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Re-Imagining the District Six Children’s Book Festival

notes on how we are cancelling a festival and starting a movement


Friends of the Otto Foundation know that we have been planning a District Six Children’s Book Festival – scheduled to be hosted on the Zonnebloem College Estate from 29 to 30 May 2020.

We have gathered children’s book authors for readings. We have commissioned a play. We invited the smartest people we know to participate in panels to discuss writing for South African children, how to promote reading for enjoyment, and how to inspire caregivers to create a reading environment at home.

Publisher- and bookseller friends have agreed to bring their most exciting local books to be sold at the festival. We’ve launched a “design-a-story-booth” competition. We have started to invite schools to participate in a Book Quiz. In partnership with educators and literacy organisations, we have devised a plethora of reading and literacy-related games and activities for children. Innovators in the literacy space have asked to come and showcase their approaches to solving the literacy challenge.

The challenge

Like every event organiser in South Africa (and the rest of the world), we are now faced with the question of whether we can or should continue with the festival in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At present, gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited. We do not know how long these restrictions will remain in place. The ‘State of Disaster’ is in place for three months. But it may be suspended or extended at any time.

What we do know is that, in the short to medium term, all South Africans must work together to encourage social distancing, and to avoid large gatherings – however good the reason for bringing people together.

Our ‘Thuma Mina’ decision

The Otto Foundation team has decided to re-imagine the District Six Children’s Book Festival.

We are not going ahead with the plans for the two-day event at the end of May.

We love to bring people together, and to mobilise community involvement in the promotion of literacy and reading. BUT at the present time this is not in the best interest of our communities.

We have, however, not lost our commitment to bringing South Africans together through stories and reading, and to keep exploring ways in which to promote reading for enjoyment.

We have therefore decided to RE-IMAGINE the festival as a series of smaller events that will be scheduled and promoted as we gain greater certainty about South Africa’s situation as it relates to Covid-19, and the important and necessary restrictions placed on gathering and movement – in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

The #READTODREAM campaign

In the parlance of the Western Cape Reading Strategy, we are definitely IN ‘Team Read’.

We are working on some strategies to turn the planned festival events and activities into elements of a #READTODREAM campaign which we can roll out over a longer period, and in a socially responsible way.

Some events will move to online platforms.

We have exciting ideas for re-imagining kid-friendly events as “quarantainment” for parents who will be spending a lot of time at home with their little ones over the next month.

We will keep a close eye on changes in movement and gathering restrictions, and will schedule workshop style activities (for which gathering/ contact cannot be avoided) when it is safe, and when our friends are comfortable to meet in person again.

We will keep you posted

If we have engaged with you previously on participating in the Book Festival, a member of the Otto Foundation Team will be in touch soon to chat about how your role could/ may be adapted for our new reality. This is a re-imagining in progress.

Thank you for your ongoing enthusiasm and patience. If you have any questions or concerns (or ideas on how to drive this movement!), please get in touch with a member of our team:

Zephne Ladbrook, CEO -

Frouwien Bosman, COO -

Nonikiwe Mashologu, Literacy Director –

The best way to make sure that you do not miss any element of the #READTODREAM campaign, is to follow us on social media: @ottofoundation on Instagram, and @ottofoundationSA on Facebook

Onwards and upwards

These are unusual times. But we are an unusual organisation. With an unusually creative network of friends and partners.

It is not the event that we originally envisioned. But we think that the #READTODREAM campaign could be something extraordinary. Dream to read with us!

Onwards and upwards,

The Otto Foundation Team


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