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Little Hands

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Rustum Kozain’s formative reading experiences

Ferdinand the passivist bullIn times long past in sunny Paarl, before This Carting Life, Rustum Kozain had little hands and this is what he read …

Rustum’s earliest memory of books and reading:

I have to mention nursery rhymes sung by my mom:

There was once a little rabbit in a family of six;
such a naughty little fellow full of naughty little tricks.
And he would not mind his mother, nor his father nor his aunt.
And I hardly like to tell you that he sometimes said I shan’t.

(The rabbit eventually gets killed by a hunter).

And Doris Day and Danny Kaye records; also Sparky’s Magic Piano on vinyl. Then there was a record demonstrating the wonderful technology of stereo – trains moving from one speaker to the other, soldiers marching through our living room (“When Johnny comes marching home again”). And, as a child, I thrilled also to the cannons in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. I mention the audio stuff because, like books, it sparked and intrigued the imagination; and it was an introduction to a broader cultural literacy. Yes, admittedly an anglophile, colonial and now derided as politically incorrect cultural literacy, but it also introduced a command over language (outweighing the negative, I would say) and pleasure in language, in the surprising turns grammar can take, in its rhythms and rhymes. And and and, the audio stuff was also an introduction to a literary literacy – a figurative world.

And then books. But I confuse the age-appropriate years. My aunt, who was a Grade 1 (Sub A) teacher, baby-sat me by taking me along to school when I was four and I remember books from her class library which, now, in retrospect, seem either to low in reading-ability, or too advanced. Nevertheless, I remember Ferdinand the Bull (Rachelle Greef mentioned it in Boeke Insig recently, and it all came back to me), and another book I borrowed from the class library every week, a book about a seal, in Afrikaans. Unfortunately I can’t remember the title, but I read it religiously every week, and would even fight other children for the book. An illustrated version of The Tortoise and the Hare was another favourite. Rumpestiltskin and Rapunzel were also favourites; Jack in the Beanstalk, as read and as told as a bedtime story, various Norse and Gothic legends as collected in school readers.

Then, the most enduring was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, which I had at home and which would serve me in my preteens. Several poems in the book touch, in some way, on the imagination: through books, daydreaming, dreaming, playing, and those were my favourite poems. I read my first (adult) novel while in Grade 3 – it was a thick Heinz Konsalik (German novelist, translated into Afrikaans), set during WWII. It took me six months to complete it.

Also the usual suspects: Kuifie (Tintin), Asterix and Obelix (both these series read in English and Afrikaans, and read on Saturday visits to a cousin, who borrowed them from the public library). It soon became a mass, eclectic thing, a veritable mash-up: my mother’s romance novels and pulp fiction, from Catherine Cookson to James Hadley Chase to Reader’s Digest condensed novels in my early teens (my mother was broadminded and didn’t care about the ‘adult’ subject-matter). Loads of especially Afrikaans youth literature: Fritz Deelman, a science fiction series; Jasper, a sort of Afrikaans Just William; Seuns van die Wolke (science fiction translated into Afrikaans from Dutch, I think). Then what my mother called “Tickey Terribles”, i.e. photo stories (Ruiter in Swart, Grensvegter, etc etc.). The Just William series. Comics: Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Beano, Battle comics, scattered American comics. I was a big fan of The Hardy Boys. Meal times found me properly distracted by the ingredients-labels on the tomato sauce or chutney bottle. We had a junk room, filled with stacks of old newspapers and old National Geographics – I would disappear in there for hours. Even my father’s auto-mechanic manuals was fodder, so I know the difference between a crank shaft and a cam shaft, a flywheel and a clutch-plate. And then, we had What and Where, compendiums answering those questions about a range of topics: Where are the Isles of Langerhans or what is breadfruit, etc. Then, also, various legends and mythology from Islamic history, as well as the Children’s Bible at school – all gripping stories. But the most interesting thing about all this is that we bought few books; rather, books were borrowed or read on visits. My mother borrowing and talking books with friends, and the children following suit. Most of my childhood friends engaged with some manner of reading material, and that allowed the depth and variety.

