Thursday, 18 April 2013

PUKU takes children’s literature to the next level

We had a chat with Ms Bontle Senne, the MD of about her work, and their vision. We thought you would enjoy it too.

What's PUKU's main objective, and how are you working towards that?
Technology has not being harnessed extensively and systematically to support Southern African language children’s educational or recreational resources, until Puku. is the first authoritative multilingual, interdisciplinary reference site and resource on African children’s literature.
The principle aim of the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation is to bridge both the literacy and digital divide that confronts the vast majority of Southern African children. The Foundation works towards this with development of digital, mobile, radio and storytelling programmes to improve the quality and quantity of children’s educational and recreational materials in all Southern African languages.

Give us a brief background on PUKU
The Book Development Foundation (BDF) was an entity comprised of various representatives of South Africa’s book chain i.e. publishers, printers, authors and reading promotion organizations. From its inception the BDF partnered with the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) in running the Centre for the Book. This partnership ended in 2007 when the NLSA made it clear that the Centre for the Book should come fully under control of the NLSA and saw no role for the BDF. The board of the BDF subsequently decided to close the BDF and distribute the assets to book-related projects. Elinor Sisulu and Colleen Higgs proposed that the BDF consider giving a portion of the funds to start a children’s literature website. The BDF Board gave them go ahead to present a proposal and the result was
Since it went online in October 2009, has established itself as the premier online resource for children’s literature in Southern Africa. was the only web weekly newspaper on African children’s
literature and digital content. 

What programmes and campaigns have you done and embarked on previously?

Our digital platform was our biggest programme over the last two years. Users can now search for books by languages, age or genre. We can now also feature news events, tips for writers/illustrators, feature publishers, share reading recommendations and learn more about the work of the Foundation on our site. The sleek and clean design courtesy of ThoughtWorks SA is ideal for mobile users. This is a great leap forward for our online presence but we still have far to go.

What are currently focusing on?
Puku is currently working towards launch of the first-ever isiXhosa Children’s Story Festival showcasing and promoting the recreational and educational children’s reading materials produced by South Africa writers, publishers and illustrators, in isiXhosa. This festival will feature storytelling, book challenges, book sales and readings, workshops for teachers and librarians, and panel discussions.

What partnerships have you formed that have enabled you to deliver on your mandate? 
Working with organisations such as the National Arts Festival, the African Studies Department of Rhodes University, the Grahamstown Foundation, South Africa Primary Education Support Initiative (SAPESI), Nal’ibali, African Storybook Project (ASP), Constitution Hill and Gcinamasiko Arts and Heritage Trust, we are working towards a number of projects to fulfil our mandate. On the digital side, the work done by our technology partners ThoughtWorks SA and Dimension Data is invaluable.

 What's PUKU's view on our education system, especially our very low literacy standards?
For many children, the textbooks or supplementary educational materials ordered by schools are the only reading materials they have access to. In the absence of a variety of relevant, engaging materials, it is not surprising that few children are motivated to read outside of their textbooks. The result is that the less children read, the less proficient they become; the less literate they are, the worse their educational outcomes. Education is like a building – without sound foundations, the structure will never be stable. Nobel Laureate Heckman (1999) has demonstrated that education investments at ECD stage cost less than similar investments in adults and have more impact.  By providing culturally, linguistically and contextually relevant content to African children we increase their chances of loving reading, improving on literacy rates, and ECD overall, especially within the most disadvantaged communities.

How do we make reading fun for children?
Africans need to develop relevant, exciting, diverse, cheap children’s book in all our local languages. We can’t continue to rely on only state-sanctioned textbooks or on European texts that have little relevance to children growing up in South Africa’s rural areas or on books written decades ago. We need young people to become the producers of content and we need them to write stories that are engaging, fun and intelligent. Sometimes we can be too elitist about how we think about books – kids books can be silly or funny or scary, not just educational and not just with a moral to the story. South African children need more graphic novels, more comic books, more board books and more novels for cellphones: anything that makes reading accessible and easy.

As the Head of PUKU, what's your vision for your term? 

We already have thousands of visitors to every month but I’d like to see thousands more parents and teachers making use of the site to find and buy African children’s books. I look forward to the successful launch of a number of indigenous language children’s story festivals and I hope that Puku can expand onto radio and reach more of South African’s most materially deprived communities.
 How do we (people) get involved in helping PUKU spread their message?
Follow us on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook and visit our site. Have a look at our reviews policy; write and submit reviews of local books in local languages. Support African writers and illustrators: buy children’s books! If you can’t afford to buy books, visit the library. Tell your kids stories: keep our languages alive.

 What's your favourite book?

If forced to pick only one: Donna Tartt’s‘The Secret History’.
Visit for more details

No comments:

Post a Comment