Joanne Jowell’s formative reading experiences
Over the mountain not far away, not many years ago, in a palace on cliffs overlooking Africa’s bright sea, before becoming the bestselling author of On The Other Side of Shame, Joanne Jowell had little hands and this is what she read …
Joanne’s earliest memory of books and reading:
My mother used to read me a chapter from a storybook every night before bedtime. We devoured The Chronicles of Narnia (though I only really remember The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), The Borrowers and, my favourite – The Secret Garden. It was a classic case of “just one more story, mom” as a vain attempt at bedtime procrastination. And it’s coming back to bite me, since my 3-year old son does the same thing to me now with Mr Men and Hairy Maclary.
I have really fond memories of the Muizenberg library. Every year over the December holidays, we came down to Cape Town from Johannesburg. My parents had a flat in Muizenberg and the first day’s destinations were always the Old Cape Farm Stall in Tokai for food shopping, and the Muizenberg library for holiday reading. I had a battered blue library card that I kept in a special draw in my room, and I would fish it out as soon as we arrived. Then we’d all traipse down to the library, sit on those grey reading stools that look like upturned waste-paper baskets, and page through our selections for the month. It was always quiet in there, especially compared to the holiday mayhem outside its doors; it seemed a world away from the sickly-sweet coconut oil, screeching seagulls and blustery southeasters of a standard December day in Muizies. It never occurred to me that I could swap out my books if I finished them during the holiday; I always felt I had to pick out those that would last me the longest, and to hoard as many as I could on that first visit.
Joanne’s picture books:
I just loved The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr: I always fantasized that a tiger might really come to tea with me one day, and probably hoarded biscuits and buns should that day ever arrive! I also loved The Greedy Dragon by Bronnie Cunningham; as a child, the idea of a sweet shop overflowing with candies, cakes and ice cream was just heavenly. Of course Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was a regular feature, tapping into every child’s need to control their world and be the master of their own destiny. My mother kept all these old books and I now read them to my son, who loves them almost as much as I did.
Joanne, as an adult, reading with children:
It is one of parenting’s greatest joys to be able to read to your child. I love the time spent reading to my son, both in terms of watching the delight play out on his face, and in terms of my own enjoyment of certain books and rhymes. The Julia Donaldson books (The Gruffalo, The Snail &The Whale, Room On The Broom etc) are my favourite read-aloud books: the rhythms and rhymes are unique, and so much fun. It is fascinating to learn about the world from a child’s point of view: the questions they come up with during a story shed such light on the way their minds work. I sometimes change a storyline of a book if I don’t particularly like its message or (mistakenly?) want to protect my son from scary or hurtful plots. But the illustrations speak volumes and he often sees right through my deception, saying something like: “No, Mommy, Thomas the Train looks cross in this picture, not happy. Why is he cross?” From the mouths of babes…
We love The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because of a convergence of six elements writes Earl F. Palmer in his review A Fairy Tale for All Ages, which begins:
C. S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950 as a gift for his godchild, Lucy Barfield. He explained the gift to her in his preface to the book: “I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
Lewis later told a friend that he intended to write only the one story, but we know that something happened to this Oxford don, because his story asserted itself into his heart and mind and became seven stories, The Chronicles of Narnia. We are grateful that he was carried away and into Narnia, because we are too!
[Read on for the six elements]
Author of the UK’s best-selling picture book, Julia Donaldson, began her career writing songs for children’s TV
I grew up not just with my parents, but with my lovely grandmother and my very nice aunt and uncle. None of them could afford a house in Hampstead on their own so they all clubbed together. My grandmother (my father’s mother) lived on the top floor, my father’s sister and her husband in the middle and my nuclear family on the ground floor, which was just as well because when I was six my father got polio and from then on he was in a wheelchair.
My parents were quite leftwing. Not radical or militant but liberal left. My father hated Monopoly. My uncle and aunt taught it to me and my sister, and we were capitalist as anything. When we tried to get my father to play he said he wouldn’t play “that horrible game where you ruin people”. I later discovered that my grandmother voted Conservative. I was amazed. I’d never heard of anyone I knew voting Conservative. [Full article at The Guardian online]
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.