A few key players at Book Dash reflect on what they’ve learnt over the last 12 months of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact in the worlds of publishing, representation and social impact.
The significance of diversity and representation in what we read
2020 has taught me that in the midst of so much chaos, confusion and hurt in the world, it is important more than ever to instil love and inspire acceptance into the hearts of everyone we can. A perfect place to start is with our children.
As a child growing up in South Africa, very little if at all, that I read and saw in the media represented my reality. There was no white Christmas nor was there a subway like the one in Manhattan or yellow cabs to get me from point A to point B.
What became clear though as I grew older, was that the media I consumed used examples drawn from totally different set of life experiences. No one “out there” looked or sounded anything like me. The subtle message I received was that my own life experiences didn’t matter.
Today as a parent and writer, I have a responsibility to children to make sure that no other child feels like they do not belong or matter. Thanks to Book Dash that we can strive to create a world in which all children can see themselves represented in the pages of a book while also making these books accessible to them in their home languages.
Mathapelo Mabaso is a brand strategist and volunteer writer for Book Dash
The necessity of physical reading material in the home
There is consensus that in 2020, most children worldwide spent too much time in front of screens as families under lockdown tried to keep children occupied and stimulated, while parents worked from home. Although online resources were a godsend, the pandemic also highlighted the importance of having printed books in the home.
Firstly, there is the scientific argument: the research is clear on the advantage of printed books over screen time for preschool children. A child’s brain develops the most rapidly in the first 5 years of their life, and reading printed books helps to increase and organise the brain’s white matter, setting the brain up for optimal learning going forward. “When it came to screen time, kids who used screens more than one hour a day had poorer emerging literacy skills, less ability to use expressive language, and tested lower on the ability to rapidly name objects. In contrast, children who frequently read books with their caregiver scored higher on cognitive tests.” This is the conclusion of clinicians at the Cincinnati Children’s Reading and Literacy Discovery Center.
Secondly, there is the reality of many South African that are excluded from using online resources because of issues around digital access, the high cost of data and the low penetration of smart devices. Printed books play a crucial role in supporting preschool children’s development and preparing them for school, and never more so than during lockdown when many of Book Dash’s ECD distribution partners managed to keep sending our books home to the children in their care. The consistent feedback from families is that these books have been a refuge for children and adults alike, creating a spark for a shared, fun activity that strengthens emotional bonds and increases feelings of security.
Dorette Louw is a Director at Book Dash
The poignancy of generosity and an “open” approach to resources
If there were ever a time to consider generosity as a doctrine, it was 2020. As Arundhati Roy said in an interview in April, “This virus has worked like an MRI or like an X-Ray on societies & countries and exposed their barebones … amplifying all the weaknesses, all the injustices…” Individuals, organisations and countries were forced to recognise rampant inequality and make a choice: Some doubled-down and stockpiled resources for themselves, while many chose to share what they had in the hopes of creating a more equal experience for all, enacting the adage “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.”
A large number of institutions, especially those in education chose to reduce barriers to their content this year — embracing a spirit of sharing that for-profit businesses don’t often consider in their models. Snapplify opened their library of local educational materials for free access and Tanzanian-based children’s edutainment powerhouse Ubongo chose to reclassify all their content from copyright-protected to Creative Commons licensing. They joined a league of organisations worldwide who create and share and advocate for high quality “open educational resources” (OER).
At Book Dash, this doctrine of “open” has defined our approach from the start: We always knew that an open license would enable exponential impact for our beautiful African picturebooks to travel unbounded, even when we can’t. This means the books are free to read, download, adapt and print. We were inspired early on by organisations leading the way and we were lucky enough to present alongside some at celebrations of “open” like the Open Publishing Fest, hosted by leaders in the industry at the Coko Foundation. I’d love to see this spirit of generosity continue past the current time of the pandemic-induced crisis, truly believing we’re all richer when resources are shared.
Julia Norrish is the Executive Director at Book Dash
Online reading practices and the importance of digital accessibility
At the beginning of what promises to be another challenging year, what is clearer now than ever before is the importance that agility, grit, and a collective response plays in overcoming the new and existing challenges faced in learning and literacy, globally.
Accessibility to digital tools and content was imperative to continued learning this year, and it’s encouraging to see how these have been embraced. Book Dash’s website visits alone increased by 500% compared to 2019. Hundreds of thousands of young readers are now interacting with digital reading and learning tools, daily. Many of them are using these tools for the first time, and in situations where they have far less support than they would have had ordinarily. Through this, we’ve learned that access to digital content and tools is not enough. We’ve also seen how important engaged and empowered teachers, parents and other care-givers are to building reading communities – whether these are facilitated with hardcopy or digital books.
