I am so overwhelmed by the actuality that I have won two literary awards in one month. I am grateful for the recognition from the Exclusive Books IBBY (International Board of Books on Young People) as the recipient of their Best Writer Award. Writing this book was one of the best parts of this process. It’s wonderful that children and literary bodies alike see the value of my work. You can read more about it: here. Congratulations to fellow award winners Nicolaas and Xolisa.
It was such an honour to attend the South African Literary Awards on Thursday, 7 November at the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History as a nominee of the Children’s Literature Award and to end the evening as the winner. I would like to thank David Philip Publishers, all of the translators of the book, Masego Morulane for being the illustrator of my dreams, Cindy van Wyk for being my first editor, the Book of Swag agency for inviting me to be part of the #TODAY campaign that started the entire dream.
The biggest thank you of all goes out to all of the people who bought the book and gifted the little readers in their lives. Thank you, little readers, for allowing my girls into your worlds. You give my dreams wings!
I spent this past Saturday morning at the Johannesburg Family Gathering, a monthly event organised by Ashley Whitfield at the Museum Africa that centres on children and families. (The details are on the poster and I encourage everyone to get their babies involved in cultural activities outside of school.) This time, we got together for story time with Mpumi’s Magic Beads.
One of the best parts about what I do is engaging with little readers and their parents. I am so grateful each time a child let’s me know that they have hair like Mpumi or when parents share what this story means for their families. I’ve had a mom tell me that the book is her son’s favourite nightly read and that something about the rhyming in the book and reading it aloud together has also helped with his speech issues. I’ve had a kiddies hair salon owner reach out because there’s a little girl who came in with my book and requested the style on the cover. I’ve had mom’s send me videos of their children reading. Each time this happens, my heart absolutely beams to know that this book is doing what I hoped it would do in the world. Little children love this story just as I loved so many stories when I was a child. Beyond that, little children feel at home in this story, and isn’t that just the best thing?
I’m always in awe when I see children who are super confident with asserting themselves with adults and peers, alike. I always make a mental note that I would love to be the kind of parent who nurtures that in a child. I think it’s quite a remarkable thing to see a child who owns their space and articulates themselves boldly. The portrait above was drawn by one such a special little girl. While I was “performing” the story, she was reading along loudly with me and afterwards everyone drew some self portraits and she came over to give me hers. I was so touched by her gift, I’m going to be framing it soon.
The part that will always stay with me is how her mother shared with me that ever since she got the book, she draws herself with this hairstyle. We also spoke about how she will be challenging the school’s hair policy using the book as an illustration of the kind of cultural awareness that the school should be seeking to foster in how they move forward in creating an inclusive environment for all their learners. Considering that this book is partly inspired by my own academic work in the sleight of hand employed by schools: using neutral language in hair codes of conduct yet clearly being discriminatory in implementation – I am really all for parents furthering that conversation, especially at a young age so less children have to suffer the trauma of being vilified by the school system for the way they look.
So, the portrait here, by a very special girl is a reminder of all the people who continue to give this dream wings. I have always wanted to do my part to make it just a little better for children in this world and I’m so grateful that this work, by Masego and I, is adding a little sprinkle of magic, confidence and self-love in your lives. You keep my heart full.
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Thank you to all the parents and guardians who reach out in person and online to share with me how the story continues to move in your lives, beyond the book.
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, The Reading Club will be hosting me for a reading of Mpumi’s Magic Beads. Please brin your little ones. Entry is free and there will be books on sale. You’re welcome to bring your own to read along with me too. See you then!
This is what I remind myself of everytime I step out. It is why I will always give my best. It is why I will always think of how to do it in a way that has never been done before. It is why I will always just try my damndest.
The reading for Mpumi’s Magic Beads at Sandton Library was full to capacity! I arrived and immediately had to get into media interviews: one for the Chinese Global Network and one for Vuzu. I think that it is really cool because it’s a big deal and I didn’t know that Vuzu, specifically, cover literary events. Right after that, the show began with a puppeteer who told a great story and had the children singing and laughing. She is amazing!
