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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Liesl Jobson’s formative reading experiences

Liesl Jobson and her four sisters circa 1975 -- guess which one is Liesl?

Beyond the woods, beyond the seas, beyond high mountains, beyond and before a dozen stories and a 100 Papers, Liesl Jobson had little hands and this is what she read …

Liesl’s earliest memory of books and reading:

My mother made reading cards with words written on them in big red crayon. It was a reading game and she lay the words out on the carpet in sequence to make sentences. She had a book that said that reading was always to be fun and never something that one did when mums or children were cross. She taught us to read before we went to school. Later I read the Peter and Jane Ladybird books and I recall feeling a tremendous sense of pride as I rose through the ranks – and also envy of the orderly world those children inhabited. The Pinetown library had a long red verandah and going there was a regular and very special treat. But long before we learned to read there were always bed time stories that my father told without a book. Always theatrical and never quite the same – The Tale of Little Coffeepot and Songololo Girl’s Shoe Shopping Expedition were my favourites.

Liesl’s picture books:

Are You My Mother? by PD Eastman – I remember reading this with my sister, Megan, who would always cry when the snort appeared.

Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town [See Busy, Busy Town on YouTube!] I loved pouring over those books and then tried to fathom the inner life of the worms and songololo’s that inhabited our garden. Seem to remember one of the characters was “Lowly Worm”.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. That one was irresistably creepy.

Liesl, as an adult, reading with her children:

Reading to my children was very special time spent. I also taught my daughter to read before she went to school as my mother taught me. In retrospect I don’t know if that was doing her a favour, but vision with hindsight is always perfect. I never particularly taught my son to read, but perhaps he gleaned it from his sister. I have regrets that there wasn’t more time spent reading to them at bed time as they stayed with their father during the week and weekends were so hectic when they came to me. My daughter particularly loves her books and now she reads to me which is surely the sweetest pleasure.


Called the Giant, the Picasso of children’s literature, Maurice Sendak said of his classic Where the Wild Things Are:

“Children are not always escaping from the mundane … but from the horrific – from all kinds of strong, frightening feelings they have; they don’t really mind a little anxiety and heart failure, so long as they know it will end all right…

Max, the hero of my book, discharges his anger against his mother, and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry, and at peace with himself.

Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious –and what is too often overlooked– is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.

It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood–the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of all Wild Things–that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have.”

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.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Carole</a>
    August 5th, 2008 @17:00 #

    I am so struck by the stunning examples Liesl's and all the other entries provide of the way that becoming a reader has to do with a seemingly natural apprenticeship into something that seems very normal and nurturing - and it is this 'natural' behaviour that is sooo difficult to teach formally, and one of the huge challenges to getting children inspired to read in Africa when there are none or very few storybooks in their languages... or adults to read with them...which is why we want to get great stories translated - Ntombi and Xolisa who you can read about above did a great version of Pinocchio, see

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 5th, 2008 @21:23 #

    OK, so which one is Liesl?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 6th, 2008 @09:17 #

    I would say it's the one sticking her tongue out.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    August 6th, 2008 @13:56 #

    Liesl are you on one foot?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    August 7th, 2008 @13:58 #

    Always on one foot, Alex, only I'm usually caught on my left leg...

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sophy</a>
    August 7th, 2008 @14:28 #

    Yes! "Lowly Worm," Gee Whizo - we used to call my aunt that at one stage (those were the days)...though perhaps not something one should proclaim on national television (read: internet).

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    August 7th, 2008 @21:30 #

    My nephew Oscar started calling me Lowly Worm when he was tiny, some how it caught on so my niece started calling me that too, then my sister picked up the habit. Ten years later Oscar, Paula and Emma still call me Lowly, thank heavens they've dropped the Worm!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    August 8th, 2008 @05:31 #

    Lowly Worm predates Huckleberry Cat!

    “The Waking”

    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

    We think by feeling. What is there to know?
    I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

    Of those so close beside me, which are you?
    God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
    And learn by going where I have to go.

    Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
    The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

    Great Nature has another thing to do
    To you and me, so take the lively air,
    And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

    This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
    What falls away is always. And is near.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

    –Theodore Roethke


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