South African writer, Sindiwe Magona, advises parents in South Africa if they are giving presents, always include a book. She was one of the three writers who were discussing the topic, Children’s Stories in Africa, during the Literature Festival at the Free State Arts Festival recently.
She says that is the only way children will begin to understand that parents think books are important.
“Whatever else the parents are giving, they should include a book in every package.”
“If you are travelling with or without your children, always include a book in your bag, so that the children must think it is important to have books. When you travel, have inside your bag your lipstick, mirror and perfume, and a book,” she says.
“Children learn from what parents do. If they think that books are not important, it is our fault. If we always include a book in our gift giving, if we always have books in our bags, we don’t have to say to children books are important. They will know that books are important because they see us reading books. And since children love what their parents are doing, what their big sisters are doing and what their relatives are doing, they will also read books like their parents, sisters and their relatives.”
Magona further says the important thing is the story. “We must remember why we tell stories, why stories have been told from many many years ago. We are made of stories and we live on stories. People who are advanced in science say the child can hear the sounds his/her mother listens to, so the foetus is stimulated. The women who are pregnant tell stories to their children before they are born. Now with the breakdown of family life and the extended family no longer being there, there are no more grandmothers telling stories. People are rushing around trying to make a living. Other cultures read to their children. I find with my Jewish, Afrikaans or English-speaking friends the people who read books to their children and grandchildren, are their grandmothers. If you go to Exclusive Books on Saturdays, at the Children’s Corner, you will find a parent reading a book to an 18-month-old child. Now if you go to Grade 1 and Grade 3 classes in our schools in the townships, our children are not excited about books, because they don’t have books at their homes, and they don’t have books at their schools.”
Magona says we have a huge challenge. Children must visit libraries and each school in our townships must have a library. This will encourage our children to read books. – Flaxman Qoopane