I remember reading my first book at the age of five.
I sat on Mums’ lap while she pointed at the different words.
I am Janet.
I am John.
This is our dog, Rover.
Run, Rover, run!

There are so many things that you forget in life. Isn’t it strange how I remember not only reading my first book, but also the words within it. That was a momentous time in my life. The time when the world of books was revealed to me. How was I to know what a stimulating universe, Janet and John would lead me into?

When I had my fall off the stage at the State Theatre, I suffered brain damage. This affected my reading ability. I would look at a page of a book and I would just see this jumbled mass of words. I didn’t know how to make sense of this horrifying heap of meaningless phrases. Where did I begin? I had no knowledge of how to separate the words or what to do when I reached the end of a line. My eyes continued on and there was nothing there! Where did they go to next? My Occupational Therapist, Stella Sims, cut a two centimetre long rectangular hole out of a strip of cardboard. Then she held it over one word within the nightmarish mass. 

“Read this, Gaynor,” she instructed me.

I looked at the word that lay in it’s little cardboard bed and said: “The”

Stella moved the card to the next word and I read: “girl”

She moved it again and I said: “laughed.” I looked up and said: “Oh, the girl laughed. I read a sentence, Stella! I am managing, aren’t I? Let me do it?”

I took the card and continued until the end of the line. “But…there are no more words. What happens now?” I said despairingly.

“Put your finger there to mark your place, and then go back to the beginning of the line but move one down. You’ll see a whole other line. Put the card on the first word of that line and then continue to read.”

The following week, Stella cut the cardboard to fit two words and then three. And this was how I began to read again. My brain had to learn how to focus on individual words, in different sentences on separate lines. I had to re-teach my brain the process of reading.

Once my brain had mastered this ability, I devoured books. 

For eighteen years, I was completely deaf and found communicating with people difficult. Books were different. I used to sit in a lounge full of people and was unable to understand a word that was being said. So I bought out a book and would soon be lost in another world. Books were my life saver!  They spoke to me in a language I understood. With a laugh, I can say that often I still speak back.

“Oh, you make me so mad,” I muttered to a character as I put down my book and went through to the kitchen to grab some chocolate from the fridge. Then with a piece of Lindt chocolate in my mouth, “You wait, you will get your comeuppance!” was my retort to the character as I began reading once more. 

Having my Cochlear Implants and now being able to hear, changed my relationship with books. My love affair with them remains but they are no longer used as rescue equipment. Books give you an insight into the minds and workings of people. This is something I have always loved.

Recently I came across this most amazing project set up by Asijike Arts, a lottery funded initiative of the George Arts Theatre. It aims to inspire, educate and entertain children and young people in the George community. Their Book Tree scheme hopes to increase literacy levels in George by encouraging people to read more. I was delighted to learn from Lauretta, one of the Asijike interns, more about this wonderful concept. The idea is to plant a ‘forest’ of Book Trees throughout George. The first beautiful tree was set up in Inkcubeko Youth and Science Centre in Thembalethu. Seventy donated books were joyfully placed at the trees base. These books can be borrowed, read and swapped for other books. If anyone falls totally in love with a book that they are reluctant to return, they are allowed keep it.

“So, Book Trees aren’t only for children?” I asked.

“No, they are for all ages.” 

My bookshelves are positively groaning with the wonderful weight of books. There are those books that no longer hold an interest for me. I have a long drawer in which these books lie, hopelessly cluttered. I can almost hear them crying out to me: “Please don’t leave us shut in here. We want to be read!” 

There are two Book Tree drop off points: The George Arts Theatre and George Museum. I shall be taking my drawer with the muttering books inside, to the George Theatre on Monday. Mums has so many children’s books which she kept for her grandchildren. They loved them but have now outgrown them. Wouldn’t they make a wonderful donation to a Book Tree! I must persuade Mums and her children’s books to accompany me and my muttering drawer to the theatre! 

The Book Tree cast

Whilst illuminating me about the Book Tree project, Lauretta explained that they were also producing a play to promote the initiative.

“You have a production called The Book Tree?” I asked in astonishment.

“Yes,” she said, laughing at my amazement. “Asijike Arts have also devised a wonderful play. It opens on the 13th November. It’s free for the schools attending. And then on 17th, its open to everyone.  Please won’t you spread the word?”

Asijike believes in bringing theatre to the children and children to the theatre. They put on their first production The Dreambox which drew almost 3000 children. I remember performing for children. It is one of the most rewarding forms of entertainment for an actor. The children lose themselves in what is happening and shout out advice, sing along and freely comment on the action. 90% of the children that saw The Dreambox had never been to a theatre before. What an experience for the children and the actors!

It saddens me that Asijike’s lottery funding is drawing to an end. Unless a sponsor is found it will cease to exisit. They are doing vital work in our community. How I wish I was a billionaire. Asijike would not want for a thing!

Not only will I spread the word about The Book Tree production but I will be sitting in the audience waiting to be charmed by the magic of theatre for children. Books and theatre. Two of the greatest loves of my life!

Roll on mid-November!






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