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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Margie Orford’s formative reading experiences

Prepare to recapture Toad Hall!
Once upon a not so distant time, before she was imprisoned as a student, before she was a writer of educational books, before Fifteen Men, before her brilliant international success with crime novels Like Clockwork and Blood Rose, Margie Orford had little hands and this is what she read …

Margie’s earliest memory of books and reading:

Wedged up against my father or my grandfather, a muscular arm clamped around me. I can see the book through sleepy eyes. I have my ear to his chest so I can’t really hear the words; it doesn’t matter. I know the words off by heart anyway. What I hear is this deep grumble coming from inside his chest. Below that the thud thud thud of the heartbeat of my world .

Margie’s picture books:

Mrs Tiggywinkle was a prickly kind of problem solving sleuth, a finder of lost linenLamb’s Shakespeare for Children, the mania of Richard Scarry, the heffalump in Winnie the Pooh; Now we are Six by A A Milne, The Red, Green, Yellow, Violet and Blue Fairy books – my favourite story is still East of the Sun and West of the Moon. We went to my grandparent’s farm for many holidays – there were fabulous old editions of Tintin and other children’s books from the 30s and 40s – my fathers – and older Edwardian books – my grandfathers. I loved their old brown paper, and the sepia illustrations. Beatrix Potter too – Mrs Tiggywinkle especially. The Water Babies, Wind in the Willows. We always got books for birthdays and Christmas.
.

Margie, as an adult, reading with her children:

I read Hegel while breastfeeding my youngest and dropped it on her poor little head. It left a nasty mark and I had to pretend that she had been a forceps delivery. I gave up German philosophers after that. We don’t have television (I hate the noise of it) and I read a great deal, so my three girls learned to lie in heaps, like cats in the sun, and read. I also tell them stories – we went on very long car journeys and told stories are wonderful for a family that gets carsick. From when they were old enough to hold a pen they all wrote and illustrated their own books. I have them in my book shelves. Reading was just how they grew up – it was what I did with them if they were sick or had to go to bed or were bored. Their father also read to them every night. And the older ones read to the little one. They still do it – aged 18, 16 and 12. I will hear a quiet murmer coming from behind a closed bedroom door. If I open it I find one of the sisters reading to the other two – I think it is their retreat space where they can just be quiet and with each other.

*
How a father’s letters to his son became a classic book:

In the Spring of 1907, Kenneth Grahame and his wife travelled to Cornwall for a long holiday. Their seven year old son Alastair, or ‘Mouse’, agreed to remain with his nanny, Miss Stott – but only if his father continued to tell him bedtime stories by post.

His father agreed and over the next few months sent Alastair fifteen letters recounting the reckless adventures of Mr Toad and the attempts of his long-suffering friends, Mole, Rat and Badger, to rescue him from his various scrapes and teach him how to behave properly. The descriptions of the river and surrounding landscape draw upon Grahame’s own fond childhood memories of the countryside around the Thames.

The early letters to Alastair begin and end affectionately, combining real news with the story of Mr Toad. However, following Alastair’s demand to be called ‘Michael Robinson’ instead of his real name (which he decided he did not like), the letters abandon their chatty tone and simply tell the story, ending in each case, ‘to be continued’.

The letters were carefully preserved by Miss Stott and given to Elspeth, who persuaded her husband that they would make a wonderful book. Grahame followed her advice, developing his narrative and publishing it in 1908 as The Wind in the Willows.

The original letters were given to the Bodleian Library by Elspeth Grahame in 1943, and can be read here.

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://littlehands.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Carole</a>
    Carole
    August 14th, 2008 @11:30 #
     
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    Margie your memories and writing, like the others make it so clear to me how what so many people would sense about reading and writing as NATURAL is actually so deeply SOCIAL and CUTURAL - and how NOT HAVING access to books in your language as a young child, and those role models who envelop you in their ways of being and doing literally means that you cannot awaken the sensory and emotional and intellectual connections that can become as natural as breathing...Rustum's entry spoke of translation in Afrikaans - Part of our work is to support translations - exactly to share with African languages what has been shared in other parts of the world.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 14th, 2008 @11:37 #
     
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    Margie, I'm particularly inspired by your TV-free parenting. It sounds like your children thrive on it.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 14th, 2008 @11:53 #
     
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    That sounds almost too good to be true! I genuinely wish I had the courage to get rid of the damn thing. I console myself with the thought that my kids have to read the subtitles.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    August 14th, 2008 @14:39 #
     
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    I heard from a friend who went to the Constantia Waldorf school that parents of children in lower grade had to sign an agreement to keep their homes TV-free (or at least TV-reduced)... I suppose it makes it easier for parents if all the children aren't watching ...
    It seems to be a Waldorf policy around the world -- http://www.mtbarkerwaldorf.sa.edu.au/education/television.php

    Here's something on National TV-Turnoff week sponsored by TV-Free America,
    http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW3009.pdf

