LAU­REN BEUKES: READ­ING OUT LOUD

There are mas­sive ben­e­fits to read­ing to our chil­dren, but how can we best har­ness sto­ry­telling? Charl Blig­naut chats to Lau­ren Beukes, the queen of South African nov­el­ists and one of the head­lin­ers at the SA Book Fair, about read­ing to her six-year-old

CityPress - - Front Page - Watch Lau­ren read­ing to Keitu at youtube.com/watch?v=On4vgU6envM

You ob­vi­ously did a lot of read­ing when you were grow­ing up.

Our par­ents al­ways en­cour­aged us to read. When I fig­ured out I could get paid to write, it was the only ca­reer I wanted. I was about five. I found out that Enid Bly­ton had made £1 mil­lion from her books. It wasn’t about be­ing rich, but about it be­ing a vi­able ca­reer. My dad told me I read The Hob­bit by JRR Tolkien my­self when I was five. It was an il­lus­trated edi­tion. I was frus­trated be­cause my par­ents were tak­ing too long to read it. I was a vo­ra­cious reader. Rus­sian fairy tales, Greek mythol­ogy, I loved Roald Dahl … comic books. My brother learnt to read through As­terix and Tintin. My daugh­ter Keitu loves comics too. We were read­ing one the other day and she said: ‘Oh, so this is how I’m gonna learn to read.’

Has Keitu al­ways loved books?

Where we live, there’s a lit­tle book store on the cor­ner that had kids’ read­ings on Wed­nes­days. Even when she was six months old, there was some­thing about the rhythm that had Keitu en­thralled. She would sit in the front, riv­eted, while the other kids were fid­get­ing and squirm­ing. She was a story fan from the be­gin­ning. Now she’s older and she’s been com­ing out with me to art events and din­ners, and it gets late and I say to her: ‘We’re go­ing straight to bed. No TV.’ And she’s like: ‘But not with­out sto­ries!’ And I’m: ‘Of course not!’ Story

time is in­vi­o­lable.

Even with the ad­dic­tive dom­i­nance of TV and com­puter games?

She loves iPad games and movies and TV. It’s just a dif­fer­ent kind of sto­ry­telling. As long as you bal­ance it. But read­ing brings a re­ally spe­cial mom-daugh­ter bond. Some books, I’m the only one al­lowed to read to her be­cause I do the funny voices. The other day I got one of the voices wrong and she told me off from on high.

You wrote your Won­der Woman comic for her, the one you’re read­ing at the SA Book Fair.

We read a lot of comic books, in­clud­ing Bone by Jeff Smith. I had to track down the colour edi­tion be­cause she’s a comics snob. And it’s a thick book – it took three months to read. When we were fin­ished, she gave a sat­is­fied sigh and said: ‘Now that was a good story.’ Then the dreaded word: ‘Again.’ We’ve read it five times now.

What if par­ents don’t have the time or energy to read to their chil­dren?

The other thing Keitu loves is au­dio books. I got an Au­di­ble sub­scrip­tion for about R135 a month. She lis­tens to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when she goes to sleep and on long car trips. If par­ents can’t af­ford to buy au­dio books, they could al­ways use their cell­phones and record them­selves read­ing a book, or granny or gramps could if they’re good sto­ry­tellers. It keeps alive the oral sto­ry­telling tra­di­tion. If you’re read­ing to your child, put in some ef­fort, do the silly voices, that’s how kids learn to love read­ing. I do the vil­lains in silly UK ac­cents. For read­ing, books that re­ally work have rhyme. Ju­lia Don­ald­son is so much fun to read. Of­ten, I get teach­ers ask­ing what the kids should be read­ing. I know they want me to say Dick­ens and Tol­stoy – and I love Dick­ens – but you should read what you love, whether it’s Twi­light or Dan Brown. The thing about books is that they’re a gate­way drug. Bad books lead to good books.

Do you also make up your own sto­ries?

All the time. There are also cool sto­ry­telling apps that can help you do that. Make it in­ter­ac­tive. Say there’s a uni­corn, a pi­rate and a mer­maid, and of­fer plot twists. So the pi­rate queen is hav­ing a duel with the uni­corn. She falls over­board and a shark is swimming to­wards her. What now? Does the uni­corn save her? Is she bud­dies with the shark? It’s al­ways about ask­ing ‘what if?’ That’s the start­ing point to spark their imag­i­na­tion. What if your teacher turned into a T rex? What’s gonna hap­pen? And then what? You can do it walk­ing down the street.

Well, that lady looks in­ter­est­ing with her green hair. What if she’s a ninja?

What does read­ing to kids bring them?

Moral­ity, sym­pa­thy, un­der­stand­ing of other peo­ple, climb­ing into their heads, walk­ing in their shoes. You live in a book. I write be­cause it’s a way of un­der­stand­ing the world and hu­man psy­chol­ogy. I’m in­ter­ested in the com­plex­i­ties of what it means to be a hu­man be­ing. Also to live ad­ven­ture. As a kid, I loved Nar­nia. I used to open up my cup­board ev­ery day to see if it led to Nar­nia. Keitu said the same to me when she was lit­tle: ‘I wish I could climb in­side the book and live there.’ I said: ‘You and me both, baby.’ Be­cause books al­low us to be more than we are.

PHOTO: BONGIWE GUMEDE

WORD QUEEN Ac­claimed nov­el­ist Lau­ren Beukes is head­lin­ing the SA Book Fair next week, which will fo­cus on chil­dren’s literature

PHOTO: COUR­TESY OF LAU­REN BEUKES

WON­DER WOMAN

You can catch Beukes at the SA Book Fair on to­day at 9.30pm where she will be talk­ing about her Won­der Woman comic, and at 1pm where she will be talk­ing about science

fic­tion, fan­tasy and hor­ror

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