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Yes, a young girl can lead the country - a Q&A with Mapule Mohulatsi, author of 'Mizz President'

"I was intent on not making it a political satire but rather an educational book"

23 July 2019 - 13:34 By Carla Lever and nal'ibali
Children’s author and short story writer, Mapule Mohulatsi.
Children’s author and short story writer, Mapule Mohulatsi.
Image: Supplied

Your children's book, Mizz President, is a fantastic feminist tale about a young South African girl who steps into the biggest job in the country when the president falls ill. Why was it important to you to write this kind of empowering story?

I felt that children were not being politically educated. Even though they were probably aware of political issues, no one was really explaining things to them. With this kind of education, children can feel empowered by knowing that they, too, are capable of providing solutions to ‘adult’ problems.

I love the title! I'm curious, though: what made you choose to spell Ms phonetically?

It has so much spice with the two z's! Letato, the girl in the book, has a spicy personality just like that.

Letato, the protagonist in Mohulatsi’s 'Mizz President' has a spicy personality to match the spicy title. ("Two z's!")
Letato, the protagonist in Mohulatsi’s 'Mizz President' has a spicy personality to match the spicy title. ("Two z's!")
Image: Everychild Books

The book features beautiful pictures by a local illustrator, Mary-Ann Hampton. Was it important to you to work with women on all stages of the project?

It just so happened that the people involved are women, but I am grateful for it. We gelled so well and loved working with each other.

The book is based in a very real context - a South African presidential transition between Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. How did you tread a fine line between keeping the story relatable to a real context and keeping it fun and light for children?

It was so hard! It also made the writing process take a lot longer. Carolann “CA” Davids and I were intent on not making it a political satire, but rather an educational book. For those that have read the story, I can tell you that crafting the character of Mr Bulloo certainly took time!

The opportunity for this book came to you through Twitter, of all places! It's definitely an author's dream story; can you tell us about it?

Yeah! CA sent a message saying someone had dropped her on a publishing contract at the last minute and asked if I was available, because she enjoyed my blog and social media posts. I was happy to do the job. We had a wonderful time working together and have remained very close to this day. Really, it’s amazing how that worked out!

Social media has obviously helped to elevate your writing on a public platform. What advice would you give to other writers who'd like to get their work noticed?

Tweet and blog. Don't stop. Do what you love and make it visible to people.

You've said before that it took a lot of reading other children's books before you felt ready to start writing your own. What kinds of tips and ideas did you learn from looking at other examples of stories for children?

I learnt the value of honesty. Just because you are writing for children does not mean that you have to make things up. Teach them the truth.

You dedicated Mizz President to your mother. Can you tell us a little about the legacy she gave you with books and reading?

My mother encouraged my reading from young age. Even though I was lazy at home and she had to do most of the household work, she never held my reading against me. I love and appreciate her for that.

What has been your favourite feedback on the book so far?

One parent was saying that her child is taking the book rather practically and has been implementing her own social change at home. I loved hearing that!

Do you have any other writing-related projects in the works?

Always. I am a PhD candidate at Wits, so for now that is taking all the space. A few short stories here and there.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org.