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Little Hands

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Phakama Mbonambi’s formative reading experiences

Phakama, Eskia and WordsetcA wee while ago, not far away, but long before he became publishing editor of Wordsetc, a literary journal that promotes the consumption of South African literature and encourages a culture of reading and writing, Phakama Mbonambi, had little hands, and this is what he read:

Phakama’s earliest memory of books and reading

Wordsetc Initially, everything I read as a child was in Zulu. English books would come later. The earliest memory of my early reading years is of me as a boy reading scripture from the Bible at prayer time in the evenings at home. I must have been seven and living in Durban. I read well, faithfully observing the rules of proper reading speed and voice rhythm. For someone my age, my Bible reading seemed precocious. Impressed by my reading ability, my dad often asked me to read whenever we prayed with guests. I could not shake off the feeling that there was an element of showoff in the request. But I didn’t mind. It made him proud and I got to be the centre of attention despite being a shy little fella.

Phakama’s books and heroes

WordsetcOf course, as a child you don’t just start reading a heavy text like the Bible. Some kind of reading lead to it. For me, schools textbooks, the ones with lots of pictures and simple tales, paved the way. Having learned to read at an early age, I acquired a healthy appetite stories. I longed to read something substantial, something books in my grade never provided. My two older brothers’ school books came in handy. That is how I came to read books with stories several grades higher than my own.

When I started reading books in English, the children’s section at the City Hall Library in Durban was a treasure trove. It was well stocked. No particular titles I read stand out in my mind. It was a question of choosing any book that caught one’s fancy and loaning it for two weeks at a time. Or following the librarian’s recommendation. It was fun. New, exciting worlds opened. Even as a teenager in boarding school, I kept returning to the Durban Library. It remained special. By then I played tennis at school. It was late 1980s. Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were dominant figures in the world of tennis and everyone who played the game at school sought to emulate them. Since we had no tennis coach, during school holidays I used books from this library to learn about the intricacies of hitting deadly backhands, accurate volleys and unreachable drop shots. It worked. Sadly, advancing age and a lack of match practice, now deny me the ability to even toss the ball in the air in the right manner and serve nor the confidence to attempt running after any drop shot.

Phakama, as an adult, on reading and children

WordsetcBecause I do not have children of my own, and do not live with children, I have not yet had a chance to read to a child. If I did have children I’d certainly impress the importance of reading. I’d tell them about the magical worlds that exist within books, waiting to be explored. I’d tell them about the power of words in conveying ideas and improving conceptual skills. I’d also tell them about the books’ ability to foster self-education, that not everything they will learn in this world will necessarily come from a teacher in class or a coach at the tennis court. I’d also tell them that reading books in indigenous languages is important and must be strongly encouraged even outside the classroom.

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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.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    December 29th, 2008 @17:34 #

    Very inspiring, esp Phakama's ideals for reading to children. And yet another carrot for public libraries.


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