Then came the time for Mpumi’s Magic Beads. There’s a saying about innovation that I don’t recall right now but back in April, when I had to fulfill my pledge for the #Today campaign, I hadn’t yet published the book but I had made a commitment to read to children and I intended to honour it. So, I had to improvise. I used an easel and huge laminated posters of the story. Ever since that time, it’s my preferred method. It just makes sense to me because you want all the children to be able to see the pictures, follow the story and engage with it.
It worked wonderfully. I memorised the words to the whole book because I just wanted to give my all to the audience; I didn’t want to be restricted by checking words and pages. Just as I was performing (because that’s what I do), a little boy screamed out: “But where are the words?!” A very valid question. Ordinarily, that would have thrown me off and I would have lost my place and been flustered. However, I took it in my stride and stopped to answer him and we all had a laugh about it and the story continued.
I love that I got through the story without blanking out! I was confident. I was measured. I did justice to my work and efforts. You have no idea how exciting and thrilling it is to watch children’s imaginations working in real time, keeping pace with the narrative and having their faces light up in the moments where you hoped they would – and they did! They did!
After the performance/reading, I had an interview with e TV and signed many, many books and took just as many pictures with beautiful, smiling children who looked just like the ones in my story. It made me feel so warm inside to become a part of their libraries and hopefully, some inspiring childhood memories, as my favourite books have always been for me.
A special moment was when I got to meet my illustrator for the first time ever – and she also had red magic beads in her hair! Masego Morulane and I worked on this entire Mpumi’s Magic Beads project, from March 2017 until January 2018 over email, text and very few phone calls. I was elated to see her, hug her and thank her in person for bringing my imagination to life with her gift. We both teared up.
After everything, I went to have a celebratory lunch with my father, my little brothers Mpumi and Tshiamo, and my friends Jabu and Monti. So many more friends and good people from Twitter and Instagram also came through to show love at the event and I was so happy!
What a wonderful morning! Thank you Ethnkids for hosting me, giving my work a home and for the amazing role you play in supporting the work of African authors and ensuring that children’s imaginations are nurtured on Saturday mornings! Thank you to Khumo for reaching out early on in my publishing journey and always being so lovely.
I am so, so proud of myself. This, right here, is self-love. All of it. It requires hard work. It requires discipline and I don’t always get it right but I do try my damndest. I also suspect that I am really good with children and I like myself a little bit more for it.
In the evening, I went to The Orbit with my friends Xolisa and Khaya. While I sat there eating, a woman came up to me and told me that her sister-in-law had taken her daughter to the reading and she showed me her phone: there I was with her daughter, smiling and holding a freshly signed copy of Mpumi’s Magic Beads! I may or may not have cried a little into my food at that point. Today was just so beautiful. Is this my life, really?
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Thank you you each and every child and parent/guardian in the room for buying Mpumi’s Magic Beads and giving my dream wings!
This is the logo for my self-publishing company, Thank You Books. My name is a derivative of the gratitude concept in the Sesotho/Setswana/Sepedi language group (lebohang, relebogile, olebogeng, etcetera). I feel a deep gratitude for the life I have and continue to create; from school life to poetry life to freelance shooting-my-shot life and books have essentially given that to me. I am thankful to every writer who has written something (both inside & outside books) that has illuminated my path and has changed my life. And, I am immensely grateful to my mama and the box set of Poldy books that have been a force throughout my whole childhood. The icon consists of a ballet/book skirt because I feel that it’s important to pay homage to 14 years of rigorous classical and contemporary dance training because of how they have made me who I am. I am thrilled for this new chapter and all of the beautiful stories that I am going to put into the world.
Designers: Masego Morulane (illustrator of my dreams too) and Sibusiso Mkhwanazi.
Thank you to my friends, who always help me to make up my mind.