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Little Hands

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Yetta Goodman’s formative reading experiences

F for Farar, far away, beyond all sorts of countries, seas, and rivers, in an era before pesky DIBELS, good Miscues and the Reading Revolution, before she was a Professor at the University of Arizona’s College of Education, Yetta Goodman had little hands and this is what she read…

Yetta’s earliest memory of books and reading:

There was little to read in my home. I thought my parents were illiterate until recently when I remembered the newspapers and monthly journals that my parents read in Yiddish. There were no kids books in our home but my mother made sure my older sister and I went to the library regularly.

I think I must have been about seven. We’d go weekly and take out books and return the ones we read. My mother always would scold me for reading too much. She thought it would hurt my eyes.

Yetta’s picture books:

The Dutch Twins
The Blue Fairy Book
HeidiI remember the twins books — The Dutch Twins is the one I remember the name of. I also like all the Colored Fairy Tale books — The Blue Fairy Book, etc. But those were for kids of 8 and older. But I don’t remember picture books much at all. Most I remember Heidi because I was asked in my first Children’s Literature Course to reread a book we loved as a child. Heidi was the only book I remembered at that time. I was appalled when I reread it because of all the Christian symbolism. As a young Jewish orthodox reader I must have missed all the innuendos of the religious aspects of the book. I loved the grandfather, the rural mountainous world in which they lived and I thought Heidi was the kind of child I would like to have been.

Yetta, as an adult, reading with children:

I was reading to my own kids (three daughters) from the first months they were born. We have miscue and spelling data on our children from the age of fix or six. I have more data from all my grandchildren.


Extract from Reading in the Bilingual Classroom:
Literacy and Biliteracy

By Kenneth Goodman, Yetta Goodman and Barbara Flores
First published in 1979

Literacy in a Multilingual World

And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another: “Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone and slime they had for mortar. And they said: “Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the Lord said: “Behold they are one people and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they propose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city, therefore was the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth. Genesis 11:2

Thus does the Old Testament account for the multilingual world that was known in biblical times and has been revealed in all its complexity by modern linguistic scholarship.

Language, oral in its beginnings, developed in the many communities of humanity to meet the communicative needs of people who shared the same experiences, cultures, and life-space. It was a vital necessity of the human society and the individual in that society. Homo sapiens, the thinking social animal, needed and developed language to communicate his or her complex thoughts and needs to others of the species. Theirs was a here-and-now language. Travel was difficult and perilous. People lived their lives where they were born or traveled in small nomadic groups. Languages grew and developed in isolation from each other. Further as groups speaking the same language diverged and became separated from each other, their language forms grew apart to the point where they became separate dialects or even separate languages.

When human society became more complex and nations and governments emerged, national boundaries were superimposed on the language communities. Invasions were linguistic as well as military, but conquests took many forms. Languages were suppressed, amalgamated, or encapsuled. Conquerors emerged as ruling classes whose language differed from the language of the conquered. Linguistic minorities were sometimes surrounded but kept distinct. Sometimes the rulers themselves remained a linguistic minority eventually taking on, in modified form, the majority language. At other times segments of the population became multilingual, using the language of conquest for official matters, ancient languages for ceremonial matters, and popular languages for mundane matters.

Linguistic diversity is not a characteristic of the past. There is scarcely a country in the world today that could claim to be monolingual in any real sense, with no linguistic minorities, no significant dialect variations. Furthermore, historical linguistic conflicts reemerge as minorities assert their identity. Gaelic, Hebrew, Flemish, French-Canadian take on new meaning to their speakers or the descendents of their speakers.

The Emergence of Written Language

In the beginning, we have said language was oral. But oral language, at least until modern technology recently appeared, is both perishable and limited in scope. It cannot be used beyond the distance it can be heard. And once spoken, it is lost. If people or societies wish to pass on history, rituals, literature, the capacity of the oral tradition is limited since it must be stored in the minds of successive generations. Written language makes possible an infinite expansion of the social memory. The beginnings of written language have ancient roots indeed. Few human cultures have not had some form of script, tallies, and or pictorial representations to meet some cultural needs. But only as societies developed complex cultures and as nations grew large was there the necessity for complete written forms to meet all the communicative needs a language must serve.

From the beginning, written language has had to cope with multilinguality. Since its purpose is to communicate over time and space, it is not easily confined to small communities with one common form of language. Further, with oral language changing over time, cultural documents are passed on which are often written in dead languages or archaic language forms: Sanskrit, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Aramaic, or the English of King James. Small groups must be trained in each generation to interpret the ancient language for their contemporaries. Up until modern times, the need for written language was more societal than personal. While society needed to communicate over distance and society needed to preserve its history, laws, literature, and tradition, personal literacy by masses of people was unneeded; a small number of literate people could handle the job for the entire community.

This literacy did not even need to be in the national language, let alone all minority languages. Not until late in the Renaissance did literacy in popular languages like French, English, Spanish, Italian, German emerge. Only classic languages were considered worthy of use in writing. Indeed in the early American colonies “Latin Grammar Schools” prepared the true scholars.
The Persian empire of Darius carried on its business at one stage through a “signal corps” of Hebrew scribes who used their own language. A small group of monks, literate in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, carried the burden for preserving and transmitting the essence of Western civilization through the Middle Ages of Europe. They also served the kings of their times in state matters. The office of scribe, a person who does the writing and reading for the community, still exists in many parts of the world.

What makes today’s situation in the world and in the United States different is that civilization has become complex and considerable education is necessary even for basic participation economically and culturally in society. The need for mass literacy has emerged. Individuals and groups who are not literate cannot make it in general society. Now for the first time humanity must confront the need for universal literacy and what that means in multilingual nations in a multilingual world.

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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