Do you have memories of reading a book as a child and loving it? If you picked up that book now, will you relive the pleasure? Or will you be horrified? For example, I remember my brother saying that he was appalled at the racist subtexts of The Adventures of Tintin. But he only realized this on rereading the Belgian comic book series, which he used to love as a little boy in Ibadan. Some of the commenters on the Guardian UK forum where the same question about children’s books is being discussed share similar experiences.
Well, I never did read a lot of the western classics growing up in Benin City. I grew up on classic Nigerian children’s books like Chike and the River, Eze Goes to School, An African Night Entertainment, The Drummer Boy, Sugar Girl, and so on. During my last trip to Nigeria, I stocked up on many of these old favorites. Over the years, I’ve re-read them, in full or in bits and pieces. What’s my verdict on re-reading these stories? I begin with Sugar girl, but expect two more posts on Chike and the River and Eze Goes to School.
This books has a very special place in my heart. My siblings made me believe it was a “novel.” I was six. Just got the hang of reading. Novels still seemed to me like strictly adult things. But everyone thought that I was due for an upgrade from picture books. They said Sugar Girl was my chance to read a “novel.” But I was intimidated. In my little girlie eyes, Sugar Girl, a tiny little book, seemed like War and Peace. But when I got myself to open the book and read it, I was mesmerized from the first sentence. I’m trying right now to imagine what the moment may have been like. I’m curled up on the bare cement floor of the living room in our little barracks apartment. My brothers probably have a friend over and they’re arguing about quantum physics in the next room. I can hear them. I can also hear my little brother running up and down the verandah. One of my sisters is perhaps outside finishing up a novel and the chances are that she doesn’t know the title and didn’t start reading the book from the beginning. Reading mutilated fragments of novels was a pretty common thing. In many ways, it’s a typical afternoon, except, of course, the book I’m reading. It’s captivating, confusing, and astonishing all at the same time. I have to say that the pleasure of reading Sugar Girl the first time was probably close to what a certain French philosopher has called Jouissance. I don’t have to tell you that when I reread Sugar Girl, the pleasure was not recoverable. What I did like was the idea of a little girl going on a crazy adventure all on her own, and of course, with her dog. That’s a rather uncommon scenario in African children’s stories. But then why does the bad person have to be an old woman, accused and ostracized for being a witch? Seems to me an unfortunate but pretty typical representation of women outcasts in many of the stories I heard and read as a child: the image of the childless and widowed old witch living in a haunted hut in some corner of a forest.
What’s your experience? Which children’s book will you not be recommending any time soon?
Feature Image: We Too Were Children
Post Image: Edel Rodriguez