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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Mike Nicol’s formative reading experiences


Upon a time in wild and wonderful Fish Hoek, where swimmers still swim every morning in summer, long before he was known as a lyricist, novelist, essayist and one of the most important English langugage authors in the land, Mike Nicol had little hands and this is what he read …

Mike’s earliest memory of books and reading:

I have a sense of being read to from a very young age as the last occasion when my mother read to me I was probably about 10 years old. At the time I had measles and couldn’t read for myself. She read two books during my illness: The Coral Island and Children of the New Forest. I don’t recall the occurrence as anything out of the ordinary which is why I believe being read to must have been part of my childhood.

Mike’s picture books:
David took a stone from the bag at his side, and putting it into his sling, he took good aim, and it struck Goliath in the middle of the forehead and stunned him. As the giant fell, David ran up to him, and taking the mighty sword, cut off his head with it.
The only deep memory I have of a picture book is one of illustrated stories from the bible. Mostly stories from the Old Testament, I think. There are two pictures I can recall: the first is of David and Goliath – the mighty man with his sword and shield, and the small David with his sling. I suppose it said something about persistence and determination. The second is of Samson and Delilah –of his hair being cut while he was chained to stone columns and his subsequent wrath and the columns collapsing. Death, destruction, anger, treachery, betrayal, love, deceit – it was all there. What more could you want in a story?

Mike, as an adult, reading with children:

As a young adult of 19, 20 I read to my much younger sister. I can remember, too, reading to the children I would baby sit on Friday nights to earn money. Later I read to a daughter. But better still were the years when I could recommend books to her and watch her disappear for hours into those imaginary worlds. The thing about it always: the power of the stories to transport. Put another way, it always astounded me how the words opened up a listener’s (or reader’s) vast imagination.

*
R.M. Ballantyne’s “Personal Reminiscences in Book Making”
It was a wild, black night of howling storm, the night in which I was born on the foaming bosom of the broad Atlantic Ocean. My father was a sea-captain; my grandfather was a sea-captain; my great-grandfather had been a marine.
Scottish writer of adventure stories RM Ballantyne is most famous for The Coral Island, first published in 1858, and never out of print since then. The book is known to have inspired and influenced Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, and William Golding. Ballantyne was from a famous family of Edinburgh printers and publishers.

Incidents in Book Making—Introductory.
Book making is mixed up, more or less, with difficulties. It is sometimes disappointing; often amusing; occasionally lucrative; frequently expensive, and always interesting—at least to the maker.

Of course I do not refer to that sort of book making which is connected with the too prevalent and disgraceful practice of gambling, but to the making of literary books—especially story-books for the young.

For over eight-and-thirty years I have had the pleasure of making such books and of gathering the material for them in many and distant lands.

… One day my dear father was reading in the newspapers some account of the discoveries of
Dease and Simpson in the neighbourhood of the famous North-west Passage. Looking at me over his spectacles with the perplexed air of a man who has an idle son of sixteen to start in the race of life, he said—

“How would you like to go into the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company and discover the North-west Passage?”—or words to that effect.

“All right, father,” said I—or something of that sort.

I was at that age, and in that frame of mind, which regards difficulties with consummate presumption and profound inexperience. If the discovery of the North-pole had been suggested, or the South-pole, or any other terrestrial pole that happened to exist at the time,

I was quite ready to “rush in” where even a Franklin might “fear to tread!”

This incident was but a slight one, yet it was the little hinge on which turned my future career.

So it was that Ballantyne, at 16, went to Canada to work at the Hudson’s Bay Company. After six years he returned to Scotland and his first book, based on his experiences in Canada, was published a year later: Hudson’s Bay: or, Life in the Wilds of North America.

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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