May 23, 2014 § 6 Comments
I am shocked and ashamed that I have neglected my blog for so many months. Not that I need to apologize, I suppose. It’s not that I get hundreds of visits! Still, it’s a bit shabby – like old magazines lying about a doctor’s reception long after fashions have changed.
So, what I’m going to do is, give a potted account to bring it up to date. Starting with my birthday last year when, as I’ve been doing for years, I spent a morning at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Primary School where I told a impromptu story around the making of some origami pieces. My friend Kyoko Kimura (a fellow origami enthusiast) joined me in the making of a little set for the school.
Lovely Kyoko Kimura
The learners are all patients at the hospital, many with serious illnesses. I am always moved by their braveness, being away from home and yet being able to smile at a stranger who comes and with a story, For this visit, I made a box of traditional ‘Peace Birds’ and ‘Kyoko Origami Dolls’ – which I designed and named after my friend. The children drew faces on them and dressed them.
Peace Birds and Kyoko Dolls
Busi, a small 13 year old with a BIG smile
the girl whose name I’ve forgotten but whose smile remains.
Next month, I will visit again, taking the beautiful drive from Kleinmond where I live, along the coast and into Cape Town where the Red Cross Children’s Hospital is situated. It does extraordinary work healing everything from common burns, contagious and, sadly, terminal diseases. To see children with pipes, splints and braces attached to their small bodies is deeply upsetting. But somehow I leave feeling hopeful because they are in such good hands. Indeed, in the hands of angels.
Towards the end of 2013, I did a number of school visits – down in Cape Town and up in Gauteng. The wonderful Audrey Hitchcock (aka Mrs Hedgehog) of Hedgehog Books accompanied me on my Gauteng visits. Audrey is an authority on children’s books from YA novels to pictures books from the beginning of time up to the latest trends.
Niki with Mrs Hedgehog
Audrey’s knowledge is vast; a former teacher, she now works selecting and supplying books to schools. She is also a pretty awesome sales lady, resulting in writers cramp as I sign copy after copy for children who seem genuinely thrilled to meet a ‘real live author’ (so much nicer than one that’s been dead for a while, I think). I do make sure that I look fresh and smell nice – Penhaligon’s Blenhiem being my secret weapon. So when one little girl, while getting her book signed, whispered, ‘You smell nice,’ I knew it was working!
Book signing at Rhodean Preparatory School
The Herd Boy has been a great book to read, with a story that leads to a lot of discussion and provides a number of activities. One, is, the making of a flag – your own flag, representing an imagined country of your own making, embodying all the values and customs you would like to see being enjoyed by your people. There are always hearts and flowers, sun, sky, birds, and a surprising symbol or two from those children who think outside the box. Go to the Jacana resource page to download the activity sheet:
Nal’ibali is a South African NGO – brainchild of Carole Bloch which now spreads its web across South Africa producing and providing a vast number of services and materials and training – all towards getting books into hands of South Africa’s children and making books part of our culture. I support them in every way I can, so when I was asked to write a special story for World Read Aloud Day, I wrote A Gold Star and a Kiss for Thoko. The story and illustrations were published in Nalíbabli reading supplments sent out with all the major National newspapers – reaching I believe 35,000 readers. We also celebrated the day, at the Cape Town City library where I read the story to a group of children. It was a great day, that included story telling and singing – the two always go together in South Africa.
(above) Niki and friends
(below) Niki with a group who call themselves YACCERS With us is the amazing Brenda Rhode – a woman who goes from school to school instilling in the Yaccers a love of books and reading – reading beautifully, aloud, with actions and expression, with passion. Brenda’s conviction and dedication towards raising children’s dreams through the power of story bestows on her, in my mind, Fairy Godmother status. That she does it for love and not money is wonderful, but also a shame that she is not given funding from government or private coffers. Viva Yaccers! God Bless Brenda!
A number of other readings of Thoko followed, and at Rosemead Primary I came across the real Thoko. There she was, in the front row with a gold star on her forehead! Quite a coincidence . . . or not? I like to think that I am involved in a bit of magic while at my drawing board.