Rustum’s picture books:

A Child’s Garden of Verses was illustrated and the pictures opened the poems and held me fascinated; at the same time, one couldn’t just look at the pictures – that was boring. So, the poems would be read and re-read, picture and poem feeding off each other. The Tortoise and the Hare was lush in illustration, almost like Henri Rousseau for children (unless my memory is becoming overactive). It was such a magical world for me – the tortoise struggling through blades and blades of green, green grass, the hare chomping on succulent leaves. Those images have endured in all their vividness. The line-drawings in Ferdinand the Bull also held some fascination, as my brother and I kept on redrawing Ferdinand – he was a good bull.

Rustum, as an adult, reading with children:

I don’t have children of my own, and don’t see my friends with children for long enough to read to them, an activity I quite enjoy. In fact, a decade ago, I was the designated reader for a friend’s little boy. Every Sunday on a visit, the boy would implore me to read one of his books – I forget the title – over and over. And, yes, I did the voices and scary sounds. On developing literacy, I think that together with being read to by adults, children also need to see adults reading (by themselves, their own books) so that the activity of reading becomes a plausible pastime.

******

Ferdinand really was a good bull, he’s been called a passivist. There are several Ferdinand lesson plans online, but this one is particularly interesting: Ferdinand the Bull Rescource Guide for Teachers on Non-violent Conflict Resolution.

******
Books for a Lukhanyiso On Friday I received an email from Carol Bloch to say that Lukhanyiso Primary School situated in Paballelo township is trying to establish a reading club like the wonderful Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa. Lukhanyiso is a no-fee school with limited reading materials. To get started with their reading club they need 70 sets of English books, 50 sets of Afrikaans books and 30 sets of IsiXhosa books. Anyone who would like to help establish the reading club by contributing a set of books to the school is heartily encouraged to make a donation to The Little Hands Trust. I believe that the cost per set is usually R90, but that depends on the print run, so I will confirm the amount and post the confirmed cost/set below…

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="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 12th, 2008 @08:57 #
     
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    Conclusive evidence that it really helps to get off to a good start.

    PS: Here's Chet's jalopy - except I imagined it to be yellow, with a back seat.

    http://images.google.nl/imgres?imgurl=http://www.rewarren.com/challenge/Chl-Images/252-jalopy.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.rewarren.com/challenge/chl252.htm&h=480&w=640&sz=92&hl=nl&start=1&tbnid=3fE61UVogTEifM:&tbnh=103&tbnw=137&prev=/images%3Fq%3Djalopy%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Dnl%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:nl:official%26sa%3DN

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 12th, 2008 @09:22 #
     
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    More lovely memories

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    August 12th, 2008 @10:43 #
     
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    We had stories on records too - I especially remember the Tales of Peter Rabbit and can still sing the songs.

    Rustum makes an interesting point about the cultural literacy that is established in childhood. I loved my father's records, especially a recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that had on the cover a woman in a blue satin dress lying on the top of a grand piano. I'd sneak it onto the turntable when Dad was fixing cars in the garage.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 12th, 2008 @10:58 #
     
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    Three LP's come to mind: Harry Belafonte ("...and the granny scatch-scratch..."); a collection of children's songs (I lost the CD copy my brother gave me. Damn!); and Sounds of the Bushveld (which taught me to whoop like a hyena so convincingly that it even scares game rangers. Well, children pretending to be game rangers).

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  • Sven
    Sven
    August 12th, 2008 @12:15 #
     
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    Rustum's mixture of music and books reminds me of the Storyteller series that used to combine original stories with nursery rhymes, myths and fairytales and put the lot to classical music. You'd get a tape with an illustrated magazine and you'd read along with the stories and music on the tape. They were great.

