Cause Index

Book Dash

Book Dash gathers volunteer creative professionals to create new, African storybooks that anyone can freely translate and distribute.

We have a problem to solve together:

Imagine your childhood with no books. No heroes, no dreams, no magical worlds. No secret ambitions or new discoveries. Your family has no money, and food and clothing are always more urgent than books. This is the reality for 4 out of 5 children.

‘In societies where there is no or little culture of book sharing … book sharing interventions could be of profound benefit to child intellectual development.’ —Vally et al, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2014; research from Mexico, Bangladesh, and South Africa

Without the heroes and dreams in stories, we cannot aspire to greatness. Without reading, we struggle with vocab, comprehension, and concentration.
This has created a country stuck in inertia and illiteracy. It is a national crisis and our collective shame. We can change this by giving away large numbers of high-quality storybooks to parents and young children.

Giving parents and very young children good books to read together boosts vocabulary, comprehension, and attention spans, which are correlated with higher IQ and better career prospects. (Vally et al. 2014)

Books that children take home:

Every one of us can help to give lots of free books to very young children. Most importantly, these books should be:

* new, African stories
* with characters they recognise
* in languages they speak
* beautiful enough to love for a lifetime.

Too often, literacy organisations have to:

* spend large amounts at commercial publishers
* settle for low-quality books
* make do with imported stories
* use up scarce resources creating their own materials
* let children only borrow books, and never own them.

How new books get to children:

There are two sides to getting new, better books into children’s hands:

* Book creation: writing, illustration and design, guided by an editor. (Output: print and digital files than anyone can download and share.)
* Book distribution: printing, delivering and handing out. (This includes reading on mobile phones.)

Book Dash creates books. We help others distribute them.

Beautiful books in one amazing day:

On a Book Dash Day, we gather volunteer teams of skilled creative professionals to create new children’s storybooks.

* Each team has a writer, an illustrator, and a designer.
* The teams have twelve hours to create one book per team.
* We provide expert editors, tech support, a great venue, great food and lots of coffee.
* Working in solidarity, the room buzzes with creative energy and inspiration.

‘We all did something extraordinary there that day. We put aside our egos, our doubts and our own personal agendas and we gave everything else we had to bring the joy of reading to our small people.’ —Melissa Fagan, writer and Book Dash volunteer

Book Dash books are special:

What sets Book Dash books apart?

* Our teams create new, African stories in local languages (on the day or translated by our partner organisations).
* Committed volunteers bring their A-game. Read our books to see the world-class quality for yourself.
* Real-time teamwork knits writing, illustration and design together powerfully – almost impossible in lengthy, traditional publishing workflows.
* Our work is our gift to the world: everything is open-licensed (‘Creative Commons Attribution’) so that anyone can download, translate, print, and distribute it afterwards. Already our books are being reused in print and digital forms around South Africa and beyond.

This makes Book Dash the cheapest way to give great books to little children.

The magic of print and the power of mobile:

We love books in print: there is magic in holding a paper book.

We love digital books: parents and children can read on their phones anywhere for free.

Book Dash books are both print-ready and online in mobile-optimised HTML. This and their open licence means they have exponential impact. Within our first year, our books are being distributed and tested by the African Storybook Project, Nal’ibali (in national newspaper supplements),, Worldreader, FunDza, Biblionef, and others.