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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Ceridwen Dovey’s formative reading experiences

Secret SevenWishing Chair

In a faraway time of boiled eggs and ginger ale, three countries and an age before she ever imagined she’d win the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, Ceridwen Dovey had little hands and this is what she read …

Ceridwen’s earliest memory of books and reading:

I grew up mostly in East London in South Africa, a small town without great bookstores at the time, and so my mother would take my sister and I to the library once a week to select our new books. I remember always being so excited about this trip that I would inevitably have to go to the toilet as soon as I arrived at the library. As a result, to this day, I don’t really like buying books and find bookstores quite stressful –but libraries still are my favorite place to be in the world. On birthdays, my gifts were usually books that my parents had somehow managed to find, and almost every evening of my early childhood (up to the age of about 10) one of my parents would read to us before bed (we didn’t have a TV). I read voraciously on my own, too – so much so it was a family joke.

Ceridwen’s favourite picture books and early novels:

Lots of Enid Blyton (politically incorrect as she may be)
Carrie Hepple’s Garden [by Ruth Craft and Irene Haas]
The Jolly Postman
The Very Hungry Caterpillar [ by Eric Carle]

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In 1968 Enid Blyton, aged 71, died from Alzheimer’s after writing 600 novels and 4500 short stories, which were translated into forty (70?) languages. Although slammed for political incorrectness (30 articles at this link!)and brittle plots, Enid Blyton is still a powerful presence in bookshops and libraries around the world and continues to influence the formative reading experiences of many children. Considering the kind and caliber of novel Ceridwen Dovey has written, it is hard to say that Enid Blyton is all bad for young readers—at least she keeps children reading. Blyton even cropped up in the Financial Times this July, though not because her books have sold over four hundred million copies worldwide (and so was, until June this year, the only author to have outsold JK Rowling):

…from Enid Blyton’s The Ragamuffin Mystery (1959)“Breakfast was as good as supper had been. Cold ham, boiled eggs, hot toast, home-made marmalade, creamy butter and scalding hot coffee … Miss Pepper looked at the table with much approval.” Breakfast is taken very seriously in children’s books. Writers can’t afford to have their characters fading by mid-morning, their tummies rumbling and their commitment to the plot fading rapidly due to a deficit of energy and calories. …Hard-boiled eggs have a special status in the books of Enid Blyton. When she writes about them, she always manages to make them appear ultra-exciting and appealing rather than a boring and predictable element of teas and picnics.…Funnily enough, though I never came across any mention of the famous phrase “lashings of ginger beer”, which is so often attributed to Enid Blyton (not even in the Famous Five books, which are awash with ginger pop), I did find a reference in Five Go Down to the Sea (1953) to “lashings of hard-boiled eggs”. It was this that led me to consider an otherwise apparently very plain treat in a new light: “The high tea that awaited them was truly magnificent. A huge ham … a salad fit for a king [including] lettuce, tomatoes, onions, radishes, mustard and cress, carrots … and lashings of hard-boiled eggs.” No matter how delicious this eggy salad sounds, though, it’s when hard-boiled eggs are eaten outside as part of a picnic lunch that they start to take on a new image. When The Adventurous Four: Shipwrecked! (1941) opens, the three siblings are running wild on the north-east coast of Scotland while mother knits all day, until they meet up with a local boy and go on sailing adventures fuelled by pineapple chunks, Nestle’s milk, chocolate and hard-boiled eggs. “It was a most peculiar breakfast, but the four children thought it was lovely. They had three loaves of bread with them, and some butter and they dabbed the butter on to the chunks, took the eggs in their hand and bit first at the egg and then at the bread. Jill put a paper of salt down on the deck for them to dip the eggs into.”

(from ‘Lashings of hard-boiled eggs,’ by Jane Brocket in Financial Times)

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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