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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Emma van der Vliet’s formative reading experiences

There was once a wonderland time long before Past Imperfect, when Emma van der Vliet had little hands and this is what she read …

Emma’s earliest memory of books and reading:
I read voraciously and omnivorously as a child. Books fuelled endless fantasy games of “lost in the wood” and formed the basis of many of the “plays” that my friends and I inflicted on our parents on a regular basis.

Emma’s picture books:

Alice in Wonderland was, and is, and enduring favourite. There was something darkly Gothic about this (as there is about so many children’s stories) which appealed to my sensibilities even then – I’m sure it was the foundation for my later obsession with the Brontë sisters’ work. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, and all the Beatrix Potter books. But before I make myself out to be excessively literary, I also absolutely loved Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair Adventures. We had a huge belhambra tree in our garden in Grahamstown, and I’d climb its thick branches into other worlds, just like the children in the Faraway Tree. I read a lot of nature books, and I also read my little brother Asterix books with great relish – if it weren’t for his own keen desire to read them himself I’m not sure he would ever have bothered to learn to read! I read almost anything I could get my hands on, or got my long-suffering mother to read it to me – though she balked at Noddy because she found him “gormless”. I enjoyed storytime in the wonderful Grahamstown library: I have since paid a good few nostalgic visits to that library as an adult and must confess to a bit of an obsession with old municipal libraries in general. I got audio books on vinyl from the library, which I listened to endlessly, and I was also given a few for various birthdays. I remember the Beatrix Potter books (particularly Jeremy Fisher, Mrs Tittlemouse and Squirrel Nutkin) on record, as well as The Wind in the Willows, Sparky’s Magic Piano, and the thrillingly scary Magic Roundabout story about Dougal and the Blue Cat. Many years later, when I was living on Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard and commuting to Noordhoek for work, the prospect of listening to my story tapes in the car made me anticipate the daily trips with great excitement.

Emma, as an adult, reading with children:

Now that I have children of my own, one of my greatest pleasures is reading to them. Luckily for me they love books and stories as much as I do, and it’s the easiest way to calm things down when they wind each other into a frenzy: all I need to do is to say a few words in my storytelling voice and peace descends…

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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