EL author takes young readers on space trip

When an East London teacher could not find entertaining books to read to her tween pupils, she wrote her own book about an East London boy who relocates to Mars with his family.

Former Clarendon Prep drama teacher and Beaconhurst School teacher Lori-Ann Preston, 44, has written a funny, zany book from the perspective of an 11-year-old schoolboy who loves his PlayStation and his two best friends and is horrified at leaving them to live on Mars.

CHARMING TALE: Former teacher Lori-Ann Preston has written a comical book for tweens called ‘Thabo, the Space Dude’ about an East London boy who is horrified when his parents tell him the family is moving to Mars. Preston wrote it to fill a gap for South African kids. INSET: The front and back cover of the book Picture: BARBARA HOLLANDS

Thabo, the Space Dude is written as a log book documenting his final days on Earth before the space shuttle takes off and is peppered with quirky drawings by East London illustrator Lindsey Cumming.

“I was reading Horrid Henry to 32 Grade 2 children and although they enjoyed it, they did not always get the jokes due to British humour and references. I asked the children – 80% of whom were Xhosa-speaking – what they wanted to read and they said they wanted fun and adventure.”

Following an unsuccessful Google search for a book that fitted this criteria for 11-year-olds, Preston suggested she would write the book they wanted. “They said ‘go for it!’”

A sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast – Preston is a big Star Wars fan – and inspired by books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries, it took her a year to write.

Thabo, the Space Dude is set in East London – the Mars embassy is situated at Nahoon Beach – and the story is loosely based on three young friends she has taught.

Not content to write in a vacuum, she enrolled a panel of eight 11- and 12-year-old advisers and, during break-times over milkshakes and chips, read them excerpts from her work.

“They critiqued it and could not wait for the next reading. They loved it and are all acknowledged in the book.”

East London-born Preston, who matriculated at Clarendon High School, spends every day writing in her Bonnie Doon home with beloved toy pom Kettle by her side.

She won the 2016 Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter books, beating scores of other African writers to net the US$5000 (R58000) prize with a book called The Ama-zings!.

“I started writing when I was eight years old.”

Preston’s aim is to make reading fun.

“I want children to initially read for pleasure. This is written in the way South Africa tweens talk and is a stepping stone to get kids to love reading,” said Preston, who wrote 10 books last year, including the next two books in the Thabo series. “The more you read the cleverer you get. It worked for me!”

She hopes, that like Thabo and the space shuttle, sales of her book will skyrocket.

“If I sell 2000 books, my husband Mike has agreed to have a chicken called Ganymede which is a character in the book tattooed on his butt!”

lThabo, the Space Dude will be launched at Beacon Bay library on Thursday, March 8 at 6pm. There will be freebies and snacks and everyone is welcome. The book will be on sale for R120 and is also available on Amazon and at Smart Hearing, 50 Jarvis Road, Berea. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za


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