Biblionef South Africa is looking children / youth books that were originally published in an African language in South Africa. The organisation plans to reprint the books so children in need can read books written to them in their mother toungue.
Looking at the announcement, it struck me that I couldn’t think of three children’s books written in Setswana, my home language, that I read as a child.
I still have the badly written/illustrated collections of children’s stories that were prescribed for reading during my primary school years. And at home, we had a rich tradition of oral storytelling.
But the education department did not provide for reading for pleasure for Black children, there were no libraries in Phokeng, and my parents didn’t see children’s books as a priority. (they were too busy saving for day to day expenses and my education)
Intelletually, I knew there was a gap in my education, especially when I speak to people of other cultures ( including local English and Afrikaans speaking people) about their favourite books and authors that influenced them as children. But it was at that moment, when I read the announcement, that it really sank in that I couldn’t remember a single children’s book I read as a child.
READING FOR PLEASURE
The first book I read purely for pleasure was a comic book called SHE, which I borrowed from a Grade 9 classmate at Bafokeng High School. He later gave me a novel published by Mills and Boon, which I devoured within a week. We were 13 years old.
Hooked on romantic literature, I bought, exchanged, bribed anyone I could to score me more novels. I also tended to read my novels during lessons.
“Damaria, we know they all lived happily ever after, so could you please close your novel and pay attention until we solve this math problem?” Brother John would say at the beginning of the Maths lesson.
Brother Joseph kept me too busy in the science lab to even think about reading novels on his time, while Sister Eileen, my English teacher, “punished” me for every infraction by banishing me to the school’s meagre library.
Find an interesting book, read it and then come and tell me about it, she’d say. The library books, which were mostly prescribed reading for other classes, didn’t seem to be as interesting as my novels, but they did keep busy and out of trouble. I now realise the teachers used my interest in books to deal with a bored student who’d already run through her school syllabus and needed additional work to do.
I did eventually discover many children’s writers and worked my way through internationals like Dr Seuss, Judy Blume, Enid Blyton, CS Lewis etc, and locals like Chris Van Wyk, Diane Case and Gcina Mhlope.
But, there is a part of me that regrets that I read the books with an adult eye. That is one of the many reasons I write children’s stories: I want to play a small part in ensuring that the new generation of African children experience books at an early age and grow to see them as entertainment, not work they have to wade through.
To donate children’s books ( in any of SA’s eleven languages) through Biblionef, click here.