Award-Winning Children's Book Author Lesley Beake

This side of my professional life grew naturally from the many book talks I am asked to give at schools.

Writing, Writing for Children and on Children’s Literature

In 2007 and 2009 I gave a series of workshops for adult writers on behalf of Maskew Miller Longman as part of their competition for writers in indigenous languages. This involved a punishing round-the-country programme in most of the nine provinces of South Africa, giving three-hour workshops to up to 30 people in each venue who want to improve their writing skills.

The focus was on excellence in writing for children – and in finding it in published books. Most of the participants had never been exposed to really good, contemporary writing for children. The workshops were divided into sections focusing on aspects that I believe to be critical, particularly the landscape of Africa in story for children here. Excepts were read from books published all over the world, as well as in Africa and a very practical outline was presented of how to go about writing for children today.

A child’s point of view

I developed the ideas from these workshops for a workshop I presented in Dar es Salaam in 2009 for the 9th Pan African Reading Conference, under the auspices of the International Reading Association (IRA).

My Story Our Stories

Another project that involved a nine-province tour was the Every Voice Counts initiative by the Parliamentary Millennium Project (PMP). This very ambitious undertaking wanted to record the thoughts, dreams and hopes of children throughout the country. It involved visits to 26 schools, most of them very rural and extremely disadvantaged. The team visited schools for the deaf (Johannesburg) the severely physically and mentally challenged (Durban) and many schools where there were either no books, or very few. Working with the children to facilitate the stories was an experience that has changed my life.

The printed results were impressive. The stories were first published on a weekly basis in ReadRight (the educational supplement of the national Sunday Times) and then 10.2 million copies were published nationwide in all major newspapers as part of the education recovery programme after the teacher’s strike of 2007. The stories were published in book form by The Parliament of South Africa under the title My Story … Our Stories and launched on 16th September 2009 by Mr J Mahlangu Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (Speaker of the House).

Kalahari Peoples Workshops

After the launch of the Kalahari Peoples Network in 2008 (, it became obvious that we had to also provide basic technology workshops and develop writing skills with the young people who were eagerly wishing to be connected to each other and the rest of the world. Alphabetical literacy alone is not an adequate skills-base for effective use of the Internet.

This is a thrilling task involving working with young people from remote rural areas and involving Afrikaans as well as English language skills. We have completed nine workshops in Northern Cape, Namibia and at the !Khwa ttu Educational and Cultural Centre near Cape Town. Over the years we have seen a steady increase in interest as various NGO projects, including our own, begin to make a difference.

I have acted as facilitator for all of these workshop as well as teaching. The most recent (August 2011) involved three venues, including !Khwa ttu, Living Landscape in Clanwilliam and University of Cape Town. A highlight was a visit to Archbishop Desmond Tutu where our trainees were encouraged to aspire to tertiary education. An article about the workshop, by one of the trainees, can be found at:

Children’s Book Network

In 2012 I co-founded the Children’s Book Network with the aim of encouraging reading skills and promoting a love of books. Since then, we have conducted over twenty-five workshops with children from under resourced areas of the Western Cape. Reports of all these workshops, with many pictures, can be found at

Writing workshops in 2016

Writing workshops for adults wanting to try their hand at writing for children are planned for 2016 in Stanford (near Hermanus, Western Cape). Anyone who is interested in attending should contact Lesley on


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