Guest blog: Nelson Mandela tells his story to children

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He's sold nearly six million copies of his adult autobiography and now Nelson Mandela is targeting the youth market with a child-friendly version of his "Long Walk to Freedom." Fifteen years after the release of the original, the former South African president was presented with the new children's version by his great grandson Ziyanda ahead of the official launch in Johannesburg.

The 64-page illustrated book with a sketch of Mandela on the front has been released in all 11 of South Africa's official languages plus American English and Portuguese. Like the 600-page adult version, the children's book chronicles Mandela's childhood, the fight against apartheid, his 27 years in prison, and the road to the presidency in 1994. The English version is the only one in hardback, said Lara Cohen from publisher Pan Macmillan.

Mandela, who is more commonly known in South Africa by his clan name Madiba, was said to be happy with the children's book. Verne Harris, acting chief  executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said: "The book is aimed at six to 10-year-olds. Madiba withdrew from making public comments several years ago but he did give a short message at the launch to say he was pleased with the book and that children could have fun reading it."

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Ziyanda Manaway, Mandela's eight-year-old great-grandson, read out the message from his grandfather at the book launch. The message said: "The system of apartheid robbed many children of their right to a decent
education and of the joy of reading. This joy is one that I have treasured all my life, and it is one I wish for all South Africans."

Ziyanda had earlier presented Mandela, 91, with two copies of the book - one in English and the other in his native Xhosa language. Mandela's message continued: "We are happy that all children are now able to read in the language of their choice the story of the long road we travelled for freedom in South Africa. The children of South Africa need to know this history, everyone should try to read for at least an hour every day. Parents
can read to their children if the children cannot read for themselves."

Respected South African author and poet Chris van Wyk who was asked to write the new version said he was honored. "Nelson Mandela's story is a rich part of our country's history and it should be read by everyone, no matter what their age group. Nelson Mandela is such an inspiring leader and this book is the perfect way to inspire and encourage kids to read," he said.

Ms. Cohen said the book was available over the internet and should be in US shops in coming weeks.

Ian Evans writes for the Monitor from Cape Town, South Africa. 

(Chapter & Verse readers are reminded that the Monitor's 9/21/09 Books blog can be accessed through iTunes or by clicking here.)

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