Art And Culture

7-Year-Old S. African Writer Inspires Kids

Seven-year-old author Michelle Nkamankeng does her homework at her house in Johannesburg.Seven-year-old author Michelle Nkamankeng does her homework at her house in Johannesburg.

A seven-year-old South African girl has become one of the youngest published authors on the continent and is an inspiration for other children with a short novel she wrote largely in secret, “Waiting for the Waves”, which is making  headlines at home and abroad.

Using green and purple pens, Michelle Nkamankeng set down the story of Titi, a little girl fascinated by the ocean and its huge waves -- which the US giant Amazon bills as nothing less than “an epic tale” recounting “the inner struggle of love and fear.”

On the original manuscript, the hand-written sentences tilt along the pages of A4, or letter-size, sheets folded in half and put together with staples and scotch tape to resemble a real book.

Its cover bears the title and the young writer’s name while the last page has a big heart drawn by Michelle and a candid little message: “I hope you had a nice time reading this book.”

When she gave me the novel, said her mother Lolo Nkamankeng, “I took it and put it inside the bookshelves,” amidst the Bibles, dictionaries and a few magazines.

But Michelle --touted on Amazon’s website as smart and passionate -- was also insistent. A few weeks later she brought her parents a second, then a third book. “I said to my mother if you don’t take me seriously, I will never write books again.”

Her dream came true a year later when her parents helped her self-publish “Waiting for the Waves”, a glossy, 50-some page novel -- edited from the original -- with lively illustrations by a South African artist.

The tale of how little Titi conquers her fear of waves with love and support from her own family caught attention. Michelle was suddenly on a round of book launches, press interviews and speaking engagements.

“If we are honest, it is a children’s book, it is a book written by a child...,” said Colin Northmore, head of the Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg that Michelle attends.

Michelle has addressed rooms packed with up to 700 high school children as well as a community center for underprivileged youngsters.

Michelle told AFP her advice for other children wanting to write books: “to follow their dreams, always believe in themselves, don’t let anybody get in your way, and if you can’t read you can’t write.”


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