The real Thoko and my illustrated Thoko
This year, I attended an IBBY AFRICA round table discussion in Pretoria, where a number of IBBY members from around Africa met to discuss the state of publishing and reading in African countries. It was a super opportunity to meet fellow book lovers and promoters of reading from beyond our border. Sadly, most had the same story to tell – lack of funding, lack of commitment from governments to turn Africa into a reading continent. Malawi seemed the exception where we were told there was support from their government. The rest were left to NGO’s, charities, dedicated librarians (one had not had a salary for months I was told). South Africa seemed to be in top position regarding our publishing industry and the number of organisations involved in literacy projects. Part of my being at the discussion was because my Ghanaian publisher, Akoss Afori Mensah, and Canadian friend, Kathy Knowles, felt I could contribute. Which I did. I offered to set up an IBBY AFRICA Facebook, which I have done – please visit and contribute!
Prof Koki Eghafona, Akoss Afori Mensah and Niki The inspirational Kathy Knowles of The Osu Library Fund
You can read about Kathy’s work at http://www.osuchildrenslibraryfund.ca/
In Oct, 2013, I won the IBBY/Exclusive Book Award for The Herd Boy – which was wonderful! There’s a lot of competition as young South African writers and illustrators come to the fore with some wonderful work, so I do not take it for granted that I am in front line for such an award – especially, as I am ‘getting on’ and becoming ‘the old man of South African children’s books’. So it was GREAT!!!
Niki with Carol Broomhall his editor at Jacana
Okay, before I go! In March this year LIASA – that is the association that governs Library Information Science in South Africa created the Librarian’s Choice list – a list of top 20 books covering the years of our democracy.
These were books chosen by librarians around the country as those they regard as significant i.e. books they love, their borrowers borrow and, therefore, a popular choice list. Guess what? Jamela’s Dress made it! The nominations ran into the hundreds, so it was no mean feat for Jamela to rise to the top.
That’s it, enough of blowing my own vuvuzela. But, hey, this is my blog, and I hope you will enjoy it and share with friends who love books.
October 10, 2013 § 2 Comments
October 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
As I was in Guateng for a two day IBBY Symposium in September, it seemed a good opportunity to visit some schools where I read The Herd Boy (Jacana). It’s lovely to sign books, which gives me an opportunity to chat to children and learn how to spell some curious names which are made curiouser these days by accents on e’s and dots on o’s. In turn, the children seem to latch onto the idea that a ‘signed’ copy is special. Audrey Hitchcock – ‘Mrs Hedgehog’ – was on the team and is a whizz at getting sales and getting children to sit up and listen (you can take a teacher out of a classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher!)
Niki with Audrey
Niki with Trinityhouse players who dramatized Jamela’s Dress
Also accompanying me was my friend Kathy Knowels from Canada, who helped drive home the message in The Herd Boy, which is – ‘follow your dream’. Kathy’s dream to build libraries in Ghana started with a shady spot under a tree, 6 children, and some books. To date, she has built 50 libraries in the surrounds of Accra. Read about Kathy’s Osu Library Fund projects at:
Now, there was a time when I could handle back to back school tours and still party at night. These days, I do two schools in the morning and rest up in the afternoon. After a week of visits, I return home and am put to bed by my darling wife, Jude Daly, who does beautiful illustrations which she allows to speak for her, rather than standing before a hall packed with children. But being a performer (some might say ‘show off’), I’m in my element reading to large groups – which I do with slides, music and sound effects.
My next session of reading will start on the 21st October in Cape Town. Hope to see you there!
October 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
Niki and Liz Page (IBBY Executive Director based in Switzerland)
IBBY stands for International Board on Books for Young People. You may read the inspiring history of IBBY at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Board_on_Books_for_Young_People.
Only five African countries belong to IBBY – a sad absence from a body whose members are scattered around the globe. Wherever there is an IBBY section, you will find a group of people who are passionate about bringing books to young people and promoting reading and a love of books. So it was a joy to for the few IBBY groups from Africa to gather and discuss how to address problems/challenges that we all share – that is, a lack of good quality affordable children’s books; a lack of government support in most African countries (Zambia appears to be an exception); the survival of story telling and children’s books in a future of alternative technologies against which the book (as we know it) has to compete.
