Teaching children to be brave and kind has now become a fun experience, as two locals create activity books which promote this message.After 10 years of working on commissioned educational projects, illustrator Kate Boyes and former teacher turned layout artist, Mandy Lomberg, started Hero in My Hood.The publishing company develops affordable story/activity books in response to research that showed children need to be encouraged to be “courageous and kind”.“Activity books of this nature are a great educational tool as the children are engaged and involved in the story. They encourage empathy, compassion and responsibility,” says Boyes.“The aim is to encourage children to be heroes within their own ‘hoods’ (neighbourhoods or communities). They do the right thing, not because they will get into trouble if they don’t, but because they know and understand the value in doing it. Our byline is ‘encouraging children to be courageous and kind’.”In the books, children help the characters by completing activities, which in turn gives them a sense of responsibility and achievement, Lomberg says. The activities and story are connected, so that the child must complete the activity in order for the story to progress.“We, like many others, feel that in order to have a healthy society, we all need to be socially aware and responsible. This is across the board. If we teach children about social awareness and social responsibility, we will be working towards building more integrated and happier communities. Empathy and kindness are the key and by promoting empathy through the characters in our books we are working towards this goal,” says Lomberg.Their first publication, Let’s Go to the Animal Clinic and Shelter with Lucky’s Activity Book, was developed with the help of Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha. It covers all the important aspects of pet care. The book is being widely used in educational programmes by animal organisations throughout South Africa.Lucky’s Activity Book is available in four languages and is aimed at children between the ages of six and nine. It covers a variety of learning areas: language, counting, picture identification, concept recognition, concept matching, shape, pattern, size and sequence.Boyes and Lomberg are now embarking on their next book, which will look to tackle gender-based violence.“Last year we approached the Santa Shoebox Project about getting Lucky into the shoeboxes. They were thrilled with the book and we managed to get over 1000 books sponsored and into boxes last year and again this year. They then approached us about developing a book, using the similar concept of a story-activity book that would deal with gender-based violence.“The topic is quite frightening and after a mound of research we settled on a book about bullying – the prequel to gender-based violence. “We had a huge amount of input from a number of experts in the field and then had them work through the finished product, which we have updated continuously. We have also tested the books with children in a number of communities and taken their input into account.”The aim of this book is to help children understand their own emotional feelings in order to help them develop empathy. Children are encouraged to “tell” and to “talk”, thus breaking the silence that allows negative behaviour to continue.“We chose freestyle soccer as the theme as it is an activity that is traditionally seen as for the boys but one in which girls are just as active,” says Lomberg.There are a lot of messages in the book, The Freestyle Stars, Lomberg points out, and many clues that challenge gender stereotypes.“We hope that the children will get the following two messages: To talk to an adult they trust if they are unhappy about something happening at school or in their neighbourhoods (in their lives) and to keep talking until someone listens and helps them; and to find positive activities that they can do, and do quite well, in order to boost self-esteem. A child with a good self-esteem naturally feels good about him/herself and usually passes the good feeling on, rather than a nasty and destructive action.”In order for the books to reach children, Hero in My Hood keeps them affordable and sells them via a sponsorship programme, or in bulk, to organisations and schools.“We have a website, Facebook and an Instagram page from where we publish requests from organisations and schools looking for donors,” Lomberg says.“We will look for sponsors if they are interested in the book – we just need the organisations to say they would like it, then we can approach big business with that.”For more information, visit www.hero-in-my-hood.co.za or Facebook: Hero in My Hood.