18 March 2022 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Charl Devenish
Jaco Jacobs
Jaco Jacobs delivered the 35th DF Malherbe memorial lecture – a concise, fun lecture with a lasting message about the wonderworld of children’s verse and nursery rhymes.

DF Malherbe-gedenklesing Afrikaans

The 35th DF Malherbe memorial lecture donned a new, fun coat when the lecture was delivered by the well-known children’s book author, Jaco Jacobs, on 16 March 2022. Jacobs’ children’s verses and nursery rhymes, poems and stories were an ode to his hobby, his bread and butter, and his great passion – books for children and young people.

The topic of the lecture was On My Planet: The Wonderworld of Children’s Verse, presented by the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French. As the author of children’s books, Jacobs often speaks to audiences, but not in front of students or scholars. “With children, I talk about topics such as the pros and cons of your granny deciding to become a rock star, ways in which to steal a sheep at a church bazaar, and how it will feel to have spaghetti between your toes.”  

The purpose of the lecture was not to be a warning, a wake-up call, or a plea on the status of Afrikaans, but rather to discuss nursery rhymes as a subgenre of Afrikaans children’s and youth literature. After all, Jacobs has more than 20 years of experience in this subgenre. 

Rhymes and verse, even poetry, important from an early age

 “Indeed, a rhyme seems like fun, a rhyme seems like something that may wink, smile, and knows what red cold drink tastes like,” he says.  So, he poses the question: why then are children and teachers afraid of poetry?

The connotation to poetry reminds many people of the double periods in Afrikaans where they were trapped in a classroom, which, according to Jacobs, “smelled of sweaty socks, bone-dry pages filled with alliteration, assonance, and enjambment”! According to him, children are not afraid of poetry from an early age, since they “are born with an ear for poetry”; even before we attach meaning to it, we learn from a very young age to carefully listen to the rhythm of our mother or father’s voice. “Many studies have been done on the benefits of reading poetry to an unborn baby – they strongly respond to words they have heard while in the womb,” says Jacobs. 

Jacobs says a young child who ingests rhymes with its breast milk learns that language can be comforting – as with this rhyme: 

Slaap kindjie slaap
Daar buite loop ’n skaap
’n Skaap met witte voetjies
Hy drink sy melk so soetjies
Skapie met sy witte wol
Kindjie drink sy magie vol
Slaap kindjie slaap

Children’s verse plays an important role, because it usually includes nursery rhymes that are part of everyday playing. “The wonderworld of nursery rhymes are filled with sounds, rhymes, steps, rhythm, and patterns. Nursery rhymes sometimes need to be mischievous and test the boundaries a bit,” says Jacobs. 

The DF Malherbe memorial lecture is presented every second year. Previous speakers include Coenie de Villiers, and the language activist Bettina Wyngaard in 2018

Watch the lecture below: 

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