One of my favourite storybook characters as a child was Mrs Tiggywinkle from The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle by Beatrix Potter. She was a hedgehog who miraculously reinvented herself daily - without ever compromising her true identity - into an industrious entrepreneur who ran a laundry service! There she was bustling across the rolling green hills of the English countryside, a world that for me existed only in storybooks, the conversations of my parents and birthday cards from relatives.
Nal'ibali Trust's blog
I have just achieved one of my ambitions as an early literacy specialist – helping to bring into being several little board books for babies and toddlers in all of our 11 official languages. You may ask why on earth babies and toddlers should get books when they cannot even talk yet, and how can it matter what language to use when the babies obviously cannot even read?
Here is why I think it matters – enormously.
Reading with comprehension is a human right which does not happen for most South Africans. Is this blanket statement really true or are we ignoring the fact that significant numbers of people are reading in a different form of language than is expected of them – particularly the younger generation criticised for writing CVs and matric examination in so-called txt-tese, SMS language or chat speak?
I remember ‘pretend’ play as a child. Sometimes alone, murmuring quietly to myself in a story, slipping through characters and time, being whoever I wanted to be and making things happen in ways that were larger and brighter than life. Or with my sister, moving in an enchanted space where I would be the princess and she, being the youngest, would have to jump at my every request. Like all children, we would spend hours weaving the raw material of our experiences into compelling play, where at once we would make sense of and escape from our real world.
We generally have a good system at home: no matter what happens, there is always a bedtime story. Generally. But there are those days when extra murals run late, homework piles up and before you know it, time has slipped by before we have had a moment to read. As a result, I have had to sometimes get creative with my family to sneak reading into our everyday lives - even if it is just 15 minutes a day.
Every Tuesday, an enterprising church minister from Rondebosch packs a box of theatre props and heads out to a nutrition rehabilitation centre in Crossroads on the Cape Flats. There, he tells stories and reads books to young children for who the squatter camp is both home, and the full extent of their worlds. As he arrives, they gather excitedly around his car, eager to help carry in the toys and finger puppets that make the stories come alive.
My favourite time all the way through school was at the end of a day, when our English teacher would say, “Put everything away, put your heads on your desks, shut your eyes and listen.” Then we would travel in our minds through the vivid worlds of storybook authors, sometimes familiar and sometimes strange, but always carried by the familiar and accomplished rhythm of our teacher’s reading voice.
On International Translation Day (30 September 2013), we celebrated the invaluable role of children’s literature in translation in bringing children together through story.
What greater hope could we have for our youngest citizens than that they grow up marvelling at and wanting more of the treasury of stories from the vast patchwork of world culture, past and present? Stories that have travelled and crossed borders through translation allow us all to discover what it means to be human, in both unique and shared ways.
Socrates told us that all thinking begins with wonder. Nobody would dispute the need for developing thoughtful citizens, but just how do we develop a sense of wonder in children? Through stories, of course. 6 March is World Read Aloud Day - this is a day to celebrate the wonder and delight of reading aloud to children (or the child that lurks within us).
Illiteracy in South Africa is a grave problem and we tend to approach it with the solemnity it deserves. Each year, we hold up the grim results of the national assessment of literacy in schools and design serious plans to improve them. We stack the curriculum primly with words and phonics, all in the correct order and printed on worksheets. All well and good, but where are the stories?