Reading aloud for literacy

Good stories, be they factual or fantastic, unveil some of the mysteries of the world. The writer of factual stories informs us of current and historical affairs, social mores, scientific breakthroughs and other wondrous inventions. The writer of fantastic stories fires the imagination; perhaps promoting entrepreneurial thinking in the reader. All this information helps us to find our place in the scheme of things.

Reading or listening to a factual or fictional good story is the hook that draws us into a love of words that inform, entertain, mystify and fascinate. Information gives us a thirst for knowledge, and knowledge gives us the tools to function in this strange and wonderful world.

But children from third world countries across the globe have not been brought up in a culture of reading. For example, in South Africa, as in many other third world countries, illiteracy is endemic and epidemic. There are still too few books in many homes, so the culture of reading is an alien pastime for a lot of children. These children remain uninterested and illiterate, even as they are schooled! And, without literacy, children are alienated from everything outside of their own small worlds. They are trapped in ignorance.

In South Africa, we have good, traditional storytellers who can hold their audiences — comprised of both young and old people — spellbound by acting out much loved and familiar stories with a gesture, passion and strong, resonant voices.

These stories change over time if the storyteller chooses to change them, and the audience waits in anticipation for the outcome of the tale. How exciting that is!

Children are captivated by listening to a good story read with feeling, a sure way to pique their interest in books. And there are so many, many stories from all over the world to read! So, we need to find the time to read to children whenever possible, especially before they go to sleep. It is a comforting activity for the child and strengthens the family bond.

Time moves on, and the most desirable commodity of the 21st Century is knowledge. It is something that once acquired, cannot be lost or stolen, an inherent part of each individual, part of his DNA. Although learning how to function in any society comes through family and community interactions, a great deal of knowledge comes from books.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t have access to libraries in their towns and villages, often no money to spend on children’s books.

Enter Nal’ibali! This wonderful initiative gives children an introduction to books and stories by creating and distributing children’s stories in a range of South African languages in reading clubs, in newspapers, on the radio and online, encouraging caregivers to share them with children in relaxed and enjoyable ways. It’s a brainwave of a method to foster an interest in books.

This February, Nal’ibali will be celebrating World Read Aloud Day to further encourage the nation to get behind reading with children. Nal’ibali has chosen my story, ‘Where are you?’ to translate into all 11 official languages, and invites adults everywhere to join the celebration by reading it aloud to the children in their lives. The story features Afrika, a young boy, who gets lost in a busy market place. He doesn’t fret or panic; but worries about the well being and safety of his mother and baby sister, Dintle. They are lost and, with a new friend, he sets off to find them.

Ann Walton is a published author and illustrator of children’s books.

To join Nal’ibali’s World Read Aloud Day celebration, visit or where you can download the special story and pledge the number of children you will be reading it to. Members of the public are also encouraged to share pictures of their read-aloud sessions on the campaign’s Facebook and Twitter feeds: @NalibaliSA, or by using the hashtag ##WRADChallenge2019, on the day.

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