Stories are potent. We have seen proof of this over again through time. From Nazi Germany to apartheid South Africa there have been numerous instances where authors and storytellers were banned, and books burnt because of the power that words and stories hold. Stories create hope for the future. And it is that hope, that potency that South Africa needs right now.

No one has been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. The past two years of shared trauma and loss have accentuated a need for more stories and for more storytellers to reignite imagination and hope.

Traditional logic assumes we need more successful people who should be able to “fix” things. But in truth, globally, we are all in need of healing and restoration. In his book on ecological literacy, David Orr says: “We desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”

But, for stories to help more people, we need more storytellers sharing more stories in more languages. We need storytellers to help us reflect, tap into our collective consciousness and imagine new realities for ourselves. Sceptics may ask how we intend to raise readers, story lovers and storytellers in South Africa, a country with shocking literacy statistics. The answer is quite simple: we start slowly, story by story, family by family, and community by community. Creating a habit takes time and dedication. For our children to fall in love with stories and become readers one story at a time, starting, if they are lucky enough, on the laps of their loved ones, we need families and adults to dedicate regular time to this practice.

The benefits of reading aloud as a family are endless. It builds bonds, it fosters empathy, improves attention spans, it improves literacy skills and it gives children the literacy foundation they need to develop their reading and writing skills — and to imagine and create their futures.

When asked about my journey to becoming an author and storyteller, I always go back to when my father guided me through the majestic doors of the Johannesburg City Library. I was given a library tour, taught how to look for and handle books and given my first library card. I knew that I had found my safe space. Stories were a source of light in my life. There were the stories I read in books from family, friends and the library, and those I was told as we got ready for bed.

My early relationship with stories paved a positive future for me and, I believe that for the power of stories to come alive for all children, they should be able to imagine themselves in the material they consume. I also believe that books and stories must be available in languages they can understand and relate to.

It is this need that compelled me to work with Nal’ibali, South Africa’s reading-for-enjoyment campaign, on its 2022 World Read Aloud Day story. Each year Nal’ibali issues a new story in all 11 official South African languages before calling on the public to join them in reading it aloud to children on the same day.

It was an honour to be asked to write the official story, and I wanted to create one that not only reflects the celebratory mood of the campaign’s 10th annual World Read Aloud Day celebration, but one that shows the diverse cultures and languages. In addition to the 11 official languages, the story is also available in Chichewa, French, Lingala, Portuguese, Shona and Swahili, all of which are widely spoken in South Africa.

I wish there had been stories like this when I was young. But, because I can’t travel back in time, the next best thing I can do is help ensure that today’s children can read great and representative stories, and encourage people like you to bring these stories into our communities so that we can find our way back to health, hope and possibility.

Mabel Mnensa is the 2022 author and ambassador of the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign’s World Read Aloud Day celebration. Help Mnensa and Nal’ibali read her special story to three million children on Wednesday, 2 February. Visit or WhatsApp ‘WRAD’ to 060 044 2254 to make a pledge and get the free story in any official South African language or one of six additional intercontinental languages.

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