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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Joanne Jowell’s formative reading experiences

The Borrowers by Mary NortonOver 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:

The Tiger Who Came to Tea 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:

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson 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. Jo and her son reading 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.

 

Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    February 26th, 2009 @15:40 #
     
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    Bump! Super post here. (The entire series is dynamite.)

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    February 26th, 2009 @17:25 #
     
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    Amazing how often Where the Wild Things Are has been listed as a favourite.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    February 26th, 2009 @18:57 #
     
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    Judith Kerr also wrote the wonderful Mog series, about one of the cutest fictional cats ever. Her personal story about escaping from Nazi Germany is fascinating too. I love the Little Hands series.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 26th, 2009 @19:10 #
     
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    Of course! When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit...

    A friend kindly offered to loan me Goodbye Mog when Pushkin left this world. I seem to remember raising my head from the box of tissues in which it was buried and bawling like a calf just at the title. She hastily dropped the subject...

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    February 26th, 2009 @20:37 #
     
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    Nooooo ... not Goodbye Mog.

    Why did she ever write that? Why? I picked it up in a bookshop once with a view to buying it for my kids. Blubbered quietly to myself for a few minutes and put it back. Now I avert my eyes as from a car crash whenever I happen to spot it on a shelf. My children don't know about it. I am Sheltering them from its existence.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 26th, 2009 @22:57 #
     
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    Good for you, Fiona. My parents managed to keep the death of Bambi's mother a secret from me all through childhood -- for which I am grateful.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    February 27th, 2009 @09:07 #
     
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    Poor Mog. I wonder if the author planned to kill Mog from the start or got tired of writing about Mog. Perhaps mothers are more inclined to hide the violent bits from their children, my dad used to read to me, and I remember a lot of creatures who died like Jock of the Bushveld and the cobra Nagaina in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, in the Arabian Nights people often had their throats slit or other such ending, and I vaguely remember in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea there were several dead things sharks, people floating in the sea, and of course the black spot of death in Treasure Island, somebody died in Heidi too, I’m sure, and in the fairytales there was always some parent who had died or witch who wanted to kill somebody else .

    I should have put a link to Axel Scheffler, because he illustrates Julia Donaldson’s books and he illustrated the best-selling picture book in the UK, their ‘Gruffalo’. His drawings are so bold and brilliantly coloured, they always stand out from every other picture book on the bookshop shelf.

    Here is a link to a quaint ‘Day in the Life of Axel Scheffler’ with his b&w illustrations of the day… definitely worth taking a quick look at:

    http://www.gruffalo.com/axel.html

    And here is a browse inside with some background information to ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr:
    http://browseinside.harpercollins.com.au/index.aspx?isbn13=9780007274772

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    February 27th, 2009 @14:42 #
     
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    Jo sent through a pic of her and her son reading, so I've added it at the end of the post. Thanks Jo.

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  • <a href="http://www.quarterlife.co.za" rel="nofollow">Joanne</a>
    Joanne
    March 2nd, 2009 @22:50 #
     
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    I often wonder whether it's the "right" thing for a parent to do - to shield their children from the bad bits. After all, that's the whole psychological purpose of the old fairytales: to create the evil witch in bold technicolour so that kids can see the articulation of the bad side and have somewhere to project their fears. That, and the added bonus of learning that the witch is always trounced by the shining knight, so good always prevails... Still, I think children can manage far more than we give them credit for, and they always see straight through the half-truths anyway.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 2nd, 2009 @23:49 #
     
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    Mmm, interesting debate. I grew up on a farm, so was confronted with the real death of animals at an early age -- no protection against the facts of life should an owl fly into a fence, or a sheep die in labour -- but I became hysterical if ever confronted with the fictional suffering or death of an animal. My parents soon learnt to protect me from all such accounts.

    I'm still undecided about what kids should and shouldn't have to process. I remember, at six, being appalled by Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid. So this is what romantic love is, I remember thinking: cutting out your tongue and walking on razorblades for the rest of your life. And I was never able to shake that initial impression, that fairytales weren't about happily ever after, but about the terrible threat of love that would silence my voice.

    Three friends have separately said that their children learning to read led to tears and nightmares as a direct result of being able to read those sick-making Sun headlines attached to poles. I'd like to take a flamethrower to the lot.

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