Coming together, listening to each other, and adapting to change quickly and effectively is crucial to establishing successful online reading practices, regardless of whether you are building the tools, implementing them, or using them day-to-day.
Tarryn-Anne Anderson is a founding member of Book Dash and the Growth Director at Snapplify.
The importance of agility and adaptability in social impact businesses
While the social sector is accustomed to, even built for, turbulence, 2020 was a shock. Funding streams that seemed secure were suddenly diverted – rightly so – to COVID19 relief efforts and usual channels to communities were severely disrupted.
Social enterprises were met with mixed messages – some funders wanted an immediate pivot to dealing with COVID issues, while others praised organisations that promised to stay true to mission while drastically cutting back on staff and projects. It was a difficult environment in which to keep your head, as the obvious and drastic needs of communities, the frantic reprioritisation by funders, the restrictions on movement and commerce, and the general psychological stress merged in a pressure cooker.
Despite this, many organisations managed to react with grace, courage and imagination. They made tough decisions, drew on reserves (financial and emotional), initiated collaborative conversations with funders, sought out new partners, redesigned programme delivery, and reimagined the value they could bring to the people they serve.
Many organisations – early childhood development centres are an example – simply couldn’t respond in this way. And movements have built up around them to try to claw back what has been lost this year. If there is any silver lining, it’s the widespread realisation that services like these and the impact they have on children’s lives cannot be underestimated.
Social impact businesses have learned valuable lessons this year: that agility and adaptability are necessities, that resilience and mutual support are critical, and that they are stronger and more essential than they ever knew.
Michelle Matthews is a founding member of Book Dash and Director of Product at Viridian
A virtual party
On December 3rd, the Book Dash community celebrated a momentous milestone for our organisation: on 20 November the 1 millionth copy of a Book Dash book was given to a child, and we threw a virtual party to mark it.
More than 100 guests from all over the world joined the event, which was live-streamed from the Book Dash offices in Cape Town. The team had asked some supporters like donors, creatives, partners and superfans to send in video messages before the event, and it was lovely to watch those together.
The Founders of Book Dash, streaming in live from their homes, told the story of the conception, birth and growth of Book Dash, and we watched a video condensing our 6-year journey into a 5-minute good-news story. You can watch the video here.
The first book ever published by Book Dash in 2014 is a funny story called Sleepy Mr Sloth. Our Book Dash book-creation events always end with storytime, where teams share the new books they created. Last night we kept the tradition alive, and ended our celebration with Aidan, the 8-year old son of Arthur and Michelle (two of the Book Dash founders) reading Sleepy Mr Sloth.
The 1 millionth Book Dash book
Staying with 8-year old boys: another 8-year old boy was the recipient of the 1 millionth Book Dash book. Iyanda lives in KZN, and he received two Book Dash books in his Santa Shoebox, one with a sparkly golden sticker on it! This year, MySchoolMyVillageMyPlanet funded the printing of 100,000 Book Dash books to be included in 2020’s Santa Shoeboxes.
This is a picture of Iyanda, with the 1 millionth book – which happened to be packed in the 1 millionth Santa Shoebox given to children. What are the chances of two partner organisations (Book Dash and Santa Shoebox) both reaching their 1 million milestones at the same time?
Our vision is for each child to own one hundred books by the age of five. There are about 6 million children aged 5 and under in South Africa, which means that for us to achieve our vision, we have to distribute many more millions of books, and keep on doing this forever and ever.
We are up for the challenge, especially with supporters like you. But last night we paused to raise a glass to everyone who helped us achieve the first one million books. Thank you for all your support, and please do stick around for all the new chapters in our story.
Book Dash is honoured to announce that our website and catalogue of books has been vetted as one of the inaugural Digital Public Goods in the Foundational Literacy and Early Grade Reading category.
A Digital Public Good is an openly-licensed technology, data model, or content that is of high relevance for attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Digital Public Good Alliance, that was set up to identify such open digital goods in line with a recommendation from the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
We’re glad that this recognition will allow more people to know about, access and enjoy our collection of 140+ beautiful, African stories that are free for all.
