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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Anne Landsman’s formative reading experiences

Once upon a time in a town caught between a wide river and a bewitched mountain, in a life before The Devil’s Chimney and The Rowing Lesson, Anne Landsman had little hands and this is what she read …

Anne’s earliest memory of books and reading:

I remember poring over the newspaper, identifying words that I could read like “the”, “and” and “but”. Later, at primary school, I remember learning “See Rover run.” Rover was the dog, and Kitty was the cat in those early texts. The mother of the family wore an apron and was the epitome of fifties’ motherliness. Books were important in our home. In the breakfast room, where we ate all our meals, there was a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. In my late teens, I discovered that a banned, brown paper-covered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover lived on the topmost shelf.

Anne’s picture books:

I took books so seriously that some of the early picture books scared me. I didn’t like the cow jumping over the moon. The dark sky seemed frightening and endless. I wasn’t a big fan of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood either. But I adored the story of Scuffy the Tugboat, the toy boat with an independent streak, who escapes from his owner and ends up travelling along a river all the way to the sea. In the midst of his journey, there’s a rainstorm. I was impressed by the men piling sandbags along the banks to stop the river from flooding. Another picture book favorite was Petunia’s Christmas. I have a twilit memory of sitting on a low chair in the children’s section of the Worcester Public Library on a hot summer’s day and holding this beautiful book in my hands, examining the tracks made by Petunia the goose in the snow. Petunia’s in love with Charles, a gander who is being fattened up for Christmas and she does everything in her power to save his life. Of course she succeeds and they get married on Christmas Day. At their wedding, the farmer dances with one of his cows, his wife dances with a dog, pigs eat like pigs, a horse and cow cuddle, and Petunia and Charles wrap their wings around each other and kiss. The list of beloved books is long. Once I could read, I lived inside books. I was a huge Dr. Seuss fan, and the rhythms and cadences of his sentences have stayed with me to this day. My two favourites were
Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. I couldn’t get over that pink stripe the cat leaves in the bath! And then there’s P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! and Sam and the Firefly, books I read over and over again, marveling at the party the dogs have in the tree, and Gus the firefly’s antics. When I was older, my mother bought me The Children of the World series, published in Cape Town in the early sixties. I was fascinated by the children of Lapland and Finland, what they wore, and how cold it was where they lived. I spent years poring over these seven volumes, reading and rereading Greek myths, Turkish folktales, stories from Andorra, New Zealand, Kenya, Belgium, Denmark, Tibet.

Anne, as an adult, reading with children:

One of the great joys of my life has been reading to my children. I’ve shared my favorites with them, and have discovered many treasures I missed the first time around. I read The Little House on the Prairie series to my daughter and we wept together when the old dog died, and one of the sisters lost her sight. My son and I were riveted by Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, the story of a boy who has to learn how to survive in the North American wilderness when the small plane he’s in goes down. Sometimes I’ve introduced a book I loved as a child to them in the car, on CD. On one long trip, my husband, my daughter, my son and I all listened to An Incredible Journey, about the Lab, the Siamese and the Bull Terrier who travel a vast distance together looking for their owners. Other car favorites include a BBC radio production of The Wind in the Willows, Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, Jeremy Irons reading Road Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and, more recently, Seabiscuit and Of Mice and Men. Now that they’re older – my daughter’s thirteen and my son’s almost eleven – I still delight in finding ‘just-right’ books for them. There’s nothing to beat the look of absorption on their faces when a story grabs them, or they fall under the spell of a compelling character.

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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