I have always loved stories, before I could read books I still had stories; I was lucky enough to have parents who read to my brothers and I in the evenings and on rainy afternoons when we were very young.
I can still recall the times my mother took me to Muizenberg Public Library for the story-time in the Children’s Library; the curtains would be drawn and the Librarian would light a candle for the duration of the story-time and while the candle was burning we would sit in silence while she read to us.
I do not remember when exactly I learned to read, at times I am still surprised that I am a reader as my primary school used Dick & Dora and Nip & Fluff – books that were created in the 1950’s & ‘60’s to teach us to read.
My younger brother went to a different school for sub-A & sub-B (grades 1 & 2 in modern schooling) and he regularly brought home books on world myths. I have vivid memories of the boojks with Jamaican and West Indian myths about Anansi the Spider-Man and ghost stories about Duppies and all manner of new and interesting stories that I had never come across before. I regularly nicked the books to read them (I always gave them back when he needed them).
One of the highlights of my week when I was a young child was my mother walking my brother and I down to Kalk Bay Library to borrow books. It was a relatively small library, but through the eyes of a child it seemed to loom massively with rows of shelves and high windows. The library was closed in the early ‘90’s and the only memories I have are of the smell of wood polish, rows of bookshelves, colourful carpets and bright books in the Children’s Library and the sound of windows slamming as the Librarian closed them; it was this sound that signalled that the library would soon be closing foro the day so we would have to hurry up and choose our books.
The last time a teacher read to me and my class I was 11 going on 12, I was in Standard 4 – Grade 6 in modern teaching terms. Our teacher Mr Paul would, for the last 30 minutes or so every Friday, read us a story. If it was a hot summer’s day we would be taken out to sit under the trees on the school field, but mostly it would be in our classroom, which was a prefab room that had been constructed as the school (Kalk Bay Primary) had become too small for its students. The only story I can remember with any clarity is The Monkey’s Paw – a brilliant short horror story. Then from Standard 5 and on through secondary school I have been reading stories on my own.
I have worked with several storytellers in Libraries over the past few years and they held their (mostly teen) audiences and me spellbound. Anyone who claims that young people are incapable of sitting still and concentrating has never witnessed a storyteller plying their trade with a group of young people.
For me being a reader does not mean I love books (I do) but rather that I love stories. Being able to read allows me to choose the stories that I want to experience, either in written form, listening to audiobooks or someone telling or reading a story.
Before there were books, scrolls or clay tablets there were stories; in times before literacy was widespread skalds, scops, griots, minstrels and troubadours roamed their lands telling tales, poems and histories to kings and commoners alike.
In my current role as a school librarian I read a story to my year 7s, 8s and 9s during at least one library lesson per term. All the students love being read to – even those that profess to hating books, a love of stories is present in everyone.
In 2014 I am going to try something new with reluctant readers in my library; instead of trying to get them to focus on reading books or e-readers as physical artefacts I will try to engage them with stories using audiobooks, audio lead-ins to stories and short stories to kick-start their interest in reading to and for themselves.