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2021 - a Year in Review

The Otto Foundation has been streamlining its projects and funding to focus on the design of relational, educational, social and literary interventions to strengthen the reading culture at our schools.

This year was different from previous operational years. It was the first year in a while that we were not actively designing or building a new library. (Although we have been planning and setting the scene for our next library!).

Even though this year was yet again defined by modified social behaviour and other challenges due to the pandemic we are very proud of the work we have done in partnership with our librarians, school staff, parents and collaborators.

We are delighted to share some highlights with you.

Library monitors and book buddies

The Otto Foundation, our librarians and teachers identified children who are passionate about literacy and appointed them as Library Monitors/ Reading Champions - a leadership platform through which they were guided to serve our libraries and younger learners.

Reading Champions organised Book Buddy sessions in which little teams of learners from different ages explored the library and read books together. This is not only a healthy and constructive form of affirmation, it also provides learners with peer role models for reading behaviour. In addition, this book bonding fosters positive relationships between learners of different ages.

A new reading room at Zonnebloem NEST

We established a Reading Room at Zonnebloem NEST High School in partnership with the Protea Education Trust. The Reading Room hosts a great selection of age-appropriate, locally and culturally relevant books. The space is also used for counselling sessions and intimate drama classes. We hope the books and the new environment will be a friend to children in sad times and in happy times.

Strengthening reading bonds

The Otto Foundation recognises the importance of collaboration in raising self-motivated readers. We continually work to develop programmes and establish avenues to connect with caregivers to encourage their involvement in developing a reading culture at home. We send engaging reading-focused activity sheets home with learners regularly. These activities encourage caretakers and children to read books , share stories, talk about books, and to play-portray some scenes from books together.

We created a reading journal

The Reading Journey was born from our strategic priority to promote, nourish and cultivate a love for reading among children. We believe that reading is a powerful tool that will help shape children's lives and expand their understanding of the world and their place in it. The journal is interactive and strikes a balance between instructional scaffolding and open-ended prompts - an activity combination that we hope will encourage both mindful reading and joyous creativity.

Poems for the Afrikaans version of the journal (Reis met Woorde) were written in collaboration with Philip de Vos.

'n ATKV Woordveertjie

Die Otto Stigting het 'n ATKV Woordveertjie toekenning ontvang vir die werk wat ons doen om leesgenot te bevorder. Ons is verheug oor die toekenning en dankbaar vir die erkenning wat ons werk ontvang het.

Pen pal project

For our letter-writing campaign, we shared books and stories about how letters can connect people, and we meticulously matched pen pals from different schools to exchange handwritten letters. Children mailed their letters in child-friendly, custom made postboxes and the Otto Foundation "postman" picked up and delivered mail between our libraries. This was a great way for children to develop their writing skills, and to learn about the perspectives of others.

Author readings

We are grateful that we could safely host digital author readings at our libraries. What a privilege welcome a wide array of brilliant storytellers to our libraries and introduce them to our learners.

Thank you to every author who shared their stories with our learners!

Author Kate DiCamillo once noted that when someone lovingly reads to us, "we exist together in a little patch of warmth and light." Book critic Megan Cox Gurdon recently wrote that: "A miraculous alchemy takes place when one person reads to another, one that converts the ordinary stuff of life - a book, a voice and a bit of time - into astonishing fuel for the heart, mind and the imagination." We saw this in action during our author readings!

Book review programme

Our book review programme encouraged learners to be deliberate, reflective readers. Writing a book review is an exercise in developing agency. Children are active and influential societal agents. We therefore feel that it is essential to expose them to activities, exercises and conversations that strengthen their self-knowing and their sense of control and influence over their lives and choices.


We introduced custom made puzzles with empowering and affirming themes at all of our libraries. The puzzles were a hit! Librarians have shared that children rush to the library to build puzzles between classes.

Classroom book nooks and teacher bookshelves

Children are more likely to read for joy when they have strong reading role models. We know that teachers play a very important role in shaping the thinking and behaviour of our learners. We have therefore been working with our schools to create little informal libraries/ book exchanges for our teachers. We know teachers have a lot on their plates, but when they do have a quiet moment, we want them to know where they can find something interesting to read!

