The production profile and patterns of picture and illustrated children’s books in South Africa in the 21st century (2000–2020)

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The world we live in is constantly changing, resulting in new challenges. A number of factors impact trade publishing, such as the educational market (the largest sector in the publishing industry), economic constraints (poverty, unemployment, the weak South African rand, high printing costs, value added tax (VAT) on books, transformation shifts in the publishing industry (take-overs, mergers, closures), illiteracy and low literacy levels (pointed out in numerous PIRLS reports), the lack of a reading culture and reading for pleasure, the library market (shortage of school libraries and underfunding for community libraries) and access to books and book shops.

Over the past decades, there have been numerous developments in the children’s books industry. In an in-depth literature review it was learnt that book publishing plays an important role in any literary system and can be regarded as a mirror reflecting changes in the political, social, economic and cultural systems. Picture and illustrated books have a unique place in children’s literature and constitute a distinguishable subsystem in the literary system.

The publishing scenario of South African children’s books published in the 21st century is not well documented. Various attempts have been made over the years to compile bibliographies of South African children’s books. These lists provide valuable information on the publishing of South African children’s books. However, no comprehensive list of South African picture and illustrated books published since 2000 could be traced. The purpose of this study is to fill this gap and give prominence to this field by providing a statistical mapping of the material production of picture and illustrated books.

Statistical-quantitative empirical research is used as research method. A production profile of South African children’s picture and illustrated books provides evidence of the publishing history of children’s books. The production profile takes the form of an enumerative bibliography, compiled as a database. An enumerative bibliography lists precisely what was published in a given time frame or genre, or by a particular author and illustrator. Bibliographies are the foundation of publishing studies. The research design for collecting and analysing data is a bibliometric study. Bibliometric studies are used to assess different levels of productivity. The question to be addressed is: How can the compilation of a production profile of South African children’s picture and illustrated books for the period from 2000 to 2020 be utilised to determine certain production patterns in this genre? The common definition of children’s literature includes books for the 0–12 years age group, but to make the research feasible, it was delimited to picture and illustrated books for the 0–9 years group.

A theoretical framework is part of the research method and is needed to conceptualise and contextualise the research. To investigate publishing and production after 2000, one needs to understand the publishing history before 2000. The theoretical framework of this research is a literature review of the publishing history of South African children’s books, the production of children’s literature in the framework of the literary system and picture and illustrated books as subsystem in South African children’s literature. Developments in the publishing industry link directly to the broader South African history of colonialism, apartheid and the transition to democracy. South Africa has, in comparison with developed countries, only a small number of children’s book publishers. South Africa is, however, the most prolific publisher of children’s books in Africa.

The findings provide historical insight into the nature, developments and production patterns of picture and illustrated children’s books in the first two decades of the 21st century. Towards the end of the 20th century, the publishing industry in general was at a low level. The production landscape is developing and changing. The local trade market publishing is growing slowly, although the educational market is the largest sector in the South African publishing industry. Apart from the traditional prominent picture and illustrated book publishers such as LAPA, Human & Rousseau and Tafelberg, other publishers such as Bumble Book, Fantasi, Imagnary House, Jacana, Naledi and Protea Boekhuis have invested in this market. A large number of self-publishers contribute to this market. It was found that picture and illustrated books make up 68% of children’s literature (0–12 years) published since 2000.

A relatively small number of authors make a substantial contribution to this genre and were responsible for a quarter of all titles published. The most prolific authors during this period are Jaco Jacobs, Wendy Maartens, Niki Daly, Louise Smit, Fanie Viljoen, Carole Bloch, Martie Preller, Anna Emm, Wendy Hartmann and Sindiwe Magona. The most prolific illustrators are Johann Strauss, Vian Oelofsen, Niki Daly, Elanie Bieldt, Chris Venter, Joan Rankin, Marjorie van Heerden, Alex van Houwelingen, Piet Grobler and Zinelda McDonald. Some producers are the author as well as the illustrator of a title. More authors and illustrators of different cultural groups are entering this market, but they do not publish in indigenous languages. There is a huge underrepresentation of black authors and illustrators in this industry.

It was found that South African publishing does not reflect the demographic composition in South Africa, as it caters predominantly for the Afrikaans and English markets. Afrikaans remains influential. 35% of books are published in Afrikaans, although it is spoken by only 10,6% of the population (2023 Statistics). Most of the internationally translated children’s trade books have also been translated into Afrikaans. Indigenous children’s books in English face competition from imported literature in English.

Translations play a significant role in the publishing of picture and illustrated books. There are two categories of translations: local publications translated into other languages, and international publications translated and published locally. Original locally published books make up 52% of the total production of picture and illustrated books and 48% are translations of titles originally published in other countries. Almost a third of locally published books are translated into other official South African languages.

Traditional social and cultural borders are being crossed in children’s literature. Cultural and racial diversity in society is notable in picture and illustrated books. Previously ignored controversial issues are now common.

This study contributes to an understanding of the important role of different role players in the production of picture and illustrated books and provides valuable information on the development of the publishing of picture and illustrated books in the 21st century. Despite various problematic issues in the literary system hindering the publishing of children’s books, publishers are prepared to invest in this market. It seems that this genre manages to survive, to function and even to grow.

Keywords: book history; children’s literature; illustrated books; literary system; picture books; polysystem theory; production patterns; production profile; South African children’s literature; South African publishing industry



Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Die produksieprofiel en -patrone van prente- en geïllustreerde kinderboeke in Suid-Afrika in die 21ste eeu (2000–2020)

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