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The little book making a big mark

Most people in Botswana know Jenny Robson as an exceptional music teacher. She has been teaching music to children in Botswana for 40 years, first in Orapa and now in Maun.

Some of her most famous students include Bontekanye Botumile, who has gone on to be a writer, storyteller, and stage performer; the very well-known singer Brando; and the actor and singer Lebogang David Motubudi, who among others starred in the Matisong production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. In South Africa, though, Robson is best known as a writer for children and teens, books primarily written in Botswana where she has lived most of her life. Her books have been read in schools in South Africa for many years. Among her many published books is a little book that is making big waves overseas titled Balaclava Boy.

Balaclava Boy is about a new boy who has agreed to go to school but only if he can wear a balaclava the entire time. The teacher allows it, but the other children are intrigued about why this boy feels the need to cover his face. Eventually the kids get used to the balaclava and become friends with the boy. The secret about the balaclava is revealed at the end along with some lessons about tolerance and friendship.

Balaclava Boy has received many accolades. In an article titled, “Great Books for Younger Readers this Summer” on the Life Parenting website, the book was recommended with this: “…try Balaclava Boy by Jenny Robson, one of the best books about tolerance and friendship that I’ve read in a long time.”

On Gobblyfunked, a great website that reviews children’s books, it says about Balaclava Boy: “The reason for Tommy’s balaclava is eventually uncovered, and the book

delivers a sweet message about how sometimes it is easier to hide behind a mask, thus hiding our true selves, whether it is a balaclava (let’s hope not) or something entirely different…Overall, it is a lovely book and the illustrations dotted throughout are enough to give the reader a break, while being just sparse enough not to detract attention from the story.”

Balaclava Boy was chosen as a prescribed book in South Africa for Grade 7. The rights for the book have now been bought by publishers in the Republic of Ireland, Germany, and South Korea. In Germany and Ireland its title is Tommy Mütze. This is Robson’s third book that has been published in Germany and translated into German.

In 2013, Tommy Mütze was shortlisted for Germany’s most important literary prize for children’s’ books, the Deutschen Jugendliteratuurpreis (German Youth Lit Prize). There were only three books on the shortlist so this was quite an honour.

And thanks to Balaclava Boy, Robson has now been invited to Berlin in September to take part in the 17th International Literature Festival Berlin and to be part of the very prestigious event called the International Children’s and Young Adult Literature section.  Unlike the other big German literary festival, Frankfurt, Berlin is not about making deals; it is all about the literature. The children’s programme especially is highly regarded. Only 15 writers and illustrators from around the world are invited to participate.

We wait and see how far this little book will go, but I anticipate it still has a long road to travel.


Its all I write



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