A South African’s take on English children’s stories

Storymakers
The BBC’s Storymakers seems to be always presented by a black person, but why is he called “Byron Wordsworth”, and another one is called “Blake Wordsworth”?
This reminds me of the words of Patrice Naiambana:
“scores of African actors who now ripple across our screens albeit in RP, cockney or some other form of english context that remain culturally indistinguishable from white actors”
Is the only good African one that becomes culturally British, or is this about children of Jamaicans who are now so integrated in the UK that they don’t mind being black Englishmen? I can’t figure it out, but it seems disappointing both ways.

Noddy
I wondered for a while if Enyd Blyton grew up in South Africa, or is the idea of a scary underclass universal. The baddies in the stories, the gremlins or golliwogs, live in poverty on the edge of the town, township-style. Every now and then, they are up to tricks to steal something from the clearly privileged but silly Noddy. When this happens, Big-ears or Mr Plod rally to rescue him.
The episode I disliked most, was one where two giraffes, talking in very irritating English upper class voices, refused to wear scarves. If African animals can’t be characters that are culturally African, can they not at least be less annoying English types?

Bob the Builder
But the British have moved on from Noddy, and he is thankfully not too popular anymore. This progress should be recognised, and I think this is mostly due to the influence of the Left and feminists. The BBC’s Bob the Builder, for example, is kind when necessary, firm when that is called for, but mostly he is enterprising, enthusiastic and takes a great deal of pleasure from his work. I have actually worked with English people like Bob – you have to like them, because they seem to know exactly what their role in the world is, and are neither vain, nor suffer from low self-esteem. And they have a strong sense of fairness.
The music in Bob the Builder is great, and the other characters are all very interesting. This would be a good series for the SABC to import or imitate.

Adventures of the Little Red Train – Benedict Blathwayt
I love these books! The illustrations are magic, capturing just about everything that is visually interesting in the UK. I doubt that a children’s book with better illustrations exist. You can still discover new detail when reading them the 50th time!
The human hero, Duffy, isn’t too bright, and the little Red Train isn’t a character like Thomas the Tank Engine. The text is sparse (I don’t even read it – I tell the story in my own words.) But values such as community spirit, the common good and the advantages of public transport shine through in the illustrations.
My favourite is The Runaway Train – it has an exciting, action -filled plot and has the best illustrations too. I admire the scene where the Little Red Train drives back, and everything that you have seen previously is now seen from the other side. That beautiful drawing alone must have taken weeks if not months to perfect.
I wish someone from South Africa could draw SA in this way. I think it could potentially be very profitable, because the international public loves reading stories from other countries (see next section).

Handa’s Surprise
Handa’s Hen
by Eileen Browne
These books are so beautiful, even if you don’t have children you’ll want to buy them. They show how beautiful Africa is and the harmony of African village life. Handa’s Surprise is very popular, and is available in 16 languages.

Dougal’s Deep sea diary
Simon Bartram
A great story with some truly sublime illustrations, such as one where rays of sunshine illuminate Atlantis in the distance, with some hills, whales and a mermaid deep under the sea.
But this makes the way Atlantis is drawn when Dougal actually gets there, all the more dissappointing and incomprehensible. Characters seem to be deliberately ugly, and one woman is actually blowing bubble-gum. There is nothing magical about this Atlantis, and I’ll probably never understand why the English are so uncomfortable with beauty that it has to be spoiled in some way. Or is this not just the English, but a fashion of our time?

A secret of children’s books
The other day, I started telling a story to my 2 -year old son, making it up as I went, but tried to be fairly boring because I wanted to talk him to sleep. To my surprise, he liked it so much that he asked for it again the next couple of nights, which goes to show that he is getting something different than a good plot from the experience – it is more about attention, closeness and language development. So it seems crucial that stories for children should be enjoyable to the parents, because that encourages them to read the stories more. Children have an amazing capacity to listen to the same stories again and again – it must be important for their language development.
I can see myself easily reading The Runaway Train or Handa’s Surprise another 50 times, but it is hard not to hide the Noddy books on top of a high cupboard!

Notes:
The Adventures of the Little Red Train is published by Red Fox
Handa’s Surprise first published by Walker books. Also published by Mantra Publishing.
Dougal’s Deep sea diary is published by Templar Publishing
Patrice Naiambana is known for (amongst others) In Exile and
The man who commited thought

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