South African reading project wins Astrid Lindgren prize


1 April 2015

The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (Praesa) has won the 2015 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award – the largest award for children’s literature, with a prize of 5m kroner – more than R7-million.

The award was founded by the Swedish government in 2003 to honour Astrid Lindgren, the author of the Pippi Longstocking books. The prize aims to promote literature for children and young people that displays “a profound respect for democratic values and human rights”.

The award was announced live from the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm on Tuesday, and broadcast live at the Bologna Book Fair. Praesa was selected from 197 nominations, from more than 60 countries – including South Africans Niki Daly, Beverly Naidoo and Piet Grobler; British authors Michael Morporgo and Neil Gaiman; and US illustrator David Wiesner.

Founded in 1992 by anti-apartheid activist and academic Neville Alexander, Praesa promotes reading and literature to children and young people in South Africa. Its three “core goals” are to:

  • provide children with high-quality literature in the various South African languages;
  • collaborate with and foster new networks among publishers and reading promotion organisations; and
  • initiate and carry out activities that support and sustain a culture of reading and storytelling in socially vulnerable communities.

“Receiving this award is a dream coming true and a great honour,” Praesa director Carole Bloch is quoted as saying on the Alma website. “This will make an incredible difference to the reading work we do for huge numbers of children across Africa. Having this award come to the African continent gives great acknowledgement to the importance of   reading to all children irrespective of the language and background.”

Praesa, which is based in Cape Town, says it wants children to have not only traditional schoolbooks, but also literature that inspires them to read. An early project saw the production of the Little Hands books, a series of short books in different African languages to encourage children to read in their own languages.

It has also established the Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa, a township outside Cape Town, that combines oral storytelling with reading, singing games, and dramatisations. This, in turn, led to the Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) project, a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign to spark children’s potential through storytelling and reading.

Crucial role of books

In its award citation, the jury wrote, “With the joy of reading as its compass point, Praesa opens new routes into the world of books and literature for young readers in South Africa. Through innovative reading and storytelling projects, Praesa brings people together and brings literature in multiple languages alive. Praesa’s outstanding work shows the world the crucial role of books and stories in creating rich, full lives for our children and young people.”

“I’m very happy that also the African continent now has an Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award laureate,” said Alice Bah Kuhnke, Sweden’s minister for culture and democracy.

“Praesa can certainly serve as a model for other organisations to promote reading, not only in South Africa but also in other multilingual countries and regions worldwide,” Bah Kuhnke said. “All children have a right to their own language and Praesa have understood the importance of reading for pleasure and storytelling for children’s development of their own mother tongue.”

Praesa won the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award at the 2014 Bologna Book Fair.

SAinfo reporter