When you are writing your sixth book at the age of eight, you deserve to be chosen as one of the top 10 youngest authors in the world. I was privileged to share a speaker's platform with this young genius at last week's Volkswagen literacy conference in Uitenhage where she sat behind me with a smile that could melt an iceberg. Michelle Nkamankeng is a pupil at Sacred Heart School in Observatory, Johannesburg, who impressed everyone in this small Eastern Cape city with much more than her fluency in language - it was her confidence, her vivid imagination, her ease in making conversation with adults, her sense of poise, her modesty, her work ethic and her clear views about the future. Who makes children like this?The national literacy data is truly depressing. One study found that 58% of Grade 4 pupils and 67% of isiXhosa pupils cannot read for meaning - they do not understand what they are reading. As Nic Spaull, the talented reading researcher at Stellenbosch University, put it: "If ...

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