My first book

Who is the Dutch artist whose series of books, translated in at least 50 languages, sold over 85 million copies worldwide? The answer is … Dick Bruna. Sadly, he died just few days ago. Even though his name might not ring any bells with you, I am sure that -wherever you come from- you are familiar with his little awesome creature: Nijntje!


This is post is about the great power of little books!


When I was a little girl, I had no idea what the word ‘University’ really means. At that time, for me, ‘University’ was a place, far from my hometown, where my young aunt needed to go. To be fair, I must admit that at first I hated the word ‘University’. I really didn’t like the fact that my aunt had to leave me behind in order to go to this place where –apparently- there was something better to do than playing with me!

But when my young aunt came back home from ‘University’ for the very first time, she brought me a present. I started, then, to love the idea! After all, I thought, if everyone who goes to ‘University’ brings back presents, University must be really an amazing place where special things similar to Christmas or birthdays happen. Eager to know, I asked my young aunt what University was about. She answered by passing me her present and smiling:

‘University is a place where you learn how to do things, and how things work. For example, I will learn how to be a doctor. If you want to learn things, you need to read books. One day you will learn how to read something by yourself, but for now we can read this together!’

I was almost four years old, and that’s how I got my first book. It was a picture book with rhyming lines and I still know it by heart. Its opening was:

‘E questo cos’è?
Questa è una palla, rotonda e grande.
É rosa, verde e gialla.
Altre domande?’

Which means:

‘What’s that?
That’s a ball, round and big.
It’s pink, yellow and green,
Further questions?’

Page after page, the book was going on asking very simple questions and replying with a very pleasant rhythm that helped me to memorize it very quickly. The pictures in the book gave me a hint, while the rhythm of my aunt’s voice reading aloud did the rest. In few days, I knew all the lines of the new book by heart and I was faking to read it all by myself.

Surely, that was not the deepest book I ever read. However, I think that it was there that I found something that still keeps me busy today with my current readings. It was the last line of each page: ‘Further questions?’ That line was a challenge to move on, to turn the page and keep reading.

Moving to another country and starting to use another language every day is almost like travelling back in time and being a child again. The first time I spent a considerable time abroad, I felt that my lexicon was so poor that my range of feelings and thoughts had shrunk as well. I knew few expressions to say how I felt and what I thought and most of the time I was struggling with missing words which I needed to answer the same question that was already resonating in my first book: ‘What’s that?’

Now, after some years, I have gradually ‘grown up’ in English. That’s why, some months ago, I thought that it was almost time to give myself another chance to travel back in time and be a child again … this time in Dutch!

Nowadays, the world of apps is full of free language-learning platforms that provide short daily trainings for ‘amateur-learners’ like me. I tried the one with the green owl, which trained me to say: ‘Ik ben een appel, en dat is oké!’ I thought, then, that maybe it was wiser to combine the technological teacher with an old-school method.

I needed a book!

I had no doubts about where to look for help, and the loyal Tilburg University Library Catalogue did not let me down this time! I already knew and loved the little white rabbit who lives in an amazing world of straight black lines and primary colours. And, over the years, I have already been using (appropriately … and not!) her postcards to send my warmest regards, around the world or just next door.

I made up my mind: I could not have a better guru than Nijntje in my endeavor to learn Dutch!

Dit is mijn eerste Nederlands boek:

nijn2And I even found a virtual aunt who reads the rhythmic lines aloud for me!


Someone told us that we are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. I am grateful to Nijntje since she reminded me that sometimes we can also move ahead by slowing down, as rabbits on top of tortoises!

Bekijk meer recent nieuws

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief

Blijf op de hoogte. Meld je aan voor de nieuwsbrief van Univers.