Q&A with SA children’s author Refiloe Moahloli
'To greet someone is to acknowledge their existence, it is humanness at its most basic. To greet someone in their mother tongue adds to that'
Nal'ibali column 6 (term 3)
Congratulations on your beautiful children's books! What inspired you to write the latest, How many ways can you say hello?
Thank you! How many ways can you say hello? was inspired by my nieces. I wanted to write them a story where their background and culture is celebrated. So it was purely personal to begin with. When other children responded so well to it ... well, it became something so much bigger than that.
The book, like many of your books, comes with a CD to guide people with pronunciation. Why is learning to greet people correctly, and in their own language, such an important first step for all of us, no matter our age?
Greeting someone is the first step of any interaction. To greet someone is to acknowledge their existence, it is humanness at its most basic. To greet someone in their mother tongue adds to that, it demonstrates respect and interest in the person and who they are.
What reactions have you had from parents and children who've read your work?
The kids love the South Africanisms in the book. They can relate to them, they feel connected to it and recognised. A lot of the time, the kids will spontaneously share which language they speak or their various family members speak at home.
You've also written several other children's books, including Tullula, which is about a beautiful royal bird. Why is seeing content that reflects the African world around us in terms of language and content, as opposed to importing European or American stories, so vital for young South African children?
We are African. These stories are about us, the richness that resides within us. It is important for South African children to know and experience not only acceptance of who they are, but a celebration of it as well. For them to know that who they are is OK — in fact, better than OK, it’s wonderful. It’s a classic fairy tale theme. Actually, you do not have to search afar for magic, the magic is already within.
You're based in Johannesburg. Are there any exciting projects you've come across in the city that support writers and storytellers making amazing local content?
Book Dash immediately comes to mind. I love the vision they have for the South African child.
What kinds of opportunities do you think we need to create to ensure that South African literature reflects the full diversity and creativity of our people?
We need to create a model that makes it commercially viable for artists to fully express themselves with abandon.
You'll be one of the writers speaking at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September. What will you be talking about and how can people come to hear you?
The major theme of my latest book, Yes Yanga, is about celebrating the champion within us all. So I talk about doing your best, and how your best looks different to others. About being open to new things and new challenges that come your way, but also recognising the value of your past in creating your future.
Book festivals are exciting opportunities for people to meet the face behind their favourite local books. Who are you most looking forward to meeting?
I ventured quite a bit into writing poetry in the past year. It has been such a beautiful journey, so I’m really eyeing out all the poetry events. I can’t wait to meet the artists behind the artistry. It’s a growing space for me; I’m super excited!
Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access stories in a range of South African languages, visit www.nalibali.org.
- How many ways can you say hello? is published by Penguin Random House