THELUVVIE.COM’s Estelle Sinkins chats to Ballito-based author, Dianne Stewart, about her delightful new children’s book, Dudu’s Basket (Jacana), featuring illustrations by the award-winning illustrator, Elizabeth Pulles.
The book, which is also available in Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu, tells the story of Dudu, who has just finished weaving her first basket, by the light of the plump full moon. Delighted with her achievement, she is upset when her uncle Jojo tells her that a first basket should always be given away… Dudu agrees and the readers take a journey with her basket through a number of cultures.
Asked where the idea for Dudu’s Basket came from, Stewart said: “I have always been fascinated by the craftwork in our country, including the beautifully woven baskets which are common currency and able to recycled.
“The story is based on a Zulu proverb, ‘Imbenge yamafundo kayidleli’ (the first basket made by a learner is not used for food); in other words, if the first basket a learner makes is kept, they might never get around to making another one and the skill could be lost.”
Stewart’s publisher, Jacana, chose Pulles to do the drawings for the book, but the two women liaised throughout the process. “She and I did discuss her approach, but she was free to interpret the text in her own way,” Stewart added.
Since launching the book at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, the author has been thrilled with the response. “Children have been very responsive and we have more school visits scheduled,” she said, adding that it was important to her to tell homegrown stories.
“It’s very important because local books have relevance to local readers. Children do enjoy books with local content with which they can identify. Through stories, issues that pertain to a particular society or culture can be dealt with in a non-threatening way.”
Encouraging homegrown stories can also have another benefit: encouraging reading and literacy in South Africa, something Stewart believes is crucially important.
While she believes more needs to be done in our schools and communities, she is encouraged by some initiatives, including one where adults go into schools to read to children to increase literacy levels.
“It’s been proved that acquisition of good literacy skills leads to an overall improvement in academic performance,” Stewart said. “Organisations, like Nal’ibali, have been very successful in their national campaign to encourage children to read for pleasure; and the Cape Town based, Biblionef, do a wonderful job of donation books to disadvantaged schools.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- Dianne Stewart matriculated at Collegiate School for Girls in Port Elizabeth, did a Bachelors of Arts degree and Rhodes University and has a Masters degree in English (specializing in South African literature) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a Masters in creative writing from the University of Cape Town.
- From 1970 to 1971 she was an American Field Service exchange student to Chatham, New Jersey in the United States.
- She hosts creative writing workshops for schools and adult groups throughout the year.
- Her published books include: The Mealie-Cob Children (Shuter and Shooter), The Runaway Hen (Human and Rousseau), Mondi The Music Maker (Garamond), The Paper Chase (Heinemann International, Oxford), Zondi’s First Ride in a Taxi (Human and Rousseau), The Dove (Greenwillow Publishers, New York and David Philip, Cape Town), The Seafood Adventure (Garamond), Daughter of the Moonlight (Struik), Chasing the Wind (Oxford University Press), Cry of the Guinea Fowl (Garamond), The Gift of the Sun (Francis Lincoln, England), Remembering Grandmother (Cambridge University Press), The Great Escape (Kagiso), African Myths and Legends (Struik), I Went To Market (Maskew Miller Longman, CapeTown), The Zebra’s Stripes and Other African Animal Tales (Struik), Wisdom from Africa: A Compilation of African Proverbs (Struik), Who’s Afraid of the Dark (Jacana) and Market Food (Bookstorm).
- She has also edited Durban in a Word, an anthogoly of writings on Durban, which included works by Imraan Coovadia, John van de Ruit, Ronnie Govender, Terence Pillay and Peter Machen.
- Her works have been translated into Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.