We have been overwhelmed by the reaction to these shelves that have been set up in places where the teachers spend a lot of time - be that a centrally located school library, a staff room, or the office of a kind principal! Teachers are bringing books from home to share with colleagues, have requested books to be added to the shelves and are actively sharing and discussing stories with their colleagues. A win for general happiness, a win for the schools’ reading cultures, and a win for our learners who see positive reading behaviours modelled by teachers that they know and admire.

We also continue to expand our network of classroom book nooks to surround children with books outside of the library environment.


Dress up and Dream

Role-playing is a fantastic early learning tool. It boosts creativity, builds vocabulary, enhances communication skills, fosters empathy and social skills and allows kids to act out and make sense of real-life situations. We let the learners choose their outfits and props, and develop their personas. They get the opportunity to share their stories - their likes and dislikes, what they get up to, and what makes them special. We loved their stories. Children always manage to surprise you!

Thank you very much to Narri and her team at @costume_joy for going above and beyond with the dress-up kit, and to everyone who donated items for our dress-up boxes.

The Sonke Story Quiz

We hosted our annual Sonke Story Quiz in December. Teams from Zonnebloem Girls, Zonnebloem Boys, Walmer Estate, and Holy Cross Primary Schools competed in a quiz based on a selection of proudly South African Books. The quiz day was festive and super competitive - with the team from Zonnebloem Girls' Primary School successfully defending their title.

Teacher Appreciation Day

It takes a big heart to help shape little minds. Our team sees so many big hearts in action at our schools every day. We acknowledge and appreciate our teachers, for the care, love, skill and dedication that they put into the education of our learners. To thank and celebrate our educators, we compiled a special gift box filled with custom and locally produced items.

Still I Rise online Exhibition

We were invited by Still I Rise (an independent international organisation, created to provide education and protection for the vulnerable) to participate in an online exhibition in celebration of Gratitude Month.

Read To Dream swag

To promote reading as an activity of value we created Read to Dream branded items (including badges, t-shirts, notebooks and tote bags) that we shared with our learners and teachers.

Writing competitions

Our teachers told us that they believe competitions would provide an additional incentive for children to explore reading and writing. Our writing competition was open to learners from four schools. Learners could write about anything that shows how powerful words can be.

Library lessons

Library lessons bring our libraries to life! The lesson plans we design aim to open up the world of books to children. Fun and engaging activities, facilitated by our librarians, encourage introspection, and an exchange of information and opinions. We share our library lessons with a large network of librarians through our partnership with The Bookery.

Reading Relay

We introduced a Reading Relay to test and curiously assess how many learners in our schools can read the same book over a period of two months. The goal was to encourage learner to read by recognising and rewarding positive reading behaviours, to create peer reading role models for reluctant readers and to encourage conversations about books between learners.

Cape Leopard Trust isiXhosa book translation

The Otto Foundation supported the Cape Leopard Trust to produce a Xhosa translation of conservation-themed children’s book, “Footprints in the Fynbos”.

New team members

We have welcomed two new team members this year. Xanelé Purén (Manager: Placemaking and Design) joined our team at the beginning of 2021 to help us design child-centred infrastructure and reading activities. Pam Hoffman is joining us in January 2022. Pam is an experienced teacher and curriculum expert. She will be working with our librarians to ensure that library lessons support curriculum outcomes and are aligned to reading practice in the classroom.

Onwards and upwards into 2022

The children at our schools are now on holiday and we look forward to joining them soon!

We are very excited about what lies ahead in 2022.

There is a new library in the pipeline, we will continue to serve our children and supplement teachers' work through high quality curriculum aligned library programmes, we are officially launching our reading journal, and we are working with new and existing partners to keep strengthening the reading culture at our schools and promote reading for enjoyment.

Thank you to every person who worked with us this year to nurture a love for reading among children.

Onwards and upwards,

The Otto Foundation Team


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