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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Do this and I’ll love you forever

Valentine’s Day is coming up. February 14 is a busy day for you, no doubt, what with opening all those cards and gifts, the constant ringing of the door bell with deliveries from admirers, rushing around watering your many bouquets, nibbling on those chocolates, getting tarted up for a hot date at a romantic restaurant.

I empathise, knowing from first-hand experience how demanding Valentine’s Day can be. Nonetheless, I hope you will find a few minutes to support another good cause – it may not be quite as instantly gratifying as sweet-talking someone you fancy, but it does make a small contribution to the good of mankind.

In addition to being the day on which we profess our love, lust or like-you-a-lot-really-a-lot-but-I’m-just-not-sure-you’re-”the-one”, February 14 is International Book Giving Day. It is a day dedicated to getting new, used and borrowed books into the hands of as many children as possible. Read about it at

Reading to or with children is one of life’s greatest joys. Maybe even more delightful than being wooed in a posh restaurant. I can’t say for sure, because it’s been a while. No matter, reading with kids is lovely. As a toddler, my daughter’s greatest passion – OK, obsession – was for The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. We did have other books. Plenty. But she just couldn’t get enough of that caterpillar. I had to read it 37 times a day for four months. She knew the ending – spoiler alert: he turns into a beautiful butterfly – but was prepared to be surprised and wonder-struck again and again.

There he was, eating and eating his way through cakes and plums and such, spinning himself into a cocoon only to emerge – gasp, and clap your chubby hands together! – with a fine set of beautiful, coloured wings. She was delighted every time. And there were hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to be delighted, because we read that book a LOT. If I deserted my post, for a bath, say, she would track me down and beat her little fists against the bathroom door and demand, desperately: “Read catapeeeya!”

Not all South African children have someone to read to them, or something to read (or a bathroom door, for that matter, but let’s stick with books, for now). Relatively few homes have books and only 8% of public schools have functioning libraries. It is simply not possible to learn to read fluently without daily exposure. It is not possible to learn without reading and understanding fluently.

Sorry if you thought this column was going in a cheery Valentine’s direction, perhaps with amusing asides about romantic novels and a couple of risqué jokes. It’s not. I’m here to reminisce about the days when my children liked to be read to, and then I’m going to badger you. That’s the plan for this morning.

Now for the badgering. Please celebrate Book Giving Day by giving a book to a child, or donating books to a place where children can read them. Support your local bookstore and buy a couple of children’s books to give away, or clear out your kids’ book shelves and pass them along.

If you are in Cape Town, donate good quality books to The Bookery, 20 Roeland Street, for redistribution to school libraries.

Donate to an underprivileged school or crèche, or to your local library. Many libraries collect used books to sell to raise money for new stock.

May flowers and chocolates be yours in abundance.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist


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