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Thrilling holiday reads for children

- Wits University

A reading list for children, tweens and teens from a Wits academic, writer and founder of Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival.

Dr Zaheera Jina AsvatThe December holidays present us with an opportunity to recoup, catch up on reading, and spend quality time with loved ones.

Wits Communications asked children's book author and mathematics lecturer at Wits, Dr Zaheera Jina Asvat, to suggest books for young readers to help unwind during the holidays and enrich reading shelves.

As an academic juggling responsibility with three young children aged 6, 9, and 13, reading is a significant aspect of her family life.

"I consistently seek books that provide meaningful content to read to my children, emphasising the importance of literature that goes beyond mere entertainment. I’ve discovered that books featuring beautiful illustrations and rhythmic prose are particularly well-suited for engaging young children," says Asvat.


Dr Asvat's Reading List

Early readers

How many ways can you say helloRefiloe Moahloli’s How many ways can you say hello? is a book that deserves a place on the bookshelves of every home.

The story follows Sara on her first day at school, where she discovers the diversity of greetings. The most significant surprise is realising that greetings can be expressed in various ways. During the holidays, Sara goes on a hot air balloon adventure across the country to learn different greetings in Tshivenda, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, siSwati, isiZulu, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, Setswana, Sepedi, and Sesotho. This enchanting narrative, conveyed through rhythmic verse and complemented by captivating illustrations, is highly recommended for young South African children.



For tweens

A cherished tradition in my household involves spending an entire hour getting into bed with my children and reading to them. This ritual, which has endured as my older son is now thirteen-years-old, has allowed us to share the joy of reading numerous books together.

Arabella - the Moon and the Mongongo NutWe particularly liked the Fudge series by Judy Blume. We experienced genuine laughter as we immersed ourselves in the delightful world of Judy Blume's five Fudge books. The irrepressible wit of Peter Hatcher, the mischievous antics of Fudge, and the unyielding confidence of the know-it-all Sheila Tubman contribute to the humour and charm of these beloved stories. These books are recommended for children between the ages of eight and twelve.

We found delight in reading both the Arabella series by Hamilton Wende and the Nisa Qamar series by Shafinaaz Hassim. Set in Johannesburg, the Arabella series includes two books: Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut as well as The Secret King & The Amulet From Timbuktu. Recommended for ages 11 to 13.

Arabella's life undergoes a profound change in her typical Johannesburg suburb following her father's death, leading to a profound sense of sadness. However, the discovery of a magical world concealed in her garden brings a transformative experience. Ukhozi the eagle delivers a special mongongo nut from the Kalahari, granting Arabella the ability to transform into a butterfly and explore the starlit skies.

Holiday reading suggestions for kids - Nisa Qamar and the Rainbow Healer's Society is a must have in your homeYet, challenges emerge as adversaries in the form of the hadedas, led by their king Ozymandias, aim to acquire the mongongo nut for malevolent purposes. Arabella takes on a leadership role, uniting the small creatures of the garden to thwart the hadedas and their sinister agenda.

From the Nisa Qamar series, the second book Nisa Qamar and the Rainbow Healers Society stands out as an excellent choice for tweens and teens, offering valuable lessons for them to embrace.

In this book, eleven-year-old Nisa experiences the significance of true friendship when she befriends Jihan, leading to an invitation to join the Rainbow Healers Society. Collaboratively, Nisa and Jihan strive to bring hope to the children of Jozi.




Two Tons of FunAs a mother to a teenager, I consider Two Tons of Fun by Fred Khumalo to be a significant read for young adults in present-day South Africa. Reading it aloud to my 13-year-old allowed me to navigate through parts which I considered inappropriate for him.

Set in Alexandra township, this coming-of-age novel follows Lerato Morolong, age fourteen, as she helps an injured truck driver involved in a collision. Lerato's life intertwines with the Ngobese family, revealing the dynamics of her quick-witted, beer-loving mother, June-Rose. The story explores family, revelations, and Lerato's journey toward understanding and self-discovery.



About Dr Zaheera Jina Asvat

Asvat teaches mathematics at the Wits School of Education. She is the editor of three books (Tween Tales, Saffron and Riding the Samoosa Express) and the author of Surprise! Tears of the Weaver is her debut collection of fiction short stories. She is the founder of Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival (Jozisbbf), a non-profit organisation that aims to cultivate a culture of reading and writing in South Africa through various literary events. She lives in Johannesburg with her husband, three sons and many in-laws.