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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Arthur Attwell’s formative reading experiences

Translated from the Italian and with color illustrations, a slightly satirical tale of the world of Quanta, the strange creature called Vanuk, and an invasion by the terrible Sacripanti.Once, not far away, but light years ago it seems, in an age before Killing Time and Electric Book Works, Arthur Attwell had little hands and this is what he read …

Arthur’s earliest memory of books and reading:
The memory has probably changed over the years, but in my earliest recollection of reading, I’m in the car in the little town of White River, and suddenly I realise that I can read a street sign. It probably said something like “Reduce speed” or “Children crossing”, but I clearly remember such exhilaration, as if the whole grown-up world has just been granted to me, and that everything had changed.

I remember learning to read at school, and our teacher had just received a new set of readers, which meant she could discard the tatty Dick-and-Janes of our predecessors. She was quite obviously thrilled about it. The new readers were bigger, more colourful, and a whole lot more fun. I honestly don’t think I would have been as keen on reading if it hadn’t been for them. Perhaps it wasn’t so much reading that inspired me, but a love for new, shiny books. I still buy books for their beauty more than I do to actually read them.

Arthur’s picture books:

Just the other day my dad found a battered old favourite called Vanuk Vanuk, a bizarre children’s book by Guido Sperandio that my Dad bought for my Mother on the day I was born. The illustrations are full of little details to discover, and as a child I love nothing more than to do looking for them.No other book has stayed with me quite as firmly over the years.

Best Word Book Ever
Otherwise, a Richard Scarry illustrated dictionary, and countless Asterix books. I have a big “Book of Knowledge” too, a 500-page tome of pictures and text about history and science that I must have read from cover to cover at least twice.

Arthur, as an adult, reading with children:

I haven’t had many chances to read with children, except for my young nieces from time to time. There’s never any telling what will please them most — as adults we are utterly incapable of telling exactly what a child will love most from book to book — we can only make guesses and try to pass on our own enthusiasm for a book on to them. The proof in hindsight is whether the child picks up and reads the book on their own later, and that’s when I get the most pleasure from seeing a child with a book, when they’re making their own way through it at their own pace.

Richard Scarry the Revolutionary Author of Interactive Children’s Literature

  • “What can you do with these things?” “Why do you think that happened?” “What will happen if you…?”

  • Scarry’s books have been popular for two generations because of similar questions liberally peppered throughout each book. Scarry was big on asking the reader what was going on in his drawings and how they felt about them: “What do you want to buy at the store?” “What is your favorite animal at the zoo?” “What do you think might happen next?” These types of questions help spark a child’s imagination and inquisitive nature.

    Scarry did more than just write books, he drew them–more than 100 between 1949 and his death in 1994. Each book was filled with bright colors, active little animal characters, and lots of details. Light on text, the books were cartoon-like glimpses of the world a child might observe every day: from the schoolroom and city streets to the dentist office and construction site.

    “He was kind of revolutionary in that he wasn’t telling a story like other children’s writers at the time were,” says Dallas DiLeo, head librarian of the Children’s Department at Carnegie Library, Oakland. “Any book with such incredibly detailed pictures that you can plunge into is wonderful.

  • “Busytown addresses the prescience skills of children–the foundation of the scientific process”
    You can look at the same page over and over and see new things…it’s so absorbing. Children love that aspect of his books.”

  • Scarry’s books were first published in the late 50s–a time when children were quickly defecting from traditional books to the flashing visuals of the TV screen. But Scarry’s almost plotless, image-driven books captured children’s attention in a way that seemed to echo the busyness occurring on the small screen, yet in a more educational manner.

  • “In Richard Scarry’s world nonreaders can create stories to accompany pictures and diagrams, or parents can read the text to a child as a fun, interactive activity.”

  • One quality of Scarry’s books most appreciated by parents was that the books could be enjoyed two ways: nonreaders could peruse them alone and create a story to accompany the pictures and diagrams, or a parent could read the text to a child as a fun, interactive activity. As DiLeo says, books that promote interaction, as Scarry’s books do, are very important in helping to expand a child’s language experience and understanding. “There has to be a conversation along with the book,” she says.

    (Quoted from M.A Jackson’s article on Richard Scarry for the Carnegie Museum’s Magazine.)

    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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