At Last ... Three Books That Will Annoy Librarians, Delight Hungry Young Minds

Cape Times (South Africa), October 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

At Last ... Three Books That Will Annoy Librarians, Delight Hungry Young Minds


BYLINE: Jay Heale

Too many people are too fond of putting things into categories. For example: non-fiction means factual, which means educational. Fiction means imaginative, which means whimsical, and therefore non-educational.

Children enjoy imaginative stories just as much as finding out real things. They don't place them in categories. Not unless the school system forces them to. "Which book do we use for this?" my class used to worry. "You choose," I told them. "We're going to be learning a mixture of legends and facts and adding in your own writing." All right, I wasn't being very helpful.

I am glad, therefore, to see more local children's books being prepared to mix and match. Here are three new ones, all published this year.

Vumile and the Dragon came out at the time of the Cape Town Book Fair. It's a most attractive picture and story book published by Bumble Books.

Claerwen Howie's story is about children playing in a Cape garden where even football succumbs to the fascination of chameleons - like baby dragons - among the flowers and foliage. Meg Jordi has done line drawings to follow the action, while Lisa Strachan supplied whole-page colour delights bursting with arum lilies, sunbirds, praying mantises, gazanias, butterflies and cleverly concealed chameleons.

So, for categories: indigenous fiction, visual acuity, floral and fauna identification. In other words, read an enjoyable story and find out things as you do so.

Finding out along the way is also the theme of Daphne Mackie's Adventure Trails in Kirstenbosch (from Struik Nature). She takes five routes around our beloved Botanical Gardens, guiding us with clear little maps, pointing out all we should be looking for. Again, a glorious mixture of trees, plants, flowers, birds, beasts and insects. Plus historical details. Plus some stories on their own - The Tree of Life, adapted from Credo Mutwa, and the old myth of Van Hunks. Masses of excellent colour photos mixed with helpful paintings (and a few flower fairies too). Highly attractive, well designed, printed on quality paper.

Thirdly, what might seem to be a picture book, though it is a lot more than that. Ben and the Whales is by Ingrid Mennen, one of our most thoughtful writers. She provides a subtitle: "The extraordinary journey". Because it's about all of us making journeys. Ben goes along a cliff path looking at whales. His grandfather goes on a different journey, because he dies. So Ben's father explains about the wondrous journey made by the whales. We go, we explore, we return. Ingrid's daughter, Irene Berg, has created a fascinating mixture of illustrations. …

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