Children’s book fair wants young minds to be turned on by reading

South Africa is holding its first fair for children’s books – themed “Back to basics, bring back the culture of reading” – in Jo’burg from Thursday June 9.

French author Victor Hugo once said that “to learn to read is to light a fire” and the fair aims to do just this by increasing literacy levels and introducing young minds to the world of books.

A Book for Every Child Foundation is hosting the fair. The first two days have been reserved for schoolchildren, but after that the fair is open to the public.

The four-day programme consists of book launches, seminars, presentations, debates and book sales. The event organisers say the fair “will be a harvesting ground for writers of children’s books, publishers and illustrators”.

Literary agent Bieke van Aggelen says there is a great need for fresh talent on the South African literary scene. Van Aggelen, who runs African Literary Agency and sell books and translation rights to publishers overseas, represented local publishers at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April.

Bumble Books in Noordhoek, Cape Town, was named the best children’s publisher in Africa at the Bologna fair.

Van Aggelen says international publishers are interested in South African stories and like the techniques used by local illustrators.

“When it comes to South African children’s books, people abroad want exotic elements in books. They are interested in culturally bonded stories, like what it’s like to live in South Africa, and they want to see the clichéd countryside setting.”

For her, what makes South Africa’s book fairs different is that they are open to the public and the wall between self-published authors and the readers is broken – and everyone is free to discover writers they wouldn’t find in big bookshops.

International fairs, on the other hand, are targeted at publishers and traders.

Van Aggelen didn’t know about South Africa’s first children’s book fair and is apparently not the only one. “Maybe more should’ve been done to promote the fair,” she said. “But it’s good that it’s happening because children’s book fairs are important in elevating reading for children and discovering the talents of writers and illustrators.”

The South Africa’s Children Book Fair runs from June 9 to 12, from 10am to 4pm daily at the Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg.

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