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Introduce children to picture books from a young age, says author Dianne Stewart

"Picture books like 'The Gift of the Sun' provide a caregiver, family member or teacher with an opportunity to bond with a child"

18 August 2019 - 00:00 By Dianne Stewart and jacana media

Published in the Sunday Times: 18/08/2019

"Literacy is the bridge from misery to hope," said Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Secretary General of the United Nations.

Yet, as part of the 2016 Pirls (Progress in International Reading Literacy) study, SA ranked bottom out of 50 countries; 78% of learners in their fourth year of primary school were assessed to be unable to read for meaning.

A significant place to start is by introducing children to picture books from a young age. As an author of such books, the challenge is to write both for the adult who reads the book to the child as well as the child. If the book does not have adult appeal, it might not be read to the child.

In creating a picture book narrative, the author has to be selective about portraying the story in as few words as possible, yet it needs to be complex enough to appeal to the dual audience.

Picture books like The Gift of the Sun provide a caregiver, family member or teacher with an opportunity to bond with a child. This genre also offers children their first exposure to fine art. As an author of picture books, it is important to me who illustrates the narrative. Having created the pictures for my story The Dove, Cape Town-based Jude Daly, an internationally renowned illustrator, provided the exquisite illustrations for The Gift of the Sun.

Daly won the Katrine Harries award for her illustrations in this book and a place on the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) honour list while the book circulated around the globe.

First published for me in 1996 by Frances Lincoln in London, The Gift of the Sun is an African story about entrepreneurship and finding one's niche in life - both contemporary concerns. It was translated into Danish, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish and South Korean. Having circulated for about 20 years overseas, Jacana Publishers have just republished the book in SA in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

Let's inspire hope in our children by encouraging them to read. May we continue to produce books in this country that inspire the children of our land. One of the greatest gifts you can offer children is the love of reading.

The Gift of the Sun is published by Jacana, R130