Book Dash Cape Town

Before embarking on our TEFL journeys to China and Thailand last year, one of our last video projects in Joburg was making a promotional video for Book Dash. For those who don’t know, Book Dash is an organisation that strives to create amazing free children’s books in multiple languages, with their central aim being that every child in the world should personally own 100 books by the time they are 5 years old. It’s a huge undertaking, but one of the great ways that Book Dash tries to accomplish this noble goal is by hosting events where teams of writers, illustrators and designers get together for 12 hours to create 12 new original children’s stories that are then freely available for print or download from their website.

We had a wonderful experience getting to know the Book Dash organisers and documenting the event in Joburg, so when I heard that another event was taking place in Cape Town while I was down there for a short visit, I was more than excited to spend the day taking photos and hanging out with vibrant creatives all gathered for a great cause. This excitement was further compounded when I heard that my great friend and art extraordinaire Nanna Venter would be taking part, teaming up with literary legend Lauren Beukes and graphic guru Phile “MaziArt” Mazibuko.

Just 4 days after landing back in South Africa, I arrived at the venue that Saturday morning at about 10am – which felt quite early in my still jet lagged mind – but the event was already well underway and the air was buzzing with the excitement and energy of the teams of creatives all rushing to complete their books before the 8pm deadline. It may sound a bit like a contest, or a reality show; “12 teams, in 12 hours, creating 12 new children’s books”, but really the opposite is true. There was such an uplifting spirit of camaraderie between all the groups, and after all, the real winners of the day are the millions of children who will get to experience these captivating new stories. The ethos of collaboration shone through in the little things, like encouraging words exchanged between groups, or coffee runs for fellow participants. At about 1pm it was time for one of my favourite parts of the day, known as the writers’ read-though. In this time slot the 12 writers came together to present their stories to each other, the event organisers and the lead editors who were there to help facilitate the day. For me, the writers’ read-through epitomised the collaborative spirit of the event, as the writers took turns presenting their current works-in-progress, giving the rest of the group the opportunity to provide constructive feedback in areas ranging from character names and language use, to discussing how use of illustrations could enhance the power of the words.

I feel like the beauty and variety of the stories can be best described by giving a brief synopsis of each one. Note that the titles are hyperlinked through to the free pdf editions of the books on the Book Dash website, so please feel free to click through and read the stories if you’d like to!

The first story presented was Circles, a beautifully simple narrative that centers around the complex themes of death and memory.

Next up was And Also!. This fun visual adventure encourages children to run wild with their imaginations and highlights the moral that playing together can be more fun than playing alone.

The Bounce was a cute ‘Goldilocks’ styled story that discusses the theme of appreciating all the things, and more importantly, all the people you have in your life.

The book No! deals with the topic of compromise and highlights the idea of being more open to saying ‘yes’ in life.

The Lost Laugh was a very clever and poetic tale set in the animal kingdom, and embraces the moral that often what you’re looking for can be found within you all along.

Feathered Friends was a visually rich story that encourages one to appreciate and learn from differences in others.

Ann-nemone was a wonderful narrative that accurately portrays symbiosis in nature to illustrate the values of using your strengths to work together.

Knight Times was a fun and action packed adventure that beautifully depicts how much fun one can have when using a little imagination.

That’s Not Thabi! That’s A Hippopotamus! was a lighthearted and hilarious story that uses poetic repetition very effectively to drive this adorable plot.

Tig’s World was a wonderfully written story that encourages curiosity, and emphasises that sometimes the questions we ask are more important than the answers we receive.

Just Like Me was about a sweet and simple conversation between a girl and her mother that powerfully uses its visuals to discuss the topics of inclusivity and focusing on similarities, rather than differences.

Finally, My Inside Weather  was a charming narrative that utilises visual metaphor to depict the complexities of dealing with emotions.

Each and every one of the stories was unique and wonderful, and the discussions that followed were truly thought provoking, as this pool of brilliant minds brought up clever ways to make already amazing stories just that little bit better. A central theme that arose from each of these conversations was that the focus of a good children’s book lies not in the writing and the language, but in the imagination of the narrative itself. Editor Helen Moffett’s words “less is always more” became a mantra to guide each writer as they worked with their illustrator and designer teammates to create the finished story.

With so little time in Cape Town, and so many things to do, unfortunately I was unable to stay there into the night for the final presentations of the completed books, where illustrations and words are displayed together as a unified artistic creation. I was of course able to read all of these incredible new stories on the Book Dash website – along with every other title that the Book Dash team has ever helped create – and you can too, just by clicking here!

After experiencing my first Book Dash event in 2016, I was excited to visit and document another, this time in my home town. After experiencing this second event, I am inspired to take part in further future events and would love nothing more than to contribute a new book to the organisation’s ever growing list of unique, beautiful and open source children’s stories. If you would also like to get involved with helping the Book Dash team reach their goal of giving every child a 100 books before the age of 5 (but don’t quite fancy yourself a writer or an artist) don’t worry, there are many ways to contribute! The team always needs help with translating these wonderful stories into other languages, and whilst there is a book dash app for many mobile devices and e-readers, physical print distribution is still a vital part of giving the children a sense of ownership of these stories, especially in resource constrained areas. So if you are able and willing to help in any of these regards I encourage you to contact the Book Dash organisation and learn more about how you can help spread literacy, education and imagination to every child on the planet.

I find that creative endeavours really bring out the best in people. The energies of those involved when working to make something beautiful, expressive and meaningful are truly infectious and uplifting. When combining creativity with the goals of social development and charitable outreach this uplifting spirit becomes greatly heightened. This has been apparent on every film set I’ve ever been a part of, and it was definitely the case at the Book Dash events I’ve attended. Everyone present was driven by the intention that what they were working on was part of a bigger mission to help others and they all had a ton of fun whilst working hard. The Book Dash events also exemplify an approach to projects that I hold dear to my heart; the belief that a small and dedicated team, with the collaborative help of an invested and motivated social network can enact immense change and accomplish enormous goals. In one day, a collective team of roughly 50 people came together to create new media that will go on to improve and enrich the lives of many more. However, the collaborative efforts of those involved and the physical media itself are only part of Book Dash’s effectiveness in creating positive social change. It’s also the open source nature of their content that allows what they create to spread so far and help so many people. Those involved in these projects give their time and their skills without wanting anything in return from the people who will receive what is created. I think the Book Dash team has taken a fantastic approach to tackling the daunting and serious problem of childhood illiteracy, and it would be lovely to see this model of dedicated and skilled individuals giving so selflessly to help others be applied to other areas of need. This open source paradigm, coupled with grassroots skill sharing and ground level community development is definitely a method I will strive to incorporate into all my future enterprises.

Book Dash, Cape Town
Photography by Jamie Dimitra Ashton