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The Stories, the People and the Magic of BCBF

Book Dash

How a 12-hour publishing model from Africa is increasing access to diverse books for all children and why it’s so important

  |   TOPICS: BCBF World
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How do children become readers? They need books – lots of them, to explore and enjoy whenever they want. Book Dash aims to turn that into a reality for all children, many of whom grow up never owning a book.
The Book Dash model was showcased at the 2023 BCBF as part of the Spotlight on Africa stand. The books made will be revealed, and the processed discussed, on Wednesday at 15.20 at the Author’s Cafe.

Julia Norrish, Executive Director , told us something more about this project, the situation in South Africa and in other African countries, and what is being done to promote reading and publishing. 

When Thokozani Mkhize was growing up in South Africa in the 1990s, she devoured storybooks from all over the world. She read Chinese myths and Greek legends. There were Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and “Goosebumps” novels.
One thing she never read though were South African stories, and especially not in her own mothertongue language. “At the time I wasn’t really thinking, why do none of these characters look like me?” she says. “But as I grew up, I realized there was a gap.” So when a friend told Ms. Mkhize about a nonprofit organization called Book Dash, which recruits creative professionals to make South African children’s books in collaborative events, she jumped at the chance to make things different for the generation after her.
The unique Book Dash model also intrigued Ms. Mkhize – it challenges volunteer writers, editors illustrators, and designers like herself to create a full children’s book, in a single 12-hour “dash.” 
This model enables the organization to reduce many of the traditional costs and time associated with publishing and distributing high quality books to children. It’s a very efficient way to address the major issue of a lack of access to books. 

Many children grow up without books in their lives

For Book Dash, getting books into the hands of more South Africans has always been a question of social justice. A 20-year study from the University of Nevada indicates that having a large collection of books at home is just as significant as the parents’ education level for determining how far a child will go in school.
But nearly 60% of South Africans don’t have a single book at home, according to a 2016 survey by the South African Book Development Council, and 78% of 10-year-olds in the country can’t read for meaning. Of the 50 countries surveyed in the PIRLS study, South Africa finished last. 
One primary reason so few households have books is that they simply can’t afford them. Around 6 in 10 South African children live in poverty. And the fact that so many families are priced out of the beautiful, validating experience of owning picture books in turn drives the cost up more, because production and printing is more expensive when you’re dealing in smaller quantities.
Book Dash was devastated by the idea that a book was a luxury, and decided to use the collective publishing and creative skills to do something

Creating children’s books in 12 hours?

At a Book Dash event, closely facilitated by the experienced Book Dash team, the entire publishing process is condensed. Teams of selected writers, editors, illustrators, and designers spend a day making a fully-illustrated, edited and print-ready picturebook. “There’s a lot of camaraderie that develops, sitting around a table bouncing ideas and helping each other work,” Ms. Mkhize says.
To date, Book Dash has produced more than 200 unique titles in this way (see the full library at bookdash.org/books).
In a final act of sharing everything they do with the world, to benefit literacy and access to books worldwide, all Book Dash books are licensed under a Creative Commons license and so are free to re-use, re-share and re-mix. All the files of Book Dash books are freely available on its website bookdash.org. 
The creatives who make Book Dash books are not only volunteers who share their time and talent, but real life creative superheroes working to create a sea-change so all children can afford to read and own great books. 

Partnering to get books into children’s hands and homes

Among 100 organisations worldwide using the books for free, Book Dash books have been used to resurrect the Lombard language, translated and shared here https://www.lengualombarda.org/442968027. Once published online, Book Dash seeks funds to print and send copies to children in a network of 170+ early literacy partners.
A community organization called Thanda distributes Book Dash books to children to help encourage them to read at home: “We have a library, but we noticed kids were often reluctant to give the books back,” says Janet Duma, who works on Thanda’s literacy programs. “Now anytime they want to read, they can grab a book from their shelf. They have books accessible to them at all times.” 
Book Dash has sent over three million books into children’s hands and homes, who otherwise would never be able to afford to own books. The work is symbiotic and supportive to the commercial publishing industry because it grows a larger market of children and families who know the value of books and could become potential book buyers.

Book Dash at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair’s Spotlight on Africa!

For the 60th Edition of the BCBF, Book Dash was invited to demonstrate the unique and innovative approach to creating children’s books in a fast-paced and collaborative fashion. Two teams consisted of writer, illustrator, designer and editor, all from the African continent and all experts in their creative professions. They worked on Day 1 and 2 of the BCBF, for 6 hours each day. Their goal? Create brand new, fully-illustrated picturebooks live in front of the public audience at the Fair. By Day 3, the two books created were published to the Book Dash website, and the books would be read aloud and presented in a panel at the Fair. The whole process was overseen by expert Book Dash facilitators, Julia Norrish and Dorette Louw who are also the Directors of the social impact publisher that was founded in South Africa in 2014.

The experience was exhilarating for all -- fair visitors were captivated by the magic of creating books live at the fair. They could watch how books get made in front of their very eyes and also ask Book Dash team about the process. Organizations looking for diverse and open-access books also found out how they could partner with Book Dash to further their goals. The creative who worked on the books got to experience the world class Bologna Children’s Book Fair and take part in the various celebrations of the 6th anniversary. Book Dash was proud to show our innovative model to the world, inspire others to think about how they might apply some of what we do to enrich their publishing models and successfully add another two books to our collection: the first ever Book Dash books created in Europe!

Both books created have been so well received, with over 3,000 website downloads since March and many printed copies too. Thanks to a grant from SCBWI Impact and Legacy Fund, the books have also been translated into 7 African languages. Read the proudly “Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2023” edition Book Dash books here:

  • Baby Talk: https://bookdash.org/books/baby-talk/ 
  • Dance, Khuzwayo Dance: https://bookdash.org/books/dance-khuzwayo-dance/ 

Book Dash is a proud member of the global publishing community. We’re members of networks that promote collaboration and access to books for all, including IBBY International, SCBWI, Publishers Without Borders and The Global Network for Early Years Bookgifting. Book Dash has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for reading promotion and the Library of Congress Best Practice Literacy Awards. 


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Book Dash has a vision that “Every child should own a hundred books by the age of five”




Julia Norrish

Julia Norrish is the Executive Director at Book Dash, a social-impact, not-for-profit publishing and book-gifting organisation. Julia is passionate about books as a tool for social change, for building families, communities and peaceful societies.

In 8 years, Julia has been integral in leading the organisation from infancy to significant reach and impact. Julia currently serves on the executive committees of the Global Network of Early Years’ Book-Gifting and IBBY South Africa. Book Dash has received local and global recognition and awards for the work done under Julia's leadership. She presented Book Dash's work to the World Literacy Summit in Oxford, and at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. 

Julia has an Honours degree from the University of Cape Town in English studies and early literacy, along with professional expertise in early childhood development, social impact and publishing.




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