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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Pamela Jooste’s formative reading experiences

In high and not so far-off times at the Queens Hotel in the Cape Town habour, before Dance with a Poor Man’s Daughter, Frieda and Min, Like Water in Wild Places, People Like Ourselves and Môrester, before she dreamed she would be a multi-award-winning author, Pamela Jooste had little hands and this is what she read …

Pamela’s earliest memory of books and reading:

My earliest memory was being read to by a shopkeeper who lived just around the corner from the hotel in Dock Road when I was very young … I remember at age six to seven, when he’d already been reading to me for some time that we had gone onto ‘Water Babies’ ‘Treasure Island’ ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and other quite advanced reads. My mother was reading me ‘Heidi’ and ‘Ann of Green Gables’ which he didn’t have much time for. I suppose he kind of thought of them as being the Mills & Boon of the child book world. It was a marvelous start and in grown up life he told me that the books he’d chosen were not random choices but well though out as I would have eventually worked out myself looking back.

Pamela’s picture books:

I remember those funny small A is for Apple type books at pre-school and I guess they were faves because they were all I knew and so colourful. Later favourites were ‘The Little Engine that Could’ I just love that he endeavoured so hard and succeeded. Roald Dahl ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ ‘Flat Stanley’ ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and of course Lewis Carroll’s Alice books because the characters were extremely vivid in my mind and I could have read them endlessly. Cliffhangers too, so maybe I should have been a crime writer and I soon discovered how wrapped up they got in what they were told. When I started telling them stories that scared them – and me! – half to death I was told to stop. I must mention that they are ten and twelve years younger than I am so I was really only a teenager in those days myself. I also liked Eloise’s stories, but then I lived in an hotel myself although it was nothing like the Ritz!

Pamela, as an adult, reading with children:

I haven’t read much to children as I don’t have any but I do have two nephews. I didn’t read to them as such but I told them stories which were tremendous


Publisher offers $1000 reward, for “information establishing beyond any reasonable doubt the exact identity of the actual author of the famous childhood classic.”

When squabbling over who owned the rights to the Little Engine came to a head in September 1955, a nationwide search commenced to find the true author of the much loved story. The first known version of the story was called Thinking One Can, and it was published in a 1906 children’s Sunday school journal. No author was credited. This is the story as it appeared a hundred years ago:

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me,” said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. At last in desperation the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “I think I can,” puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As is went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Then as it near the top of the grade, that had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly, but still kept saying, “I–think–I–can, I–think–I–can.” It reached the top by dint of brave effort and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
To think of hard things and say, “I can’t” is sure to mean “Nothing done.” To refuse to be daunted and insist on saying, “I think I can,” is to make sure of being able to say triumphantly by and by, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”

Fifty years after publishers Platt & Munk first offered that $1000 reward, the true identity of the author-creator of the Little Engine remains a mystery. Watty Piper still credited as author on Platt & Munk’s editions of the story, is no more than a ‘house-name’–there is no such person as Watty Piper.

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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