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 14th, 2008 @14:51 #
     
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    Good for you, Margie. My parents banned TV from the home until my youngest sister matriculated, and I have happy memories of school holidays when my sisters and I just read in heaps, like your daughters. I then wouldn't allow a TV in any of my homes as an adult, including the communal ones (yes, I was both a martinet AND a prig). Cricket was my downfall. I finally cracked at age 35 when my dad (!!) made me a present of an old telly so I could watch the SA-Pakistan Test series. (My family supports Pakistan -- a looooong story.) Now I fight the temptation to get satellite, which fortunately I can't afford. Otherwise I'd watch way too much cricket.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    August 14th, 2008 @15:00 #
     
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    I also don't have a TV and my daughter loves books and reading, she is 6, can't actually read to herself yet, but almost can. Unlike Helen's parents I decided to not teach her to read before she learnt at school, to keep her in that wonderful innocent phase of fantasy and her own inner world and stories. And I can't bear the thought of her reading the headlines on the newspaper banners - Granny found in plastic bag; Baby dumped in river; Girl, 6 raped by uncle.

    She recently stapled a set of drawings together and asked my how to write "First book published by [her name]" on the front - she knows how to write each letter, just not how to write or spell by herself. She does all sorts of imaginative things including making houses and gardens for fairies in the house and out of cardboard boxes and if I tell her stories in the car - she quickly interrupts me and starts telling the story herself, with all sorts of elabrations, currently to do with fabric designs, colours and patterns. (Not something that has ever been a total interest of mine I have to confess.)

    She also always begs me to fetch her from after-care before they start the movies at 4.30 - easy child care for very tired after care teachers I guess. She does like watching movies and series, we have a portable DVD player and laptops. But she has decided for herself that usually the books are better. (She doesn't go to a Waldorf school).

    Like Margie I also don't like the sound of TV in the background and I hate being bombarded by adverts, because some part of me is always in a suspended disbelief mode, as in perhaps if I bought that thing then it might change my life and make me twenty years younger, half a meter taller etc etc and then I have to tell that part firmly that it is all nonsense and it is tiring. I love silence, probably too much, or just the ambient noise of traffic, dogs, the microwave beeping etc

    I am looking forward to her reading to herself - but i have loved reading Dr Dolittle, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Madeleine, even dear old Babar, White Fang, the Call of the Wild and so on and so forth to her. And of course all the Fairy Tales and rhymes. Hopefully even when she can read to herself I will still be allowed to read to her.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    August 14th, 2008 @15:20 #
     
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    Ah, but good TV rocks.

    As a soon-to-be-"fulltime-slave-to-her-baby-daughter" (as Robyn Goss describes her relationship with her one year old), I think it's all about being selective.

    For me, it's about love of story and there are some incredible TV series for grown-ups with dense novelistic plotlines, like The Wire or The Sopranos or delightful whimsies like The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Blackbooks and Invader Zim. I know there are great kids shows that will inspire a love of story in my kidling and I'll be careful to monitor what she watches and (try to) steer her away from sentimental drek like Barney and towards the original Sesame Street with its wry black humour and urban smarts. Powerpuff Girls is great, so is Ruby Gloom and I know there are a bunch of other good shows out htere.

    I think TV often gets a bad rap usually because its used as a brain-sucking babysitter and kids are left to watch it for hours and hours and hours.

    Imagine if we judged books on the worst of the bunch - if we condemned all of reading based on Mills 'n Boon and The Secret and The Da Vinci Code.

    And I'd like to think the show that Sam, Sarah and I work on, URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika, delivers great, smart, high-action, fun storylines with cultural resonance, tackling big issues that is really relevant to SA kids, from drug addiction to cell phone bullying to consumerism. but in a way that's fearless and funny rather than Captain Planet-pedantic with giant robots and vicious attack monsters and breakouts of the face mushrooms.

    It's smart kids TV and I'm really proud of the show and although maybe sometimes it's too smart or too out there, I'd still rather kids were watching our show than action trash like Dragon Ball Z or glorified ads for card battle games like Yu-Gi-Oh.

    We're actually doing a talk about writing for animation at Michaelis tonight at the Animation Exchange, if anyone is keen to come drink cheap and nasty wine.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 14th, 2008 @15:22 #
     
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    I have to confess that my TV free house is a result of my sluttish housekeeping habits. We did have a television but it blew up in 1997 and I was too lazy to fix it. And lay there in interesting bits until we went to the New York in 1999. I did not buy a TV in the STates - it is a marvellous country without TV and then on return we had adjusted to no TV. So if laziness can be considered a virtue then, yes, I am a virtuous and educational mother. But sadly, I know myself and my literary daughters are a result of selfish inertia.... Margie

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    August 14th, 2008 @15:38 #
     
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    I'm not suggesting that there isn't good TV, but as a total addictive personality, better not to have the stuff in the house, and I've watched the Wire, Sopranos, usually in one period by renting from the wonderful DVD nouveau. I am also afraid I would let my daughter watch TV too much. She is so much more strong willed than me.... Anyway I'm not against TV for anyone else - just glad I don't have one. Although I am sure I am missing out on lots of wonderful things, when I weigh up the odds...

