Monday, 23 June 2014

Free your mind...


This lovely poster lights up an old Victorian stairway in St Matthew's Primary School, a stone's throw away from Westminster Abbey in London. I immediately felt at home!

Celebrating reading as a way of freeing your mind makes perfect sense to me. Books have been hugely important in enabling my mind to travel freely. As a student when I first read Es'kia Mphahlele's autobiography Down Second Avenue and Peter Abrahams's Tell Freedom (banned at the time), these books blew my mind.

The two writers took me to places I had never entered before as a white South African. They could have been describing another planet - but they weren't. They were talking about the country of my birth, their birth, our birth. Most amazing of all, they invited me to listen to - and to hear - not only their voices, but their inner voices and innermost thoughts.  What an extraordinary privilege in a society of barriers, imprisoning black people and imprisoning white minds.

The first book that had ever opened this almost secret door for me into someone else's inner thoughts was The Diary of Anne Frank. I've written elsewhere about the lasting power of her strong young voice, speaking out against injustice. Yet when I'd first read her diary, crying many tears, I still did not see the injustice all around me.

That would only come some years later. Being given books to read, like Down Second Avenue and Tell Freedom,was an important part of the process of taking the blinkers away from my eyes. I didn't attend a school like St Matthew's where children are encouraged to read widely and to 'free your mind'. Nor was there an organisation like Authors Aloud UK encouraging schools to bring writers into school!

Meeting children like those at St Matthew's is always a delight for me, encountering young minds that are brimming with curiosity and questions. I shall not forget this poster of butterflies flitting from flower to flower. Some people say butterflies are not as swift and efficient as bees in pollinating. But they do their share and what pleasure they give us. Moreover, they linger long in the mind, like certain books.

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