S is for South Africa by Beverley Naidoo, photographs by Prodeepta Das
“When I was a child, our beautiful land was made ugly by racism,” writes longtime author Beverley Naidoo in an introductory note. “Black, brown and white people were forced apart by apartheid (separateness) laws, and children of different colours weren’t allowed to go to the same schools or live next to each other.”
Naidoo, who was born and grew up in Johannesburg, became an early apartheid resistor as a student, and was exiled to England in 1965 in her early 20s. Her brother was already in jail for his underground resistance activities. When she published her first book, Journey to Jo’burg, in 1985 (which won multiple awards in the UK and in the US), it was banned in her home country until 1991, a year after Nelson Mandela was finally released to freedom. She hasn’t stopped writing since.
Given her life experiences, Naidoo’s picture book introducing her native South Africa – part of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books‘ peripatetic “World Alphabet” series – is a celebration of the “rainbow nation” for which she fought and dreamed of. Her colorful alphabet is amplified by Prodeepta Das‘s inclusive frames (whose photos complement his own Frances Lincoln titles, I is for India and Geeta’s Day).
The students of all backgrounds standing together let you know that “A is for Apartheid Museum,” because “all the hate of our grandparents’ past,” is exactly that … the past. “B is for Bunny Chow,” a mouth-watering spicy bean curry, but “E is for Every child whose tummy is empty” in big cities like Soweto where “life is tough for real children living rough.”
“H is for Homes and Hoping for a future where every child has shelter,” with photographs that range from a lush mansion to a shanty town. “O is Our dream. We stitch the words EDUCATION IS LIGHT. Through work and play we dream to unite.”
“U is for uMama and our mothers who give us life. Our grandmothers remind us how they marched for their rights, how, in jail, they drowned the sound of keys jangling in the lock with their singing, “‘When you strike a woman, you strike a rock!'” And lest you forget “W is for Wildlife … they must be cared for and preserved.”
Naidoo proves especially adept at balancing progress with the work yet to be done to create a more equitable nation. She’s certainly witnessed the transition from black/white to color: “It’s not easy to change a country that has been so unequal and unfair, but our ‘rainbow nation’ children are calling for change.” Here’s to her (familiar) rallying cry: “Yes, we can!”
Published: 2011 (United States)