We're always on the lookout for inspirational tweens and are thrilled to interview the amazing Mbawa sisters who set up subscription book service Happier Every Chapter last year.
1) Tell us your reasons for setting up the subscription box
We’ve always loved reading and writing and published our debut novels in April/May 2020. In the process of attempting to promote our books, one of the strategies was to get them into subscription boxes which wasn’t successful. At the same time also, we realised that there was a gap in the market for diversity in children’s books. Apart from the Kipper Book Series which we highly commend for being so representative even when we were in primary school, not that many other school books or free reader books included diverse characters. So in November 2020, we launched a book subscription box for 8-14yr olds. The mission to create a community of engaged readers and promote literacy and diversity in middle-grade literature. Our monthly themed boxes come with 2 amazing reads (including at least one of them being diverse), 2 short stories (which we write), activity sheets (which we design), exclusive author goodies, 4-6 bookish treats/lifestyle items and access to a community for author interviews, competitions etc. You can find out more here: https://www.mbawabooks.co.uk. We also currently offer a Bonus Book & 25% OFF the first box.
2) Why are you so passionate about books and reading?
Books are such a gateway to alternate worlds. There are so many places we could travel from the comfort of our bed or sofa if only we picked up a book. Reading also helps for an overall better performance in school work, improves vocabulary, teaches empathy and improves the ability to see things from different points of view. Also, there are very few leaders who aren’t readers, so it's easy to tell that reading has helped those with big aspirations and the resolve to work hard go on to achieve even bigger things. As for writing, Kirsten’s explanation is so true: it's almost like having a third eye. Writers can observe and weave into stories, things that most other people cant or don’t.
3) As well as the wonderful feeling of getting lost in a good book, what else do you have to achieve with your book subscription service?
According to research, almost 400,000 children in the U.K. do not own a single book. That is an estimated 1 in 8 children, most of them from the nation's most disadvantaged areas. These are shocking statistics and our mission is to help improve access to and change the way literacy is viewed by our peers. The research report, Book ownership and reading outcomes, found that children who own a book are 15 times more likely to read above the level expected for their age and are four times less likely to read below the expected level. Reading is known to improve academic performance across the board because it;
· improves brain connectivity.
· increases your vocabulary
· Increases comprehension.
· reduces stress and helps fight depression symptoms because its a means of escapism and coping.
Literacy promotion isn't our only cause. The statistics around diversity in children's books is worrying to say the least. According to the CLPE Reflecting Realities Report of 2020, only 5% of children’s books published in 2019 had a black, Asian or minority ethnic main character, despite 33.5% of school children being of black Asian or minority ethnic origins. In comparison, an animal or an inanimate object is 38% more likely to be featured as a main character in a children's book.
4) We love your passion for this and it is an amazing accomplishment. Can you share some of your highlights since setting it up?
There's been so much support from many, including the press, like Northampton’s local paper (Chronicle & Echo), Daily Mirror & Daily Express, The WeekJunior, BBC Look East TV & Steph’s Packed Lunch. Feedback from subscribers has also been amazing and that is the best part of it all. The sense of achievement we get when we see the subscribers so happy with their boxes and goodies. Here’s a review from one subscriber: “I forgot about this subscription coming to an end. My granddaughter’s have loved their box arriving monthly and the books and goodies. So I would like to take out the 12 monthly subscription for them
which includes a sibling copy and goodies for them both.” Barbara, Swindon
5) That's so great to hear. Could you share your own personal book recommendations with us too
Two books I’d recommend (Aiyven) are Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and The Kane Chronicles – The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. These books couldn’t be more different, but both are incredible.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is about a young boy living in the midst of WWII. His father works for Hitler, however the boy makes befriends a Jew. I’d recommend this for 11+ as it’s quite intense.
The Red Pyramid is the first in a trilogy, and is all about Egyptian magic. Not only does Rick’s writing make it quirky but you learn quite a lot simply by turning the pages.
A book I really enjoyed is demon dentist by David Walliams, although it is for younger ages I couldn’t help but smile at his twisted humour and the made up words used. The storyline is also very gripping
Another book recommendation is My Sister Jodie by the amazing Jacqueline Wilson. This book is middle grade, but it’s more of a 12+ read. Because it was for “older girls” I thoroughly enjoyed reading this because I felt very mature and it’s also an amazing read! The sudden changes in the plot and relatable scenes are perfect for any 12+ girls
Thank you both, so much for sharing your amazing entrepreneurial journey and some great book suggestions as well.
Kirsten & Aiyven are 13 and 12 year old book-mad, sport-loving sisters, published authors and kid-preneurs on a mission to promote literacy and diversity in middle-grade literature. Their debut middle-grade novels, Sagas of Anya & Land of the Nurogons were published in April/May 2020 and their book subscription box for 8-14year olds, Happier Every Chapter was started in November 2020.