Q&A with actor and 2020 World Read Aloud Day ambassador Manaka Ranaka

Manaka Ranaka is looking forward to reading aloud to children on February 5.
Manaka Ranaka is looking forward to reading aloud to children on February 5.

Storytelling is a human need. We only have to look at the success of Generations – people tuned in for years to see the latest plot twist. How do you think sharing stories brings us together?

When one shares a story, it results in people gathering together. Telling and sharing stories gives us common ground and a platform for human connection, whether in a taxi to work or at the office, over lunch or with friends. It keeps the people engaging in storytelling, without them even realising they themselves are story tellers. Stories are the result of our innate need as humans to be together.

There are many ways of telling stories. In South Africa, we are used to sharing them orally – at family dinners, on radio or even over the phone. What’s your family’s favourite way to share stories?

In my family we share stories orally most of the time. Whenever we are together somebody always has something to share. Despite living our separate lives, we never let distance stop us from the storytelling, therefore we continue the culture even on social media. We like sharing stories so much we even share our life story as a family on our show, The Ranakas. So I guess whatever platform is given to us to share, then stories shall be shared.

Since books are expensive and hard to find in languages other than English, many South Africans struggle to make them part of their storytelling habits. Organisations like Nal’ibali are working to change this. Why is access to books important for all children and adults?

Access to books is extremely important to children and adults because they are the point of entry to gaining knowledge and, most importantly, a sense of imagination. Imagination really is fundamental to human development.

There’s been a real shift in the past few years to create local stories that reflect the diversity of South African experiences: where and how people really live, the things they can relate to, and all published in a language they speak most comfortably at home. What do you think this effort will mean to young people growing up today?

It all goes back to what I mentioned earlier: imagination. When children are given a chance to use their imagination through reading books, they’re given an opportunity to dream of better circumstances for themselves and others. Now, just imagine being able to do all of that in your preferred language or mother tongue.

World Read Aloud Day is coming soon and we hear you’re going to be involved in spreading stories and excitement. Can you tell us more about what will happen?

It gives me a great feeling to know I’ll be surrounded by children on World Read Aloud Day. As a MoTswana woman who was taught to read, write and speak English and isiZulu fluently, I’m challenging myself to read aloud in a different language: a language that I may have been taught to speak but never taught to read and write in. There’s no learning without making mistakes: practice makes perfect. It’s a great lesson I’d love to leave the children with on that day.

What are some benefits of reading aloud to children?

Among so many other things, it teaches them a very valuable skill, which is to listen.

As a mum of two, you’ll know how hard it can be to find time to read aloud to your children in between work and daily schedules. Do you have tips for making it part of a routine?

As a working single mother, I never seem to have time to read bedtime stories. Despite this, I always find other creative ways to incorporate reading into our daily schedules. We read our shopping lists, school newsletters, and even my TV scripts. Yes, my children help me to learn my lines sometimes.

How can we work toward a future in which local South African books become as popular among children as local soapies?

We can’t deny the fact that we are raising children of the Fourth Industrial Revolution who are into gadgets like cellphones, laptops, tablets and smart TVs. We need to come up with exciting reading-based TV games and take full advantage of popular social media platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp to create secure, exciting reading groups where our children can share and exchange reading material.

Each year Nal’ibali raises awareness about the importance of reading aloud by celebrating World Read Aloud Day and calling on members of the public to help break its read aloud record. This year World Read Aloud Day falls on February 5, and the campaign aims to read aloud to 2-million children. To get your copy of this year’s story in any official South African language and register your read aloud session, visit www.nalibali.org.

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