With between us a background in Science, Psychology and Media Studies and a shared passion for humanity, human stories, empathy and healing - we considered ways to step into the children's literacy space and use books as tools to spark important conversations around difference.
We wanted to work towards seeing the beautiful mix of children in South Africa, engaging with books in which they could see themselves, as well as those different to them, reflected. And, beyond that, we wanted to create spaces to talk about these differences and learn together.
We wondered how we could offer up a stream of thinking and a collection of stories that could assist in shaping young minds and hearts to be open and curious towards one another, rather than cementing barriers between one another because of a lack of understanding or intolerance to difference.
The resistance to putting ourselves out there was strong but the pull towards what we wanted to share and offer others was stronger and eventually, we gave in to it, sinking into the overwhelm, doing what we could when we could and we continue taking steps forward together.
So here we are, a collective of introverts, sensitively woven together observers who have largely avoided conflict in life. We find ourselves connecting and starting The Book Haven with a focus on tackling some of the most contested topics in the world.
Meet the team
I’m a born and raised Durban girl. I went to school here, university here and worked here. I ventured out for a few tours and travels over the years but always landed back in the 031. I grew up as the eldest of 3 children, under the roof of a teacher and an ex- pro soccer player turned paper sales merchant. Our home was filled with love and complexities – like any other home. In my journey towards self-awareness I realised our household didn’t have big conversations much and I had a questioning mind but, along the way I found people to question with and learn from. I realised that I have a vast and diverse network of people that have hugely impacted my life. People that view the world through a wide variety of different lenses and journeying through life with and around this collection of individuals has really shaped my thinking.
After my schooling journey, I worked at a private university where a colleague and I ran the community engagement program and exposed and encouraged students to get involved in the variety of community development and social impact opportunities that are out there. This is where I learnt a lot. I built relationships with individuals and organisations that had devoted their lives to all sorts of inspiring work uplifting others.
I crossed paths with Anne initially in that first year of parenting (that can be a tough year right?), at a parent/child group. My child was consistently drawn to hers - mostly to try and pull his gorgeous hair while I ran interference on this. Anne's gracious nature shone through from day 1. Fast forward a couple of years, coffees and conversations and we bring you The Book Haven - where we hope you will find community, with us and others. We hope you will find community with other families and individuals from all walks of life. A community that is rich in diversity and difference. A community in which you will feel seen, held and accepted as you are.
I have a child who asks a lot of questions. A lot of them meaningful or purposeful. Only recently my husband and I were asked how monks get monk babies. A question that packs the punch of a great deal of information, right? And no, this is not the start of a story about my child, it sets up the context to mine.
I was born the last of four children in Nairobi, to a Kenyan father and a Ugandan mother. I moved to Cape Town, South Africa when I was 28 years old to pursue postgraduate studies in Astrophysics, which I continue to teach. It is in Cape Town that I met my husband who is from India, and we have since made a home in Durban with our child.
Now, take this glimpse of a description of my family background and dynamics and circle back to the start of this story, to my curious and inquisitive child. If it's not race, its skin colour, religion, ethnic grouping, gender, nationality, or something else.
Every single question that has come my way has challenged me to continuously unlearn, learn and relearn the lens through which I view, relate and experience my life, and that of my child. My child’s story is different from mine in so many ways, yet our stories merge in our relationship and experiences together, and in the knowledge that I once was a child. It’s also a story that is representative of many. It is the reason why I have intentionally made it part of my story to advocate that our differences lift our world, and are the essence of what makes humanity whole.
Then came that conversation with my wonderful friend Leigh before attending an open day for a potential school for our children, while having what has become our proverbial cup of coffee. A conversation that we are now narrating as The book haven, to use books to create experiences in which children see, find themselves and show up authentically. It’s our combined story, Leigh and I, and we are inviting your shared experiences to narrate it with.
My siblings consist of eight individuals ranging from the ages of 42 and 60 years. The difference between the first six children is pretty much a staircase. For some strange reason, my parents broke with the pattern and went on a 6-year hiatus after the sixth child was born - creating a six-year difference between the sixth born and the 7th born. My older siblings tend to describe my family as part one and part two. Part one consists of the first 6, and part two the last three. I am the 7th born. Being in the latter group, my other two subling's idea of fun was rough play and pretend hunting, which I didn't find appealing.
Fun for me would have been hanging out with my older siblings every single waking hour. But because we lived on a farm in rural Kenya, those fun times were few and far between. Since when they were not in school, the older ones helped with chores around the farm, I learnt at a very early age to find alternative ways of entertainment, through books.
Books provided me with a sweet escape from the tedium of rural living. I read anything I could get my hands on - which in my house consisted of an odd assortment of books that my father had. Two that stand out in my memory were a book on Vikings and a book on first aid. To this day, I remember the odd bits of information I gleaned from them - like the ingenuity of the Viking ships and what one did if a friend's leg fractured while out in the middle of nowhere. The opening of a well-stocked council library in the town near my home fed my thirst for knowledge through books. The library unequivocally became the highlight of my young life.
I discovered books by authors aimed at young readers. For example, Enid Blyton with the famous five and secret seven series, Carolyn
Keene with Nancy Drew and, Franklin W. Dixon with Hardy Boys. These authors introduced me to worlds vastly different from mine. Through these books, I had new experiences and visited exciting new worlds. However, as I spent copious amounts of time in my newly discovered worlds, I searched relentlessly for characters that might have looked like me. I wondered if fairies could be found in our little backyard forest on my parents’ land. And why not? If these were indeed magical creatures, why couldn’t they be in any place? Why wouldn’t Santa know where I lived? Maybe he did not visit because no one in my family slept early enough on Christmas eve? No one in my circle of family, friends or others seemed to have the answers.
It was not until much later, when I tried to introduce my children to the same authors that I had fallen in love with when I realised many of these books lacked representational balance. For one, characters that might have looked like me were, for the most part, missing. When present, they were either negatively or inadequately represented. Also, places and activities that I was familiar with were not present in these books. In short, I did not see myself or my geographical space represented in these books.
Often time I would have long conversations around the topic of problematic representation with my best friend Anne. We realised that things needed to change for all children: when books do not represent everyone accurately, everyone is deprived regardless of their background and lived experiences. We always hoped that someone would address this gap. It was not until much later that we realised that, that someone would have to be us.
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