Children’s adventure book gets top awards

World-famous explorer Riaan Manser with his sons, James, 6, and Samuel, 2, and journalist Murray Williams – who conceived and created the children’s book series – with his daughter, Bethany, 9.

A wild, rumbunctious adventure book, born in Somerset West, has been crowned Overall Winner 2023 at the annual Sputh African Book Awards.

My First African Adventure, by the legendary explorer Riaan Manser, with Murray Williams and Chantal Tarling, and illustrations by Martinus Van Tee, also won Children’s Category Winner 2023.

The book was awarded the top national honours by Nielsen BookData, SA Booksellers Association and the Publishers’ Association of South Africa – and was published by Penguin Random House South Africa.

In My First African Adventure, Riaan Manser allows the reader to relive the toil, excitement and occasional terror of his journey – negotiating the Sahara and Libyan deserts, and learning French, Portuguese and Arabic.

Add to the mix… eating monkey, rat and bat, standing in front of the pyramids, being awarded the freedom of the Red Sea in Egypt, feeding hyenas mouth to mouth, and standing on the highest, as well as at the lowest, points in Africa…

After these (and other) epic experiences, Riaan arrived safely back in Cape Town, on November 25, 2005.

He explained: “When this book was born, I was about to become a father, for the first time. When Murray suggested we create my series of children’s books, the timing was perfect!

“Today, I am Dad to two sons, and they are the greatest fans of our book, because they now can re-live my expeditions.”

Riaan reflected: “President Nelson Mandela once told me my bicycle ride around Africa would inspire the youth of the continent. I never believed him – maybe until now.”

When the book was published in May 2022, Riaan criss-crossed South Africa, to introduce the book to tens of thousands of children, at countless schools.

He said: “We all owe gratitude to our country’s incredible, passionate book-sellers, bookshops and publishers. You are inspiring young and old readers, in every book shop, every day.

“Neilsen BookData, SA Booksellers Association and the Publishers’ Association of South Africa – we salute you all – keeping the love of reading and adventure alive!” Riaan added.

Murray Williams is known and beloved to Bolander readers since the inception of the newspaper in 2007, and has had a number of columns sharing his own adventures, observations, philosophies, love of literature and music, and there’s no path he hasn’t pedalled in local mountains and valleys.

He told Bolander the story of how the children’s book series was born: “I’ve been blessed to meet the Dalai Lama, and so many global legends, in my long career as a journo.

“The heroes who impressed me most are those who stood tall – despite being smashed down, again and again.

“I met Riaan Manser while we were both paddling the Berg River Canoe Marathon. In the years that followed, I interviewed him dozens of times, as he notched up his extraordinary ‘World-First’ explorations.

“Here was a guy who set out to conquer the impossible – and then never, ever, ever gave up. Riaan’s world records are not just for his physical endurance, but the avalanche of dangers and injuries which hit him from every side, along the way.

“And yet he persevered, and conquered his adversity, every single time.

Murray continues the tale: “Fast-forward a few years, to when my wife Nicole and I had our laat-lammetjie, our third child.

“Beth became my No1 adventure buddy and we were inseparable for many years, exploring the exquisite countryside we live in – the mountains, rivers and valleys of Somerset West and Stellenbosch.

“One day, out on one of our bicycles, we came upon Riaan and his wife Vasti, training for the Cape Epic. In the moment of that chance encounter, I proposed to Riaan that we re-tell all his astonishing adventure stories, this time for children.

“This book was written to show Beth – and children around the world – how to live with wide-eyed wonder. And with optimism – to “Always Face East!”, my personal motto.”

The book was co-authored by Chantal Tarling, also from Somerset West, an industrial psychology graduate.

And the crazy kaleidoscope of drawings was by caricaturist artist Martinus van Tee.

Murray explained: “At first, Martinus drew each story perfectly to scale, delicately and super-accurately, Riaan and I asked him to pour a few cans of Red Bull into each picture, and make them “pop”, outrageously! To fill them with charisma and wonder.

“He did precisely that. Ever since then, we have named him ‘Martinus The Great’!”

Since My First African Adventure was published, it has also been printed in Afrikaans, in partnership with the Stigting vir die Bemagtiging van Afrikaans” (SBA).

The team published their second book, My First Wild Island Adventure this year, the story about Riaan’s second world-first, kayaking around the world’s largest island, Madagascar.

Both books are available at book shops nation-wide.