Stories educate us

Melvin Kaabwe is digital manager for Van Schaik bookstore

Why are stories, reading and writing important?

Stories educate, entertain, console and energise us in a very unique way by tapping into our imaginations, our third-eye. Reading stories to children can teach them elementary humanity in the form of fables describing “right” and “wrong”. Stories allow for authors to express all aspects of the human condition in all times.

One can “time-travel” by reading the Greek myths at one end then quantum leap with the musings of a brilliant mind like Stephen Hawking, then to the imagined futures of Asimov and Roddenberry. In between there is love to be found in many forms from cheap romance a la Cartland to deep Shakespearean tragedy with their modern interpretations in Stephanie Meyer and others. Even in contemporary stories of suburbia from writers like Ngenelwa, Updike, Coetzee, Matlwa … there is something about the human condition to be learnt, to see the world through the intimate lens of someone else’s eye.

This is why reading and writing is important to civilisation as a whole, stories democratise information to all people who have the ability to perceive another reality.

This is why I differ from many colleagues who believe reading should only happen between the pages of a printed book. The Japanese commuters huddled over their “keitai” cell-phone novels as they commute to and from work is an example of how good writing can be immersive regardless of the “window” it is seen through, a page or a screen.

Do you think books in African languages are necessary?

The mother tongue is the primary mode of communication (from birth) for many people. African languages specifically have such a rich cultural root system that the descriptions, when translated into European languages, lose their beauty.

English does have its moments but its mass adoption has led to compromise and a lack of writers wishing to take risks with the language for fear of losing the global reading public. African language books, as a Trojan horse for cultural relevance in a world that is predominantly English speaking, are crucial in preserving our African identity.

Did you enjoy reading as a child?

The scribbles in the 1975 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus attest to my reading from a very young age! I remember my grandmother, one of a traditional leader’s three wives, telling me stories that have since faded. Anansi [the West African trickster often represented as a spider] stories were told to me in nursery school, however, I only started reading voraciously at primary school in America.

How do you encourage children to read, and what books do you enjoy reading with them?

I have had sessions with schoolchildren where I demonstrated digital e-readers and e-book technology to encourage them to engage with the rapidly evolving technology of books and how stories are being told through multi-media devices. As you can imagine, tablets are so popular in terms of gaming, music and movies that for some kids, the potential of reading on them is something to be emphasised.

Personally, I enjoy reading classics and fables as bedtime stories to my two boys aged five and eight. I often buy activity books based on characters they like.

As a board member of Puku, which is a platform for the collaboration, peer-review and a resource for children’s literature in Africa, I have input into decisions that will promote children’s books in indigenous languages and thus encourage more authors to write for our kids.

ýGet your free Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment supplement tomorrow in The Herald and visit www.nalibali.org for more storytelling tips and children’s stories.

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