Nandi Lessing-Venter: igniting young minds through books

We spotlight Nandi Lessing-Venter, publisher at Penguin Random House, as our #womanfluencer.

Through this series we highlight the remarkable women of South Africa. We showcase the journeys of inspiring women who have built their own businesses, created new brands, persevered through difficult times and shattered glass ceilings in their industries.

The enchanting realm of children’s literature

In the enchanting realm of children’s literature, where imagination knows no bounds and stories transport us to magical worlds, Nandi specialises in curating books that ignite the young minds of South Africa. However, her journey to a publisher is a story of overcoming: adversity, embracing uniqueness and harnessing the healing power of laughter.

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“My story begins as a young girl who was anything but typical. Shy, empathetic and sensitive, I often found solace in the enchanting world of daydreams and storybooks,” Nandi remembers. “However, my uniqueness made me a target for ridicule, both by my peers and teachers. They mocked me for my daydreaming, for daring to be empathetic and for my sensitivity. Bullied and underestimated, humour became my lifeline, my saviour in moments of despair, as it often diffused the weight of adversity.”

Pushing through discouragement

Determined to prove her doubters wrong, Nandi became an overachiever and a fervent people-pleaser. Her journey took her to university, where she initially pursued a career in journalism. However, the harsh and cutthroat world of journalism shattered her dreams. Bombarded by discouragement from those who deemed studying literature and art as futile, Nandi made the heart-wrenching decision to drop out during her first year. But even in those challenging times, her sense of humour continued to be her faithful companion.

“For a year following that painful choice, I believed I was too foolish to continue my education. I engaged in various odd jobs and even explored the world of jewellery design. But amidst the uncertainty and self-doubt, one constant remained—the storybooks that had always been my refuge and my ever-present sense of humour, which kept me going,” says Nandi.

World of literature beckoned her

“One day, amidst the challenges and self-doubt, I had an epiphany: the world of literature, the stories that had shaped my life, beckoned me back. I realised that I must pursue my passion, regardless of the sceptics. With newfound determination, I returned to my studies, completing my undergraduate studies in languages and earning an honours degree in Linguistics. I then achieved a master’s degree in Creative Writing, where I honed my storytelling craft and later pursued a doctorate in Information Science.”

Her sense of humour, which had been her lifeline countless times, inspired her to delve into in-depth research on humour and its profound influence on cognitive development. Armed with these qualifications, Nandi specialises in the captivating field of humour in children’s literature, helping young minds navigate the complexities of life with laughter as their guide.

Children must read

As a parent to a nine-year-old daughter who loves books, she says the significance of children reading cannot be understated. “My favourite book is ‘The Witch’s Garden’ by Lidia Postma. I adore it for its enchanting illustrations and the way it taps into children’s natural fear of the unknown, only to reveal a humorous twist where the scary witch turns out to be a shy old lady who enjoys gardening.”

In modern teen and young adult literature, there’s a fascinating exploration of various themes and genres. A noticeable trend involves more diverse and inclusive storytelling, tackling issues like identity, mental health and social justice. Additionally, Nandi notes, fantasy and science fiction remain highly popular, often featuring intricate world-building and complex characters.

Reading enhances language skills and nurtures creativity

“Reading not only enhances language skills but also nurtures creativity, empathy and critical thinking. It allows children and young adults to journey through different perspectives and worlds, which can greatly enrich their personal development. Cultivating a love for reading in children from a young age can leave a profoundly positive and lasting impact on their lives.”

Nandi’s journey is not just about storytelling; it’s a testament to triumphing over adversity, finding your unique voice in a world that often dismisses dreamers and sensitive souls. Her story serves as a poignant reminder that even in the face of doubt and rejection, dreams can become reality. Through her role as a publisher at Penguin Random House, Nandi aspires to collaborate with South Africa’s most talented authors and illustrators, empowering young minds and teaching them that they too can chase their dreams, find their unique path to success and embrace the healing power of laughter.

If you want to get in touch with Nandi, send her an email here.

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