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Thu Dec 18 01:07:36 SAST 2014

The home of magic, elves and talking animals

Dianne Case | 11 September, 2012 00:15

I am the eldest of four children. My father worked away from home, so our evenings were spent around my mother, who read to us.

We grew up in an old, haunted, rambling house in Wynberg, Cape Town. It was on a corner and had high ceilings and hollow, wooden floors. The huge rooms echoed and led off one another into other rooms with trolls living in corners, and smelled of cat pee, Cobra polish and bread baking in the kitchen alongside the smell of garlic and ginger sizzling in ghee.

There was the scent of gardenia, honeysuckle and lemon blossom wafting in from the back garden, and mint when the cat chased grasshoppers along the pathways.

Dogs and cats slept on our beds and we had hens and their chickens clucking in the fowl hokkie under the lofty mulberry tree, and a robust rooster that woke us at sunrise. And we had words - newspapers, magazines, comics, picture books, new, used, borrowed, scattered, piled in every room , including the outside toilet. We read of children in faraway lands, of upside-down tea parties, of talking animals, mystery, magic and heroes.

As the younger children grew tired, my mom would put them to bed. Though my eyelids grew heavy, I wanted more. But my mother wanted to get back to her own books. What a sense of freedom I experienced when I learned to read. Sometimes at night, my sister Gail and I would sit in the wide window of our bedroom , overlooking the back garden, lit up with moonlight and stardust. We'd watch our garden come alive.

Fairies in gossamer danced around the Michaelmas daisies and staked-up dahlias, painting bright colours onto the petals. Elves and goblins chased rats around the vegetable garden as they jumped over cabbages and pumpkins.

Never mind that no one else believed us, Gail knew. She'd seen it.

We won book prizes at school and at Sunday school. The joy of holding a new book against my chest was indescribable. A mobile library parked on the field near our home on Fridays, near the broken tomb of Mr Batts, his horse and dog, and, some say, his pet snake. Mr Ross was both driver and librarian. We cheered when the blue van turned the corner into Batts Road. My mom still lives in the old house.

We're free to use the glass library on the other side of the railway line, so the mobile library no longer comes to the field. Words still play a big part in my life, from writing to reading and now e-books. In spite of my increasingly digital world, I like putting photos into frames, writing long-hand letters and I still enjoy the thrill of turning the pages.

Case is an award-winning author of more than than 20 books for children and young adults. Her books have been translated into German and all of South Africa's official languages. '92 Queens Road' and 'Love, David' are prescribed in South African schools with other titles taught abroad. Send comments, queries to letters@nalibali. org or www.facebook.com/nalibaliSA

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