Lauren Beukes shines at school’s literacy centre

City Bowl author Lauren Beukes.

Prestwich Primary School pupils are joining children all over the country to help illustrate City Bowl author Lauren Beukes’ new book.

Grade 2 pupils who attend the Shine Centre reading programme on the school’s premises were given the chance to let their imaginations run wild as Ms Beukes read out poems from her first children’s work, Book of Unbelievable Beasties.

Ms Beukes has created 20 monsters in the book and the children were invited to draw them, bringing the creatures to life.

“It’s a collaborative project and that is something very exciting for me,” said Ms Beukes.

“When I do animation I find the amazing thing is when you hand it over to someone else, give them the words and tell them to draw what they think. They come up with the most amazing things.”

Ms Beukes said the Shine Centre was an important initiative and that it was good to get children reading from a young age.

She said stories were how we understand the world. “It gives us empathy and a way of experiencing something outside ourselves. For kids reading is about a pleasure, joy and an escape.

“But it is also really about learning about the world in a very engaging way. It’s about being able to let their imaginations go and we all need that.”

Ms Beukes said she had worked in children’s animation for a long time and enjoyed this project as her novels were usually dark.

Prestwich Primary School principal, Mahdi Samodien, said the Shine Centre volunteers helped their pupils who had difficulty reading.

He said the pupils at the school came from predominantly disadvantaged communities where Xhosa was the mother tongue.

The children had to learn to think, read and speak in a language which was foreign to them.

“The parents want their pupils to learn English. Parents send them here to learn the language so they can be equipped better.”

Mr Samodien said the Shine Centre volunteers made a huge difference in the children’s lives.

“They mentor these little ones… the children see these volunteers as a beacon of light and taking a personal interest in them.

“They know the volunteers and develop camaraderie with them. In that sense I feel that the centre makes a huge difference.

“It’s also about getting out of the classroom situation and a chance not just to read but to show there is somebody that can make a difference to them. It’s a major help.

“The centre also brings resources and books and the kids are able to take these books home and develop a culture of reading. The Shine Centre fills that gap that the state can’t and also makes a difference in the morale of educators,” he said.

Hanli van Aswegen, project co-coordinator at the Shine Centre, said the organisation started in 2000 and was officially established as an NGO in 2007. “We set up Shine Centres like the one here (at Prestwich Primary School) and work on a volunteer basis.

“We have an hour-long programme called the Shine Literacy Hour. We read books and play games and it is a safe place for the children that come here and get individual attention.

“Lauren is so passionate about the creativity side and we also feel strongly about that. We want children to feel at ease and comfortable. She is reading these beautiful poems to them and they can let their imaginations run wild.

“They can be free to let their creative expression go. Lauren is passionate about literacy and getting books into children’s homes.”

For more information about Shine Centre and three-hour training session for volunteers, visit their website at www.shineliteracy.org.za

* The Book of Unbelievable Beasties project with Ms Beukes is open to children between the ages of six and 12 across South Africa. Parents can download an entry form from www.bostik.co.za, read one of the rhymes and let their children create magical creatures.