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Multilingual And Multicultural Folktale Collection Encourages Diversity, Inclusion And Literacy In SA Children

Ethnikids, an online children’s bookstore, have partnered with Wimpy to give children access to an African folktale collection of books in their home language. This initiative shines a spotlight on South Africa’s literacy crisis, Mzansi’s rich cultural heritage and the importance of children reading diverse material that they can relate to and identify with.

In a country with 11 official languages, mother tongue language books are not part of the mainstream nor are they readily available. With the widest selection of inclusive children’s books in South Africa, Ethnikids, founded by five moms, specialises in providing children with diverse, multicultural, multilingual content and tales that represent the rainbow nation’s melting pot.

While English-language books featuring Eurocentric narratives are readily available, they lack cultural context enabling children of various backgrounds to identify with the stories they are told. According to theSouth African Constitution, everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice, studies also support that language diversity in literature creates smarter, happier children who are more likely to succeed later in life. South Africa is experiencing a literacy crisis, 78 percent of children are unable comprehend and understand what they are reading by the age of 10 and only 2% of children’s books published commercially in South Africa are in local African languages even though 80% of South Africans speak a home language other than English.

“We have a literacy crisis in South Africa, many children are not showing any interest in reading and after years of searching for books with characters that look like our children, it worried us that many children’s narratives were being excluded. It’s important for children’s self-image to relate to what they read, to understand more about other cultures and to breed tolerance,” says Khumo Tapfumaneyi, Ethnikids co-founder. “To spark a love of reading, we need to provide children with material that they can identify with, they need to see people that look like them in the stories they read,” she adds. 

Maintaining language and traditions through literature enables cultures to be preserved for future generations, the ritual of storytelling and cultural folktales underpin the values of society. “These books will offer children a myriad of cultural values such as identity, quality time with their families through reading, learning about other cultures and helping to build their confidence, all while maintaining and preserving their home language,” adds Tapfumaneyi.

Following the success of the partnership launched last year, a new collection of books has been written based on five different South African folk tales. This year’s campaign includes an interactive online experience encouraging children to engage with the stories. Children can choose their own ending by scanning a QR code at the back of the books using their own imagination to expand on the narratives.

The initiative will include a second phase which will introduce puppetry in the storytelling journey. Here kids will be able to collect 3D cardboard puppets from each of the featured books. These fold-out scenes will include different characters and allow kids to make use of their imagination, acting out scenes and making up their own characters.

The books will be available online in all 11 official languages, as well as in Khoekhoe/Nama, and English books will be available at Wimpy restaurants with a kid’s combo meal from 23 September 2022.

Says Jacques Cronje, Marketing Executive, Wimpy, “We are passionate about igniting a love of reading and it’s important that we create a sense of pride in who we are and where we come from in a way that children are familiar with.”

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