For more information about this recognition, read the Medium article announcement from the Digital Public Goods Alliance: https://medium.com/digital-public-goods/announcing-the-first-vetted-digital-public-goods-for-foundational-literacy-and-early-grade-reading-1f5c371a50d3
Since our inception in 2014, Book Dash has published 140 original African storybooks for children, and translated them into a library of close to 500 titles. How much did we pay over the years in writer’s fees, illustration fees, design fees and editing fees? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. This astonishing fact is due to the generosity of the creative volunteers whose passion and skills are the powerful force that enables Book Dash to publish free books, and in doing so break down the barriers to literacy.
Our vision is that every child should own a hundred books by the age of five, so in addition to making the books freely available online, the printing and distribution of physical copies is crucial to our work. Because we don’t have to pay the creative volunteers for their work, we are able to publish our books at roughly 20% of traditional publishing costs. These savings mean that we can print and distribute an abundance of books, so that all children, regardless of their socio-economic position, can benefit from owning books. This year alone, we’ve been able to distribute 340,000 books to children, despite restrictions due to COVID-19.
So what motivates our superstar volunteers to give up 12 hours on a Saturday (some repeat offenders have given up three, four… six Saturdays over the years) to work very hard and make a free book in a team with other creatives? This is what a few of them have to say:
Ndumiso Nyoni (illustrator, three Book Dash events)
“I volunteer for Book Dash because I grew up on books, comics and cartoons but could never fully connect with the characters I loved, because they didn’t look or sound like me… Not only does Book Dash give me the opportunity to create books that will resonate with young African children, they also create and distribute the books for free to help improve child literacy throughout our continent. Knowing that there is an African child out there who is both learning to read and appreciate themselves for who they are, is the biggest achievement of my career and I am humbled and honoured to be a part of it.”
Sam Wilson (writer, seven Book Dash events)
“Literacy is a huge issue in South Africa. Book Dash creates books that are free online, and can be printed and sold by anyone. It’s an amazing way to give every child in South Africa their own books. And I get to do something I love for a great cause.”
So, salute our creative volunteers for their generosity by reading their Book Dash books with the children in your life (free on our website), and tell others about the books too. You can also follow your favourite Book Dash volunteers on their social media pages to see more of the amazing creative work that they do in their day jobs.
To get notified of when the next Book Dash event and call for applications is, join our mailing list here:
While the country is in lockdown and places of learning are closed, many organisations are doing what they can to support young children and families. This often involves distributing resource packs to keep children stimulated at home until they can return to schools and ECD centres. Books are ideal for this as they provide impulses for engaging interactions and support holistic development of young children.
Book Dash wants to support these efforts as much as possible, through donations to partners but also by offering our books at R10 a copy (50% discount) to any organisation that will be distributing books to children and families during the lockdown period.
If you’re interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a stocklist. Please also have a look at the terms and conditions below.
If you’d like to support, but aren’t involved in resource distribution, you can still donate and assist us in getting books out to our network of approved partners who are supporting families in this way. Or, you could purchase books on behalf of an organisation that you know and we’ll deliver to them.
Terms and conditions:
- This offer will run until the end of May or while stocks last.
- Sales will be managed on a first come, first served basis.
- Minimum order is 100 books and orders are limited to 1,000 books per customer. If you’re interested in larger orders, let us know.
- Books should reach children and families as soon as possible, and be given away at no cost to the recipient.
- Delivery is not included and will be quoted for depending on quantity and delivery destination.
- Deliveries happen once a week, and order and payment needs to be finalised by Friday, for dispatch on the following Monday.
- Valid within South Africa only.
In line with our vision that every child should own a hundred books by the age of five, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can reach more children with more books.
One of the challenges in making books affordable, is to print large enough volumes of one title to get the benefit of the economies of scale. We have experimented successfully with a mechanism that we call a “collaborative print run”.
Funding from donors is used as the base from which to leverage the print run. Together with the funder, we select appropriate titles from our library. An important step here is to maintain a good balance between variety of titles, and volumes per title. This should be informed by the funding available, and the tipping point of volume versus price. For Book Dash, we aim to never pay more than R10.00 per book.
The next step is to make the circle bigger: we invite partners and the public to send us pre-orders for the quantities of the selected titles that they would like. Sometimes these orders are as small as a few hundred copies, sometimes thousands. We put together the small orders, and voilà: we have large enough volumes to offer all parties an exceptionally low unit cost. Everyone wins.
If you are interested in sponsoring a print run of our books, speak to us and if you’d like to be informed when the next collaborative print runs happen, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or join the mailing list.
Every child should own a hundred books by the age of five, the research says so.
Giving children access to high-quality, relevant books is associated with positive behavioural, educational, and psychological outcomes.
