and Jeremiah Mntonga. We were exposed to improvisation techniques which encouraged all the workshop participants to contribute to the version.

Nicholas Welch and Jeremiah Mntonga

Jefferson Shabalala led us in a humorous performance of the Xhosa weatherman.

Jefferson Shabalala

A project of partnerships

The African Storybook Project will be a project of partnerships – we do not see ourselves in competition with other projects, but cooperating with and complementing existing initiatives in ways that are mutually beneficial.

Through the work of Judith Baker over a number of years, the project has a list of over 40 potential partners in the three pilot countries of Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, but also in Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone,South Sudan and Zambia. In addition, there are possible partnerships through organisations that work across Sub Saharan Africa such as the TESSA programme and the Canadian literacy organisation, CODE.

Judith Baker

Judith Baker leading a discussion

Story Acquisition

We need a critical mass of stories in a range of languages in order to be able to start work in the pilot countries in the middle of this year. We are aware that there is quite a lot of free material already on the website and we already have a process for exploring, assessing, downloading and categorising this material systematically.

We are also inviting all interested parties to submit stories to us. If you are interested in helping us by donating a story, here are the guidelines:

  • Our main interest is stories that children can read themselves when they’re in the first stages of reading – a few words or a sentence a page, with an accompanying illustration – although there is place for more difficult read-aloud stories as well.
  • We’re looking for African stories in languages spoken in Africa that will appeal to African children up to the age of 9 or 10.
  • You can send us typed up stories with or without illustrations, or scanned PDF stories with illustrations, or recordings of stories, songs and games.
  • When you send us a story, please also send the information about the story as per the attached form.
  • Send the stories to: tessaw@saide.org.za and jennyl@saide.org.za.
  • If your stories are too large to email, let us know and we’ll invite you to our Dropbox folder where you can upload large files free of charge.

If you are a teacher that would like to get your class writing stories for this project, please consider participating in our free online four week course Digital Writing for the African Storybook project which starts in mid-April. Please watch the SchoolNet blog’s Free online courses page to sign up and to see the requirements for the stories that are subitted. . A teacher from the school that submits the most useable stories will be invited to accompany the African Storybook project to an international reading and Writing conference in Niarobi in August 2013. 

You’ll be hearing a lot more about this exciting project in the months ahead.

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