Susan Samuel Van Rooyen is a journalist, a teacher and a mother of three children. She will be writing regularly for Not Now, Darling. I’m Reading.
How do you fit reading to your children into your busy life?
I don’t really. It’s a struggle. We binge-read over holidays and weekends when I’m relaxed and I can sit still for a while and read to the children. But in the week during the term it’s difficult because there are extra-murals and homework and admin and chaos. My children are lucky to have two grandmothers who like reading to them and whom we see often. They take the pressure off me. That’s the wonderful thing about grandparents.
I try, though, to set an example by practising reading for myself as a necessity, not a luxury. My children often see me read – in the car while I wait for them, or next to the sport fields. They have to see that you don’t have to wait for holidays to read.
Why is reading to your children important to you?
It’s important for me that my children realise that if their lives are boring, they can still have fantastic experiences through reading. In a small town, with protective parents and a laid-back community, books will be their saving grace one day. It will relieve them of a boring, grey existence and will make them look forward to the life that awaits them in the future.
So they need to learn to be patient, to give books a fair chance and to experience the value and joy of books. This ability has to be learnt. It doesn’t come all on its own. To read to children is the only way you can show this world to them. It’s so much harder to discover an unknown place by yourself. You might miss the best corners and hidey-holes. As a reader and a citizen of this world, I feel it’s my duty to show my children a lot of the old favourite before I leave them so that they can discover more with self-confidence.
Does South Africa produce good enough books for children and young adults?
I think so. I often see typical South African books on the shelves and it’s excellent quaility. I do think, though that little attention is paid to local English books, probably because the overseas English market is so productive and interesting. I’ve read a few wonderful English books for which I couldn’t discover a single review.
The market for Afrikaans books for children and teenagers has its very own unique personality and even though the market is small, it’s very active. There are a few local writers who dominate, which is a little disturbing sometimes, but that often happens in a small pool. There are lovely books being translated into Afrikaans and I appreciate the effort publishers go to in order to introduce international writers to Afrikaans chikdlren, especially writers of classics. I just wish they’d make the effort to choose good translators. I’ve recently come across a few truly awful mistakes in translations in children’s books.
When your children have outgrown books, how do you choose which to keep and which to pass on?
Outgrow? Books? LOL!
Which books from your childhood do you remember most vividly and why?
I especially remember Bill Peet’s books. He was an illustrator who worked for Disney and many of his books were translated into Afrikaans in the early eighties. One of these books, Woempe, is about pollution and selfishness, and I recently discovered it in our local library and often take it out for my children. Two others, also translated into Afrikaans, that I remember are Mamma en Die Wilde Baba and Mirabella Muis who designed houses. I could look at the pictures for hours.
What do you think the marks of quality are in children’s literature? Do you actively seek out books that have these qualities or are you of the any-book-is-a-good-book-as-long-as-they-are-reading school of thought?
Illustration is very important and not all illustration works equally well. To be able to draw well is not necessarily the same as drawing in an interesting way. A child is not necessarily engaged by ‘n pretty picture, but rather by an interesting picture. I buy books with good illustrations and where they story works well, but not all the books I buy my children are of equal quality. But I don’t just by any book. Some publishers are sloppy. Sometimes the drawings irritate me. So I stand at the shelves for a looooooooong time and look before I buy something.
Older children are influenced by trend reading and read what their friends are reading. In this instance a library – especially a school library – is invaluable, because I don’t necessarily want to go out and buy all 64 books in the Geronimo Stilton range.
I seldom throw books away and choose well what comes home with me.