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  • <a href="http://meganhall.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Megan</a>
    Megan
    August 12th, 2008 @14:13 #
     
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    Lovely stuff, Rustum. I think the Tortoise and the Hare you mention might have been the same edition as the one I was besotted with, by Brian Wildsmith. He did a whole range of wonderful fable books for children, including "The Rich Man and the Poor Man" and one about a peacock and an owl and whose child was most beautiful... published by Oxford, as it happens...:)

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 12th, 2008 @14:45 #
     
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    Lordy, have you followed the links Alex provided? I fear serious regression is on hand: there's a whole lot of audio stuff on the site which hosts the Sparky mp3's, which brought more memories of more stories flooding: http://www.kiddierecords.com/

    The Danny Kaye I mentioned was The Story of the Little Fiddle (and others): right at the bottom of this page:
    http://www.kiddierecords.com/bonus/index.htm

    Up until the early 1990s I could still remember the lyrics, and regularly performed it to bemused radio lounge lizards.

    Good thing I finished writing that review, now I'm going to regress a little bit. It's a bit scratchy, though...

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 12th, 2008 @14:51 #
     
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    "Now, some of you children may be very surprised to hear
    that the symphony is not only music
    but that it always tells a story
    which has a beginning, und a middle, und an end;
    except of course, the unfinished symphony, which has a beginning...

    As I was saying, if you listen you will hear,
    from the corner of your ear
    how the oboe she makes love to the bassoon
    und the pipe goes diddle-diddle
    und the fiddle's in the middle
    und the dish ran away with the spoon..."

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 12th, 2008 @14:53 #
     
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    Megan, yes, I believe it is the Wildsmith one. Not quite Henri Rousseau, but I guess close in the child's memory. I remember when I first saw that Fleetwood Mac album cover, I immediately thought of The Tortoise and the Hare.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 12th, 2008 @15:04 #
     
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    Now I know who you are;
    you are not a French Horn at all.
    That (nice music) had me fooled for awhile,
    but the (bad music) gave you away.
    You are a Glockenspiel in disguise beyond a doubt
    wanted by the police for drowning twelve little fiddles out.
    The Glockenspiel tries to escape to his flat,
    but the animals are too sharp for him.
    Ow, in the leg!
    Ow, in the neck!
    Ow, in the face!
    Ow, in the other place!
    The Glockenspiel is trapped, his escape they are foiling,
    so he jumps into a kettle drum, which is boiling, boiling, boiling!

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    August 12th, 2008 @16:07 #
     
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    I still have my old copy of the Wildsmith Tortoise and Hare ... and Rustum, I forgot about Sparky until you sent me your responses. My word! Sparky, I thoroughly loved Sparky and became very excited when I found that link...

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 12th, 2008 @16:58 #
     
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    My mom has passed on whatever books remain and the "big CDs" (as the kids now call it) to my brother's kids. One is a reader. One birthday, I gave him Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but he really wanted the Harry Potter, which is uncle could ill afford, especially since the younger non-reader then suddenly wanted a book as well - because they were filled with pictures of big, powerful animals.

    Sparky! Don't forget, the erm, long-playing vinyl had Sparky and the Talking Train on the b-side. When my brother and I started making up joke lines of thought as the record played (because we were starting to think that Sparky wasn't quite so sparky), we knew we had outgrown him. Poor Sparky.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 14th, 2008 @12:05 #
     
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    Rustum, I loved this, and you reminded me of how important it is to play music to kids -- my folks got endless LPs out the local library, and I remember, like you, being thrilled by the cannons in the 1812 Overture, as well as Mozart's jollier works, and Beethoven's Fifth. And for some reason, even as small kids, we loved opera. It was all that unashamed emoting, I think.

    You're absolutely right, if this doesn't happen in childhood, it's a near-lost cause. I remember being being appalled when I encountered kids in high school already who could barely read, and terribly sorry for them -- it was like finding out they were missing a leg or something. And remember these were whites-only state schools, with all the privileges, which underlines the fact that if reading doesn't happen at home, school intervention is going to be limited.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    January 19th, 2009 @23:32 #
     
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    At the Book Lounge this evening I spotted a lovely new edition of Ferdinand The Bull with the original drawings. It's R124 and there seemed to be only one copy, somebody should snap it up (I would have, but payday has yet to come)--I haven't seen it at Exclusive Books before.

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  • balstel
    balstel
    January 8th, 2011 @22:51 #
     
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    Hi Rustum. At last someone else who remembers "There was once a little rabbit.. Do you have or know where I can get the whole poem. My mother used to sing it to me when I was a child; it didn't make me always obey though!!

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