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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Sihle Khumalo’s formative reading experiences

Once upon a time in Pietermaritzburg, before he ever imagined he would some day celebrate his 30th birthday with an epic journey across Africa, before he dreamed he’d become a best-selling travel writer, author of the thrice reprinted debut Dark Continent My Black Arse, Sihle Khumalo had little hands and this is what he read …

Sihle’s earliest memory of reading:

I only started reading when I went to do Sub-Standard A (Grade 1). The only prescribed book, as some Zulus will recall, was called Masihambisane (Lets walk together). In that book we read things like umama umema omame (Mother is inviting other mothers) or Babi obaba babo (Their fathers are ugly). As you can tell, these sentences had the same ‘rhythm. ’Therefore by default, most kids – including yours truly – could not really read but, after a few days in school, it was like reciting a poem

Sihle’s first books:

Considering that even in Sub Standard B (Grade 2), I also read Masihambisane; the favourite book can only be Masihambisane. Although it was the same title as the Grade 1 book but it had ‘highly’ technical sentences like iqhude liyaqhaqhazela emumva kokuntshontsha ubhontshisi (The cock is shivering after stealing beans). The emphasis in our schools, I think, was more on kids learning to pronounce different consonants even if meant reading something which did not make a lot of sense, like a bean-stealing-shivering cock.

Sihle, as an adult, reading with his daughter:

Reading to my 4 year old daughter is one of my favourite pastimes. It gives me an opportunity to be a child again. I really put in a lot of effort when reading to her: sound effects, dramatization of script etc. From her response, I can see that she enjoys it. No wonder she is forever reminding me to read her Gcina Mhlophe’s book The Singing Chameleon.

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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