Besides the delightful company of fellow Africans – many of them gifted story tellers – we thrashed out a direction for IBBY in Africa. One of the ideas was to set up an IBBY AFRICA Facebook page which we hope will function as a discussion forum. You will find us at
April 23, 2013 § 4 Comments
Today was World Book Day – and I wasn’t going to let Siyabulela, my ‘adopted’ school, miss it. So, Alta Cilliers, the lovely principal of the school and I arranged to read to the children.
And because the book I chose was Zanzibar Road, and because Mama Jumbo and Little Chico live in Zanzibar Road, and especially because Mama Jumbo has a ‘Go to Town, Knock ’em Down, Ding-Dong Hat’, we simply HAD to make such a hat for the children to wear on World Book Day.
I showed the teachers how to make an origami hat out of newspaper, and the children added some decoration (they’re really too little to get involved in too much folding) But the main thing is, they’ve SEEN that you can make a hat out of paper.
I also wanted them to know that they, along with thousands and thousands of children across the globe, were being read to today – so I showed them all the countries of the world on a map. Did they know where they lived? In Africa! But where was Africa on such a confusing diagram of confusing shapes? I pointed to it, ‘We live here!’, which was really a bit ridiculous seen through their eyes. How could we all fit onto such a small piece of paper!
Still, they liked it when I did an impromptu mimicking of international accents to show them how children in different countries speak. These children have never travelled further than from home to school and into the village. So, they are unlikely to have any concept of the greater world. Yet, after I had spoken about the cold and the warm countries, I asked one of the children to point out Africa and he chose the right shape. He remembered! A start! Alta uses the map from time to time, but it is good to be reminded of the things we take for granted that are shrouded in mystery for these children.
The story telling we do at Siyabulela is quite unusual as it is done in two languages – English followed closely by Afrikaans for the Afrikaans speaking children and English into Xhosa for the Xhosa speaking children. There is no evidence that the children find it confusing. They are able to focus and take in the sounds of two voices – mine providing characterization and Alta’s providing the story in a language they understand – I can describe it as sounding like a duet.
Now, as it was World Book Day, I showed them books they had never seen before
My oldest book printed in 1649, which they looked at rather in that way tourists look at the dessicated mummy in the British Museum – Eugh!
My longest book – Geshu’s Long Scroll
And my craziest book – Pat and Beastie by Henrik Drescher
I like to think that children are enriched just looking at interesting things – whether they are understood in the way that they are meant to be understood, or not.
The day is almost over but for today we, in this small village along the beautiful Overstrand coast were part of World Book Day.
April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Jacana Children’s Books invited me up to Gauteng and Pretoria to visit close on twenty schools, ranging from Grades 1 to 3 where I read The Herd Boy and did signings. I have been using projected pictures, music and sound effects for a number of years so that a hall filled with children are able to see the pictures while listening to me read the story. I also like to include an activity around a story and The Herd Boy, with its ‘dream ending’ involving much flag waving suggested a ‘flag making’ activity which you can download from the link below.
Here are selection of flags designed by pupil at Kayalami preprimary. It would be great to get more all the other school who participated. But these are all beautiful in showing the kind of country in which these flags might fly. Children were encouraged to imagine their dream country so the flags did not have to follow any trend, although we did discuss the various elements, such as colour, shape and symbol found in most flags.
January 25, 2013 § 3 Comments
I now have a date with Siyabulela Pre-Primary in Kleinmond to read and run an activity for the children on the last Friday of the every month. The school is broken into three groups with each group having a turn to listen to a story followed by an activity. Last year, I started with Pretty Salma and we made masks, in keeping with the story’s theme. Afrikaans and isiXhosa are the languages used in the school, so my readings require translating. You’d think this would make for a rather cumbersome read but it does not, and I think it might be interesting for the children to hear a writer tell his story. The teachers are all rather good at tagging on, and that’s how we are doing it. The children call me Oupa until I teach them to say Nikidaly – one word!