Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Arja Salafranca’s formative reading experiences

Far away before the world became as it is today, before she was a writer, editor, reviewer, poet author of A Life Stripped of Illusions, and The Fire in Which We Burn, and before Glass Jars Among Trees, Arja Salafranca had little hands and this is what she read …

Arja’s earliest memory of books and reading:

My earliest memory of books and reading: living in Tel Aviv with my parents in a hostel, seeing my mother with a book pressed to her face, and a pile of books by my father’s side as well. He spoke and read in six languages so he had a greater choice than my English-speaking mother scrounging for books in a time before the internet and ordering books became easy. TV was in a communal room downstairs, so reading was what we did at night.

Arja’s picture books:

Again, a memory from Israel. My mother read to me from a picture book called Jennifer’s Walk. I was three, going on four. In the book Jennifer, a young child living on a farm takes her first steps to independence. She goes on a walk to visit her horse in a field (as far as I remember), clutching an apple for her horse. She goes through a forest, visits the horse and then returns. This made such an impression on me. I too was going to go for a walk on my own, with no adults. Now living on a kibbutz, I told my mother my plans and set off on this adventure into independence. I didn’t go far, or stay away long, but there I was venturing out. That book has stayed with me – I must have asked my mother to read and re-read it to me. What strikes me now is the lesson I learned: that books do have power, to change you, to make you re-evaluate things, to encourage you.

There were, of course, other books in between. A book about a mouse going to school that I read, or had read to me at age five, soon after we had arrived in South Africa and I had started at my new nursery school. The mouse had a better time of it than I.

And them, of course, there’s Enid Blyton, a huge huge influence. My first short stories were mini-novels, all based on boarding school stories as Blyton wrote them. I had never been to boarding school, knew nothing of the life there, yet when has that ever stopped an Enid Blyton fan? I read the Secret Seven mysteries, the Famous Five, the Mallory Towers boarding school adventures and more. I had shelves of her books. With my pocket money at R2 a week I could afford to buy two Blytons, they cost just under a rand in the early eighties if you went to the Hyperama. I still have a soft spot for Blyton – if I had any children, they’d certainly be introduced to this wonderfully, creative, child-friendly author.


Who can solve The Mystery of Unreadable Beloved Blytonian Bliss?

Ham sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer, what more could the five ask for?

‘I myself can barely bring myself to talk about my Enid Blyton years. Who wants to let daylight in upon magic?’ writes Lucy Mangan in an utterly, splendidly ripping article in the Guardian. Decades after her death, Enid Blyton still sells around eight million books worldwide every year and has just been voted, once again, Britain’s best-loved author. There is even Enid Blyton Day. But Mangan continues, ‘It ranks, therefore, as one of the greatest disappointments of my adult life to discover, on returning to the serried ranks of Blytonian tomes that line the far wall of my study, that they have become, in the cruelly intervening years, unreadable. How could this happen?’

Typing at top speed

Enid Blyton has featured in the formative reading experiences of many other South African writers, including:

Ceridwen Dovey:

Tim Keegan:

Colleen Higgs

In this BBC radio interview Enid Blyton talks to Marjorie Anderson about all things including her childhood and her favourite characters: Twentieth Century Women (re-broadcast on Woman’s Hour) 13 January 1963 Home Service

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.


Please register or log in to comment