But book-ownership among South African children is shockingly low – 58% of households don’t own a single leisure book (SABDC, 2016) – and it has contributed to our literacy crisis as can be seen from the 2016 PIRLS results where 78% of the South African Grade 4 children could not read for meaning in any language (Howie, 2017). Illiteracy carries a huge cost to the economy (Gustafsson, 2010) and reputable, worldwide studies show that improving access to books for low-income children is a low-cost, high impact way of addressing the problem.
Conventional publishing models aren’t designed to create affordable books for all. This is where Book Dash comes in: to close the book-ownership gap, we need to give away 600 million books with the help of many partner organisations.
Research about the effects of book ownership
What we do at Book Dash is big and bold, but it is also evidence-based. Research findings shape what we believe, what we do, and how we do it. Here is some of the key research that forms our backbone.
Children who have a book of their own are 15 times more likely to read above the level expected for their age, than those who don’t own a book. (National Literacy trust, 2017)
Having books in the home gives children a measurable advantage at school, equal to 3.2 more years of schooling, even when controlled for other key factors such as income and parents’ education. (Evans et al, 2010.)
Access to books impacts positively on the reading achievement of economically disadvantaged children. (Newman, S. et al., 2000)
A home library can promote reading and maths skills more than college alone can. (Sikora et al, 2019)
Plenty more research on why our children need more books, here.
We’re fully registered with MySchool, meaning it’s quick and easy to add us to your profile.
Print copies of Book Dash titles can be purchased from the following South African booksellers:
If you are looking for a title that is not available with these booksellers, or if you would like to stock Book Dash titles in your store, please write to email@example.com.
Book Dash books are sometimes rendered as audiobooks. Like the ebooks, these are free to listen to online, download and share under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.
If you would like to add an open source recording of a Book Dash book to this collection, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donating is the fastest, simplest way to help. Donors have already helped us create and give away thousands of beautiful books to children. You can use a card, SnapScan or an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to make a donation. Book Dash is registered Public Benefit Organisation and can provide you with a tax deductible donation certificate (details below) should you request it.
Pay with a card
Click a donation button below, and your card payment will be processed by PayFast (it’s completely secure and very easy).
Pay with PayPal
Donate to Book Dash directly through PayPal on the button below.
Pay with SnapScan
Use SnapScan? Just scan the code (click it if you need it enlarged).
Pay by EFT
You can deposit straight into our bank account. Unless you really need to be anonymous, please use your name in your payment reference, and let us know you’ve made a deposit.
Name: Book Dash
Bank: First National Bank
Account number: 62492593118
Branch: Claremont (215 Main Road, Claremont, Cape Town 7708)
Branch code: 200109
Account type: Business cheque/current account
SWIFT code for international payments: FIRNZAJJ
Please send payment confirmations to email@example.com.
(International donors: South Africa does not use the IBAN system. Payments can be made instead with the account number, branch code, and SWIFT code. We’ll soon add credit card donations via PayPal, we’re waiting for them to process our non-profit status.)
Book Dash is a Public Benefit Organisation with Section 18A status. This means we can give you a certificate that makes your donation tax-deductible in South Africa. When you donate, please let us know if you need a certificate.
To qualify for a certificate, donations for section 18A purposes must be bona fide donations. According to the regulations: “A bona fide donation is a voluntary, gratuitous gift disposed of by the donor out of liberality or generosity, where the donee is enriched and the donor impoverished. There may be no quid pro quo, no reciprocal obligations and no personal benefit for the donor. If the donee gives any consideration at all it is not a donation. The donor may not impose conditions which could enable him or any connected person in relation to himself to derive some direct or indirect benefit from the application of the donation.”
Book Days days are the creative heart of our volunteer movement: dozens of top creatives giving their time to create books that anyone can freely translate, print and distribute. And at Book Dash translation days, volunteers translators multiply those books into other languages.
It costs R100 000 to put on a Book Dash day. That includes planning and preparation and all the infrastructure required: venue, food, equipment, stationery and more.
‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ — Nelson Mandela
Your organisation can put thousands of books in the hands of children for as little as R10* a book. The more you print, the cheaper each copy becomes. The books will be given directly to individual children by our partner organisations.
Want to arrange your own print run? Use our print-quote-specs.
* Print costs can be R10/book when printing more than 2500 copies of a single title. At 1000 copies of a title, print costs are around R20/copy. Printed in these bulk quantites, books are up to ten times cheaper than when purchased from a publisher.