Q&A with author and World Read Aloud Day ambassador, Lebohang Masango

The author of 'Mpumi's Magic Beads' talks about the importance of reading and storytelling, and how to make literacy more appealing to young readers

05 February 2019 - 13:00
Lebohang Masango holding her book, 'Mpumi's Magic Beads'.
Lebohang Masango holding her book, 'Mpumi's Magic Beads'.
Image: Ihsaan Haffajee

When did your love for reading and storytelling start?

Since childhood, I’ve always been captivated by books and stories! My mom and dad got me the entire box set of Poldy Flies High reading books, activity books and story cassettes by Felicia Law when I was about four years old. I could sit for hours by myself listening to the tapes while reading along with the books, even before I could actually read. My mother also always read to me at bedtime and, as I started to watch TV, I would watch mme Gcina Mhlophe, Sesame Street and Takalani Sesame on SABC.

In 2017 you self-published your book 'Mpumi's Magic Beads'. Was that something you’d always wanted to do?

Yes, but of all my ambitions, this is the one that I talked about the least. I grew up reading and, as I’ve grown into adulthood, it’s been easier to imagine myself writing for adults because I am one. I admire children’s book writers and have always thought of their work as being difficult because maintaining children’s interests is not easy, especially in today’s world.

Why did you write a children’s book and what change (if any) do you hope it will bring into the lives of children?

I really love Johannesburg and I wanted to find a new way to express that. I’ve always wanted to write about Johannesburg from a child’s perspective: to show that it can be a fun, safe and educational space. This book is also special because it affirms children, their hair, their self-esteem and the importance of friendship and loving each other.

Author Lebohang Masango believes readers become leaders.
Author Lebohang Masango believes readers become leaders.
Image: Themba Mbuyisa

Do you think reading and storytelling is appealing to young South Africans?

Reading and storytelling are still appealing, but perhaps the platforms to do it on aren’t. Digital media is fascinating and I think the key to sustaining people’s interests in literature is to meet them on their tablets, phones and TV screens.

You've also recently been appointed as a Volunteers Advocate for UNICEF and will be working to establish volunteer programmes geared towards ensuring our children reach their full potential. What is the role of reading and storytelling in that goal?

Literacy is a critical building block for both individuals and communities. Reading and storytelling can teach a person so many things, such as how to use your imagination, how to grow the confidence to speak, how to articulate your thoughts and how to be more compassionate towards others. Having more children exposed to these lessons is important because “readers become leaders,” as we know!

Your book, 'Mpumi's Magic Beads', is available in many South African languages. Do you think enough is being done to promote African languages to children?

There are many publishers, storytellers and literacy organisations such as Nal’ibali which do the necessary work of promoting indigenous language literacy. I think the value for our languages definitely begins in the home and parents, siblings and guardians should aim to speak to children in a range of languages to better equip them to manage in a multilingual world. I think if everyone does their part, then we’ll definitely create a society of confident, literate readers and writers.

• South Africans nationwide celebrated World Read Aloud Day on Friday February 1. Visit the Nal’ibali website.

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