By Joni Sussman, Publisher, Kar-Ben Publishing
When Books For Africa (BFA) sponsored a trip to South Africa in honor of its 30th anniversary last January, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see a part of the world I’d never visited. Also, as the incoming president of the organization, this was my chance to see Books For Africa – and Lerner book donations! – in action. Among the many places our 12-person group visited was an elementary school near a township which had just received a shipment of BFA books. We were honored guests and the children of the school presented a sweet program of songs for us.
Eating lunch with the kids, ages 6-9, was a real treat. They were friendly and eager to connect and we communicated with them through some English and hand gestures. Even the youngest of them had at least a rudimentary grasp of English, which was surprising to me as English was, in many cases, their third language. The language of the land is Afrikaans, they generally spoke to their parents in their tribal language, and were now learning English in school.
After lunch, we joined the kids in the yard so they could each pick out a book to take home from the many boxes of donated books. Among the books were a number of Lerner titles – and even some Kar-Ben books! We spread the books out on the lawn as the kids wiggled and giggled with anticipation, and then we invited them to go pick out books. I asked one of the teachers whether the kids’ parents would be able to read the books to them but her response was that most parents couldn’t read English, and that the kids would read to the parents! I asked several the kids to read to me from the books they’d chosen and they did – beautifully.
Another interesting thing about this experience was the kids’ choice of books. There were many beautiful donated books, from “Goodnight Moon” and animal stories to an older Caldecott winner or two. But what the kids wanted were Disney books! On our bus ride to the school, we’d driven past the homes where many of these kids lived, some of their homes little more than shanties. But every dwelling had a satellite dish or antenna on the roof and the adults in the streets had cellphones. These kids were just like kids all over the world – familiar with Disney, Legos and other licensed characters from TV and social media. (So you guys on the Disney team, know that your books will be enthusiastically embraced by kids all over the world.)
As different as Cape Town is from Minneapolis – and it really is! – the love of children’s books is universal and shared by kids the world over. It’s wonderful to be in the children’s book business.
Editor’s note: Lerner Publishing Group donates to Books For Africa regularly. The photo above is of some of the books that are almost ready to be sent out.