Interview: Khanya’s First Day At The Park

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Read Time:10 Minute, 33 Second

I was privileged enough to meet Amanda and Nonkululeko at this year’s Comic-Con Africa 2022. They formed part of #KidsCon and they could not be missed. From friendly smiles and bright clothing, I had to speak to them. Turns out, they are co-authors of a new book called Khanya’s First Day At the Park. Based on actual events that they have experienced and motivated by the love of reading and children they set out to tell a unique story. The first, of many to come!

So I took a moment and had to do an interview to get to know these two amazing individuals better and to understand the need for our kids to read more, and to find out more about their book.

Amanda and Nonkululeko, I am so happy to finally be doing this interview with you! I saw you at Comic Con Africa 2022, and you were filled with so much energy and I truly fell in love with your passion for your book. May I ask you to introduce yourselves to my readers?

(A) “Amanda Mahlangu is a businesswoman, author, wife and mother to two children. My passion for education and early development inspired me to write a book for children to help with early development. My goal is to contribute towards helping children read for comprehension, and will do so one-story book at a time.

(N) My passion for storytelling lead me into becoming a children’s book author. I love to share my stories and experience on my personal social media with close friends and family. I am also an entrepreneur and a mother of two children. Having children of my own helped me understand the importance of early childhood development, and I hope to make a difference in education through storytelling.”

Khanya’s first day at the park tells quite a unique story and I understand there is quite a personal experience to the story. What is that experience? What is the story about and how did it come to live for you?

(A) “The book idea came to us during the lockdown. My co-author, Nonkululeko would blog about her day-to-day challenges as a parent during the lockdown on her social media. I was intrigued by how she managed to write her stories and kept us laughing and entertained. I then approached her with the idea for us to write a storybook. We had several Zoom calls discussing our vision and planning out what we would like the book to be about. The decision was to make our first book about senses. A child needed to learn about their senses and experience how they use them in their daily lives.

The experience was inspired by our children and shared experience of parenting during lockdown. More especially my daughter, @unicorn_nothi. She was born just before the lockdown was implemented and was greatly affected by the restrictions which were imposed by the government. She didn’t get an opportunity to experience the outdoors as much as her brother did and all the other children born before the pandemic. Yes, she had access to our yard, but most of her time was spent indoors.

We ended up incorporating what we wanted the book to achieve, with Nothani’s experience. The story is about a little girl who goes to the park for the first time. She is ready to awaken her senses through play at the park. Her discoveries at the park spark great excitement, and she cannot wait to go back to the park.”

How important is it to get out into nature again, as well as to socialise and meet new people in a post-covid-19 world?

(A) “I believe humans are built to be part of a community. Meeting new people is healthy. In the right environment, we learn from each other. Covid-19 disrupted our way of living, children could not understand why they can be kids and play. It is important to get out again, explore, and discover. Nature has so much beauty… from butterflies to rainy days. These can both bring joy to a child.”

What in your own experience, are the benefits of reading? 

(N) “Reading sparks imagination. I notice that when I read to my kids, they become interested. What will happen next, they sometimes get impatient with me. They are eager to hear what the character gets up to. In their minds, they are already imagining what will happen. Reading also introduces kids to new things in their lives. For instance, they can learn about animals, numbers, countries etc. It brings information to kids and makes them aware that the world is exciting and bigger than what they currently know. It opens their world to a lot of possibilities.”

Are we ever too old to learn a new skill? Can reading benefit adults as well?

(N) “No, no person is ever too old to learn a new skill. In our journey as authors, we have met first-time authors like us, but are pensioners. In conversations with these other authors, I realised that we are all on the same learning journey, despite our ages and experiences. Of course, reading benefits adults. In my opinion, more adults should read a book or two and make reading a habit. There is so much of the world we don’t know of, and I believe books carry the knowledge. Just because we are adults now, doesn’t mean we know it all. There are words to learn, adventures to discover and history to familiarise ourselves with. Think about how many cultures are there, cities, and ethnicities there are out there in the world. So, I highly recommend that adults should also read.”

Why are reading, children’s well-being and sharing your happiness with others so important to you? 

(A) “For me, reading allows one to explore without travelling. It can be a breakaway space from the normal lives we live. I want to believe when kids start the habit of reading from an early age, they get exposed to a bigger world that fuels their dreams and goals. You see, reading brings the world to you and one realises how much more they can be. I share my happiness with others to send hope. Our world is full of so much negativity & heartache that we need to escape from it sometimes, to regroup. A good book can help you escape. Remember, happiness does not mean perfection, but hope in a better tomorrow and gratitude for the good in one’s life.”

