The need for multicultural books and books with female protagonists is rising exponentially as more minority and female children enter the educational system around the world. The book Searching for the Spirit of Spring, written by Mosa Mahlaba, illustrated by Selina Morulane, and designed by Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, is a story of a brave young girl named Nkanyezi who journeys to bring the spirit of spring back to her village in Swaziland. Nkanyezi’s favorite day of the year is the day that her entire village gathers together to celebrate the spring festival. The festival, which is meant to welcome in the spring season and to unite the community is filled with joy, laughter, music, and dance. When Nkanyezi overhears some of the village elders gossiping about how the villagers are not excited for the spring festival this year, she decides that she must act. “The people of Ndlovu have lost their spirit of celebration. How can we have a Spring festival in a village that has forgotten how to celebrate?” With the well wishes of her elders, she adventures off to search for items that can help replenish the spirit of celebration for her village and family. Nkanyezi crosses rivers, climbs mountains, and treks through forests as she journeys across Swaziland in search of this spirit.
While on her quest, Nkanyezi encounters people from other villages who offer her special items that will help her find the missing spirit. Through these encounters, she learns about happiness, generosity, and community, and how the three intertwine.
One of the most fascinating elements of this book is how it was created. It was written and illustrated in June of 2015 in only twelve hours! The creators of this book are part of an organization called Book Dash (an organization that creates and gifts books to children). In June, Book Dash hosted an event with another organization called African Storybook (an organization that promotes multilingual literacy expansion) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together, they arranged teams of forty volunteer writers, illustrators, and designers, to create African story books that are then printed and distributed to children in need for free! This book is also unique in that it is posted for free public use and print . The wonderful people in this organization host book dashes every few months, with their ultimate goal being that “every child should own a hundred books by the age of five.”
This is a fabulous book about a courageous, motivated, and strong young girl who goes on an adventure to bring happiness to people that she loves. It’s a great story for children ages three to six, although children older can still benefit from its beautiful portrayal of selflessness and generosity. The illustrations are beautiful and accurately depict the village of Ndlovu (which is a real village in Swaziland).
If you’re interested in more African story books written by South African authors to introduce in your classroom or to read to your children, they are periodically posted here as they are written. Some of my personal favorites are: Londi: The Dreaming Girl (a girl with a huge imagination), Why is Nita Upside Down? (a girl learning to love herself), and Sizwe’s Smile (the tale of a contagious smile).