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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Xolisa Guzula’s formative reading experiences


There was once a village in the Eastern Cape, long before Umvundlana, long before Father Sail, long before PRAESA, and the inspirational Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa, Xolisa Guzula had little hands and this is what she read …

Xolisa’s earliest memory of books, reading and writing:
As a child growing up in the rural village in the Eastern Cape, I was raised by my grandmother, while my mother was teaching in another village. Sometimes when my mother came to visit us over the weekends, she would bring old carbonated cheque books. My younger aunt and myself discovered that we could write anything on them with a stick, but there would be writing underneath. We were fascinated by this and we wrote even more. I remember my mom teaching us rhymes like Little Boy Blue, iketile, katana katana and then she recorded us. We loved listening to ourselves on tape recorder showing off to other children of course. Unfortunately my grandmother never told me any stories. I don’t know why but she loved people who liked to read. She was proud that she educated my mom. She sent us to a Sunday school where we learned hymns, prayers and read from the bible. We had a big bible at home titled Incwadi yabantwana yamabali ebhayibhile (My book of Bible Stories). My younger aunt and I loved reading the bible and looking at the pictures of Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath and so on. My big aunt and uncles were already in the middle school when I started Grade 1. They played school with us and started teaching us to read school stuff, the phonics and dictation. The only books they brought home were their text books and readers. At school we did a lot of rhymes but they were never written down. The only thing I remember was reading a, e, i, o, u, ma, me, mi, mo, mu, umama and then umama umeme umimi. When I got to grade 3 things started to change dramatically for me. My mother left the Eastern Cape to teach in the Limpopo Province. She wrote a lot of letters to my grandmother. Of course my grandmother could not read, so I read letters to my grandmother. I also wrote letters to my mother on her behalf. We always looked forward to receiving letters. Sometimes my mom would send telegrams and send money by post and send us clothes and goodies by post. I always read all the communication and went to the post office with my granny to help her sign.

Xolisa’s first books:

My mother subscribed to Paul Pry books for me– the ABC books and activities from Pre-school to High school. I used to receive these by post in Grade 3. I remember everybody wondering who could be writing to me in English. My aunt, our friends and I used to work on the workbooks, tracing animals, joining sentences, that’s as far as I can remember with those books. Then I started to read my older aunt’s novels and drama books while I was in the intermediate phase, classics like uDike noCikizwa our own Romeo and Juliet, Ityala Lamawele, Buzani kuBawo, uNojayithi Wam, Ingqumbo yeminyanya The Wrath of Ancestors. By the time we read these books in our Junior Secondary (grade 7,8,9) I already knew them. For English, the breakthrough came when I was in Grade 7 and my English stated improving. My English and Geography teacher was very good. We started reading Shakespeare Comedies and Six Tales from Shakespeare. This was not so difficult. I think it was the way he taught us. He was very passionate and hardworking teacher. He would go all his way to even finding bioscope for us to watch the plays. I also like Jabulani and Treehouse, a novel he taught us. I started writing letters to my mother in English as well.

In high school, I read a lot of magazines with my friends. They were in English (You, People and Bona magazines). I read our setwork book and the book I like the most was titles Honourable Scars. Then we started reading a lot of Mills and Boon and Daniel Steel books which we brought from home to boarding school. We had a trolley at our school for selecting library books. I liked the Reader’s Digest as well and I read a lot of short stories from it. We had to read a lot at boarding school because life was boring. We had a reading club and passed books on from person to person. The Xhosa novels were also nice, but there was not a wide variety.

Xolisa as an adult, reading for pleasure and reading with children:

As an adult and a mother, I think that my work as an early literacy trainer and my early reading experiences are influencing the kind of reading that I do for myself and with my children. I am currently reading a novel called Sophie’s World by Jonstein Gaarder and I read newspapers all the time. I like reading for enjoyment for myself, but spending a lot of time with my children forces me to read children’s literature more than my own adult literature. Work and home pressures also take away time for my own reading as a result I read on train all the way from Kuilsriver to Rondebosch and back home and I love it. There more I read to my children, there more I see the benefits of reading aloud to them and how it sharpens their brains. We laugh, sympathise, and ask questions and bond through stories. My heart melts when I catch my children reading unaware. I know in my heart that I am raising book worms. I take my children to the Cape Town Bookfair every year and to our community reading club in Langa. I buy books for them for gifts and a lot of stationary for writing. I have recently bought my daughter a writing table because she likes writing just like her mommy. I have encouraged her to write letters to her friends and to her grandmother. She writes in Xhosa to certain friends and to her grandmother and writes in English to those friends who do not know how to write in isiXhosa. The funniest thing which happened recently is that my 8 year old daughter wanted to look at her brother’s crèche report. She read it and looked trough his book and commented “UThabiso’s good neh mama?”

I have volunteered and established Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa with my colleagues and other community activists. I always enjoy reading to the children as a result we have initiated a holiday library programme with the Langa Library. The children’s love for reading motivates me to wake up on a Saturday morning, on rainy days even if I still feel like sleeping and reading to the children has exposed me a lot to children’s literature. It has also motivated me to start writing children’s stories.


Aims of The Little Hands Trust
• To support initiatives that promote reading for enjoyment.
• To mentor African literary artists, including writers, illustrators and editors, to produce creative, suitable and appropriate children’s storybooks for children of various ages with a focus on early childhood (ages 0 to 9 years).
• To collaborate with African publishers to increase and sustain publication of children’s books in African languages. To initiate and support translations of stories between African languages, from African languages to ex-colonial languages and from ex-colonial languages to African languages.
• To help to orientate and educate adults in the importance and significance of reading to and with children.


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