How does one teach children about tough subjects such as apartheid and forced removals and should they even be exposed to these complicated constructs while still so young?
Historian Joline Young believes they should – albeit “gently”.
This is why she has published the first in what she hopes will become a series of history books for children.
Joline, 56, is a secretary, turned historian, turned writer. At the age of 40-something, a visit to a museum started Joline off on a new trajectory.
“Having raised a large family as a young mother, I did secretarial work to help the family make ends meet,” Joline said, but then a fascination with the history of Simon’s Town led Joline on a journey to studenthood in later life.
Joline’s particular interest in Simon’s Town came about after a chance meeting with Patty Davidson of the Heritage Museum. Patty asked Joline to research the neglected history of her community.
“I just became immersed in this history of Simon’s Town,” she said.
“I felt the pain of the people of Simon’s Town. When I researched slavery, it was like I felt every lash.”
The fascination led Joline to research and write historical articles, published in the Cape Argus, about the forced removals that took place in the area. Later Joline decided to study history at UCT. She has since completed a Master’s degree in Historical Studies and now works as a historian and senior researcher for South African History Online (SAHO).
However, in-between all of this Lucy’s Dream was being conceived.
“I believe that one of the reasons our society is so polarised is that we introduce history too late. In writing the story I was very concerned not to burden a young child, but to very gently introduce a child to this aspect of our history.
“I believe that after having read Lucy’s Dream, when students get to high school and learn more about our history, the story will resonate with them and they will build the context to what was introduced when they were young,” Joline said.
The idea for the book came about when, some years ago, Joline applied for a part-time researcher post.
As part of the interview process, she was asked to create a storyboard explaining forced removals to children at Grade 4 level.
Despite the interviewees really liking the book, Joline didn’t get the job. “Then I thought, ‘this is a really nice story. I need to write this up as a book’.”
Joline approached her friend Cameron Cupido to illustrate the book. “Before I knew it, Cameron had compiled all the illustrations and typeset the book,” said Joline.
Cameron, 26, is completing her Master’s in visual studies. This is the first time that she has collaborated with an author. She said she took the project on because “it’s really important”.
“There’s a huge gap with the youth because they don’t know history,” Cameron said.
Joline approached her employer, Omar Badsha, CEO of SAHO, and he advanced her the funds for the initial print run of 50 self-published books, most of which have already been sold.
Joline, however, hopes a publisher will take the book into its stable, thereby allowing her to continue the planned series. The next book will be about Luyolo Village.
Joline believes understanding the past is important to healing the present. “History does not have to polarise people. In fact through understanding our past we can build a bridge of understanding that will take us into a more positive and harmonious future”.