    The other night on my way back from Nieu Bethesda - spent a night in a hotel with a TV and we watched that Hugh Grant movie where he is a songwriter... but there was no decent children's TV in the time we were there, although we did channel hop a bit.

    I had a TV for a year when Kate was a baby/infant, I watched a bit of a video we filmed in that period and the TV was always on in the background, so scarey to notice that.

    Anyway enough of this addictive medium for now and back to work.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 14th, 2008 @16:00 #
     
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    Speaking of addictive personalities - I've started turning off my browser and email to get some work done.

    Click. Click.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 15th, 2008 @14:48 #
     
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    Hah hah, hit by Hegel. Margie, how old is the victim now? I bet you she's going to be studying philosophy when she gets to university.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 15th, 2008 @15:16 #
     
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    "...so that I can think deep thoughts about unemployment" as philosophy student Bruce Lee purportedly put it, when asked to explain his choice of study.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 15th, 2008 @15:44 #
     
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    I see you've re-launched your browser Richard. Junkie! But phew, man, I come here also to relax. Have had stressful day dealing with banks, internet transactions, companies claiming I owe them money after they gave me a refund (and that was two years ago). Are they bloody serious! That refund has long ago been converted to nicotine and tar... Oops, sorry, forgot you gave up smoking.... ;-}

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 15th, 2008 @17:07 #
     
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    HI Rustum. The victim of the Hegeling is now 12 - and is inclined to become absent minded, which a fond parent could easily interpret as philosophical. Her oldest sister - who escaped a Hegeling but had a close shave with Shopenhauer is in fact majoring in philosophy.... the sins of the mother... :)

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 15th, 2008 @17:51 #
     
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    The flesh and mind are weak and flabby. I'm still smoking, by the way. Need to go see my GP for some chemical support (a new addiction in the making perhaps). That said, it really is a boon to come here and discuss something worthwhile and to experience some intellecutal high-jinx, after 15 years feeding the corporate behemoth (albeit from a distance).

    I think I may still have some Sartre on the shelf, Margie. Do you think paperbacks will have the same effect? And do the children have to be in the infant stage for optimum imprinting?

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 15th, 2008 @21:30 #
     
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    Satre is a bit feeble, Satre in paperback will be no use at all if you are baby-wrangling. It needs to be good, hard-backed Germans. A kind of direct intellectual action is needed. I did find Hegel helpful - breastfeeding a small infant really can feel like the end of history (one's own in particular)...

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 15th, 2008 @23:21 #
     
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    Don't spare the Nietzsche to save the child.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 16th, 2008 @23:14 #
     
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    Nothing like Plato to placate them... and don you sock me any Socrates

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 17th, 2008 @09:06 #
     
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    I know I'm going to regret this, but I agree Aristotally.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 17th, 2008 @12:53 #
     
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    [Helpless laughter] Who needs comedy? Who needs TV? Who even needs ciggies (says the innocent who never got the bug) when you can read this chain of comments? This is my latest fix. Lauren, sweetie, I would never diss what you do. And nurturing the Alien Queen will make you even better at it than you already are. I suspect, rather like Margie, my parents were just too tired to do the intense and thoughtful supervision (not least switching off at EVERY ad break) required with both child and telly in the home. Easier to issue a blanket ban. And if you think I'm dogmatic, you should meet my mom -- while raising us, it was no junk food, no TV, almost no movies, and most interesting of all for a white woman of her generation, no domestic worker to help raise her kids. (I must be the only white woman of my age who's seen her mother on her knees scrubbing the toilet bowl.) But at least she didn't drop Hegel on our heads, the closest we got was paperback Camus.

    Colleen's point about not wanting her daughter to read tabloid news billboards causes me anguish. Parents whose young children read report finding these a major problem (even older children sometimes respond with nightmares, etc). What's to do?

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 18th, 2008 @16:19 #
     
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    I am Aristotally amused and insipired by the philosophical ping pong - but there's a reading thread too. The intimacy (and in my daughter's case the mortal danger!) of sharing books with children is central to becoming a reader. In Bessie Head's The Cardinals there is a wonderful rite of passage to reading for the protaganist (she learns from an old man who scavenges books and newspappers from a dump. Ngugi Wa Thiongo has a wonderful reading in a foreign language scene in Weep Not Child and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions does too - all children who make the transition to literacy in a written language not their own. It would be so interesting to do a series of those reading experiences in African literature (hint Hint Alex, in case you were feeling slothful). Learning to read in one's mother's tongue is a great privilege - it is also like the writer's curse of a happy childhood - it seems so natural that you hardly take note of it, Which leads me to the deep philosophical question: would my child have been less harmed by an old edition of Hume or Locke plummeting down on her small head? a question for all first year philosophers to ponder - a Hegeling or a Locking?

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