Tuesday, May 18, 2010

21st May Virginia Haviland (1911 - 1988) Beverley Naidoo (1943)

Beverley Naidoo is a South African -born author who now lives in Britain. She left South Africa because of the political situation and she still works tirelessly for refugees and the poorly treated in our world. She wrote Journey to Jo'Burg, a novel about a black South African housekeeper who was living a long way from her own children and having to deal with the traumas this creates.

I remember reading this book when I was a very naive, unworldly new teacher and being so shocked that people lived like this. I embarked then on reading other books set in South Africa like Toeckey Jones' Go Well Stay Well. I serialised Journey to Jo'burg for the class I was teaching and that began my quest for making sure that the children I teach read widely about children from cultures other than their own.

When Journey to Jo'burg was published in 1985 it was banned in South Africa. Naidoo's nieces and nephews could not read it. This year it will celebrate its 25th anniversary and thankfully things have changed somewhat in South Africa. This however does not take away the power of this short novel.

While borrowing Journey to Jo'burg from your library search out The Great Tug of War and Baba's Gift which are also by Beverley Naidoo.

I was doing postgraduate study in Children's Literature when I was first introduced to Virginia Haviland's The Fairy Tale Treasury that is illustrated by Raymond Briggs. I loved
this book. Her tales are the perfect length, they maintain the tale's authenticity and yet they have a 'modern' feel. It sent me off in search of more fairytales, and ultimately to writing essays on lesser known tales such as Tom Tit Tot and Rose White and Rose Red.

Our lecturer admired Haviland and her contribution to children's literature and library services and now I know why. She was a trail blazer. She had degrees in economics and mathematics, but started her working career at the Boston Public Library. She devoted her working life to youth services, writing and reviewing children's literature and scholarly research within the field of library science. She was an outspoken advocate for children's literature and therefore people in libraries and schools, like me need to thank her.

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