How would you describe the ideal reader for Khanya’s Book? 

(A) “#KhanyasBook is written in simple yet descriptive English. It is suitable for newborn babies to toddlers that are learning to read. #KhanyasBook wants to inspire children to explore the outdoors and just enjoy nature.”

Writing isn’t easy. It might look easy for some but the fact is you really have to put in the effort to make it work. What has been your process in writing this book and how long did it take you to complete?

(N) “Writing comes easily to us, we usually have a truckload of ideas, and we sometimes have to calm ourselves down. Writing can start with an idea, but the reality to turn your actual idea into a product requires passion, research, dedication and discipline. Do not be afraid to let your imagination run wild. However, you always need to keep in mind the target audience, as this dictates the style and language used in the book.

Amanda and I were not afraid to bounce ideas off each other and work on them. This helped us create a healthy working relationship, as we were always open and honest with our work. So writing can be challenging, you have to have the traits I’ve previously mentioned to succeed.

The process involved extensive research. We were not knowledgeable about publishing and had to take the time to find out what would work best for us. We researched how publishing works in our country, and after weeks of research, we decided to go the self-publishing route as it made sense to us. It has fewer restrictions as opposed to being published by the well-known publishers.

However, the self-publishing journey is challenging as it took us one year to finalise everything and have the book in our hands. The book was officially published in 2021 July. We have had to individually market ourselves and pay for our own marketing. We attend book fairs, markets and events related to literature and children. Not only that, but we open ourselves up to collaborations with other authors as well.”

What did writing this book mean to you with regard to the representation of diverse cultures? I truly believe representation matters, more today than ever before. Seeing yourself and who you are as a person in movies, books, on tv and in adverts is important. 

(N) “Choosing what our characters should look like was a very important part of the process for us. From the race and the type of hair, we wanted Khanya to have. We had numerous conversations regarding that, and we were intentional about our final decision. Representation is crucial, especially for children.

Amanda and I know what it’s like to grow up in a world whereby we didn’t see people like ourselves being represented positively in various spaces. I remember reading books we got from school and not seeing someone like myself, playing with dolls and watching cartoons that didn’t represent other nationalities. We wanted to ensure that kids grow to see themselves in book characters.

We want different characters in books to be a norm for all kids. Representation has the potential to create a new norm for us all. We plan to represent more children and backgrounds in our upcoming books.”

You also mentioned to me that you enjoy visiting centres to physically read and spend time with children. Can you tell me more about that? 

(N) “That is correct. We have established an organisation called Read Aloud Book Corner. What we aim to achieve, under our organisation, is to help reshape the literature space amongst our communities by making reading fashionable and creating awareness around reading. Our first project is making a difference through reading. What we do is, identify ECD (Early Childhood Development) centres, children’s hospitals and children’s homes in disadvantaged communities. We then schedule reading sessions to encourage kids to read and to awaken their imaginations.

Through kind-hearted sponsors who purchase our books for charity, we are able to donate a few copies of our book to the organisations previously mentioned.

This cause is very great to our hearts, as we have children of our own who are still very young. In South Africa, 78% of children in grade 4 cannot read for meaning. This is a devastating statistic. Through our work, we want to make reading a norm and not a chore. This is why we want to get our book in as many children’s hands as possible. Every child deserves to own a book.

We encourage people to help join our cause. They can do so by purchasing books from us, to donate to deserving children. Alternatively, they can donate their pre-loved books to us, and we will continue to donate to children who will make use of the books.”

Amanda, Nonkululeko… you are both truly inspiring. Your energy is contagious and I am excited to see what you have planned next. Are you planning anything special for Khanya’s journey? 

(N) “Thank you so much for giving us a platform to share our journey and story with you and your audience. We hope your readers are inspired and reach out to us to further continue the work we have started. I appreciate the time you have put into your well-thought-out questions.”

(A) “Thank you for those kind words. Our customers have been asking about a Khanya’s First series, so we are busy playing around with that idea. For now, we are working on having the book available in other South African languages, so we welcome collaborations to help us see it through.”

You can contact Amanda and Nonkuleleko as per below:

You can also follow their journey via Instagram by FOLLOWING them below:

Amanda: Instagram.com/amzy_a3 | Nonkululeko: Instagram.com/nkuli_nono

or by following their Facebook Page

-End-

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Shaun Zietsman https://www.thesomethingguy.co.za

Blogger and Content Creator from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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    Awesome article, I’ve always loved reading which resulted in me being that uncle who always bought my nephews and nieces books as gifts and now my 18month daughter has a booming collection…I can’t wait to add “Khanyas first day at the park” to the collection.

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