Not So Fast Songololo is a picture book set in South Africa during the Apartheid. Author Niki Daly captures the daily life in a South African market through the eyes of a little boy Songololo. It was Daly’s childhood passion of drawing that helped him earn a livelihood in London when he migrated from South Africa. Ten years after coming to London, he returned to apartheid divided South Africa. Speaking of the books he produced whilst there he says,
I wrote and illustrated a number of books which reflected the lives of the children on the other side of the racial divide. In retrospect, I see these books as half-way bridges between white and black children who live[d] separate and unequal lives determined by the appalling apartheid system. In order to do these books I ignored the myth propagated through apartheid and some political activists who said that there are differences between people.
One of the books to come out of this time was Not So Fast Songololo. This book is the story of Malusi and his grandmother Gogo. Malusi accepts the offer to accompany his grandmother to the market to help her with her shopping. Little Malusi shares his home with his parents and siblings- Uzuti and Mongi. Malusi sets out wearing the hand-me-down tackies or shoes of his elder brother Mongi.
Malusi’s grandmother is like an old oak tree – that has seen much and is beautiful.
Gogo was old, but her face shone like new shoes.
Her hands were large and used to hard work, but they were gentle.
Gogo finds the noise and hurry of the city confusing, and she asks Malusi who she fondly calls Songololo to accompany her.
Malusi a child who savours what he does and is slow in his movements is still too fast for his grandmother. A leisurely walk to the bus kicking a can is a brisk one for Gogo.Gogo in her large floral dress and Malusi travel to the town in a bus. Malusi observes and identifies the various models of cars as he goes by.
In the city, Malusi stops to admire a toy Volkswagon but spots a beautiful pair of red tackies or shoes. He yearns for new tackies, even as he continues to walk with his old ones. His grandmother notes this but continues to proceed to her shopping.
As we walk with Malusi and his grandmother, we see the sights of the busy market in South Africa.
Gogo then buys a new plastic tablecloth, groceries and a mug and a bottle to keep beans. These simple but essential purchases are expensive ones for Gogo.
On their way back to take the bus home, Gogo stops at the shoe shop and buys a brand new pair of shoes for Malusi.
A newly heeled Malusi walks proudly ahead, prompting Gogo to say “Not so fast Songololo”.
A tired grandmother and a happy Malusi wait at the bus stop when his grandmother quips that she too could walk faster if she had new tackies. Songololo and Gogo chuckle about this inside joke.
Daly is both writer and illustrator of this precious testament of love between a grandparent and grandchild. The illustrations are watercolours rendered over pencil sketches. They will make you feel as if you were indeed in the middle of a busy bazaar or crowded bus.This happy, little adventure that they take will bring to mind some happy adventures of your own as we move between being children, parent, and grandparent.
Not So Fast Songololo is a great eye opener to another culture. It shows us that love, yearning, and satisfaction are indeed universal no matter how we try to divide ourselves. In the end, when Songololo gets his new shoes, we too, are delighted at this happy surprise. Grandmother Gogo for whom the new shoes are an expensive buy finds greater joy in the joy of her grandson as she seeks to provide him with the comfort that she may have forgone herself in her life.
A colourful, vibrant yet tender story Not So Fast Songololo will stay in your mind as a delicate fragrance.
You can buy Not So Fast Songololo here.