The need for fun, interactive educational material for young children around the themes of social awareness and responsibility has inspired two Cape Town women to launch a publishing company aimed at doing just that.
After 10 years of working on commissioned educational projects, from primary health care and child safety to fire awareness and environmental issues, illustrator Kate Boyes and former educator turned layout artist, Mandy Lomberg, started Hero in My Hood, which develops affordable story/activity books in response to research that showed children needed to be encouraged to be “courageous and kind”.
“Activity books of this nature are a great educational tool as the children are engaged and involved in the story. They encourage empathy, compassion and responsibility,” said Boyes. “The aim is to encourage children to be heroes within their own hoods (neighbourhoods or communities). They do the right thing, not because they will get into trouble if they don’t, but because they know and understand the value in doing it. Our by-line is ‘encouraging children to be courageous and kind’.”
As Lomberg pointed out, “By addressing the children in the books and encouraging them to help the characters by completing the activities we hope to give them a sense of responsibility and achievement where they can feel instrumental in the positive outcome of the story, ultimately translating this into their own lives.”
The activities and story are connected, so that the child must complete the activity in order for the story to progress; in this way, the books are engaging and the child becomes instrumental in the story, say Boyes and Lomberg.
Their first publication, Let’s go to the Animal Clinic and Shelter with Lucky’s Activity Book, was developed with the help of Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha. It covers all the important aspects of pet care. The book is being widely, and successfully, used in education programmes by animal organisations throughout South Africa. Lucky’s activity book is currently available in four languages and is aimed at children between the ages of six and nine years old so the book has a range of activities for children of differing abilities, covering a variety of learning areas: language, counting, picture identification, concept recognition, concept matching, shape, pattern, size and sequence.
Gender based violence
“With this concept in mind we were approached to develop a book on gender based violence. As we researched the topic it became clear that we needed to address peer violence, identification of emotions, and generational violence,” says Boyes.
They were advised by people such as Vanessa Farr, an international gender activist, specialising in Africa and the Middle East; Lorna Lake a clinical psychologist, specialising in family matters; Professor Rachel Jewkes, executive scientist, South African Medical Research Council, Dr Rochshana Kemp, social work manager, Western Cape Department of Health, and JellyBeanz, an NGO dealing with traumatised children
The aim of this book is to help children understand their own emotional feelings in order to help them develop empathy. Children are encouraged to ‘tell’ and to ‘talk’, thus breaking the silence that allows negative behaviour to continue. The story guides the children to find something that they enjoy and which they can do well, thus building self-esteem.
“We chose freestyle soccer as the theme as it is an activity that is traditionally seen as for the boys but one in which girls are just as active,” said Lomberg. “If you look carefully you will see many clues throughout the book that challenge gender stereotypes. In freestyle, the individual is encouraged to express themselves, and in our story the children of a neighbourhood come together as themselves and shine as a team, ‘ The Freestyle Stars’.”
Boyes and Lomberg say the days are gone when cautionary tales that focus on the devastating outcomes of negative behaviour are used to encourage good behaviour.
“We are taking serious topics with a great urgency for educational awareness and making them accessible and fun. If we start normalising good & responsible behaviour though relatable stories and pictures for young children then we are well on they way to breaking cycles of ignorance, abuse and irresponsibility,” says Boyes. “Our children need positive tales reinforcing and normalising the good stuff.”
Distribution of books
In order for the books to reach children in the numbers needed we keep them affordable and to sell them via a sponsorship programme, or in bulk to organisations and schools, says Lomberg. “We have a website, Facebook and an Instagram page from where we publish requests from organisations and schools looking for donors. We are a proud supporter of the Santa Shoebox Project and have distributed sponsored books to children nationwide via them for the past two years,” she says.
When doing a print run, Hero in my Hood offers branded books to organisations that buy in bulk (1 250 books at R10 each) and have their logos and contact details on the back. For smaller orders, generic covers have a space to place a sticker printed with an organisation’s details too.
“Animal organisations like Mdzananda, SPCA and Four Paws, among others, have used Lucky’s activity book when they go out into communities to run sterilisation and education drives,” says Lomberg.
“We also attend fundraising events, and when available we will team up with an organisation (such as African Tails) and facilitate an education programme in the community. Lucky has been used by teachers in their classrooms, and by a number of schools in their literacy programmes.”
Boyes and Lomberg point out that it costs roughly the same to buy the book as to photocopy it, and most organisations can’t afford to commission a book – this way they buy on demand.
“We will look for sponsors if they are interested in the book – we just need the organisations to say they would like it, then we can approach big business with that,” says Lomberg.
And Boyes adds, “It’s terrible trying to sell something, especially to organisations that are cash strapped. And our topics are all the social ills… We have to remind ourselves that we are not attempting to make a living off taking advantage these welfare programmes, but we are fulfilling the need for education…”