Marvelous Picture Books: Once Upon a Time


Niki Daly’s Once Upon a Time was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1993. Niki Daly is an incredibly accomplished South African writer and illustrator of children’s books. He has won many award for his books, since beginning writing and illustrating children’s books in 1978. Once Upon a Time won an award from Parent’s Choice Awards Program (Recommended for Age 4-8) and A Children’s Africana Honour Book in 2004. Daly’s books are mainly multi-cultural books, addressing the impact of apartheid on South Africa. He does not sugarcoat the social and racial issues in his books.

Once Upon a Time tells the story of Sarie, a young girl who struggles with reading, especially when asked to read aloud in school. Her classmates giggle as she stumbles over words, while reading aloud in class. On Sundays, she spends time with Auntie Anna in the rusted old car. Sarie confesses her fear of reading aloud in school and how her classmates laugh at her for stumbling over words, except for her friend Emile. She finds a book in Auntie Anna’s car and reads it aloud with the assistance of Auntie Anna. It is the story of Cinderella. Sarie and Auntie Anna read the book over and over until Sarie no longer struggles to read the story. She gains confidence as Auntie Anna helps her strengthen her reading skills. Sarie is finally told, “You read beautifully” by the principal of the school. While reading this book of a young girl overcoming her struggle to read in school, the reader is captured by not only the beautiful story told through text, but also through Daly’s enchanting watercolor images of beautiful South Africa. The illustrations make the story come alive. It is an inspiring story for children to experience, especially those who struggle with reading themselves.
I came across this book in Cape Town, South Africa in March of 2009. During the Spring of 2009, I took a class with Ann Neely called “Children’s Literature of Social Transformation.” We delivered between 900 and 1000 pounds of children’s books to the township of Manenberg. During the class, we had talked about Niki Daly as a writer and illustrator. I particularly fell in love with Daly’s Once Upon a Time because it is something not only relatable to the children of South Africa, but also to children around the world. It depicts some children’s fear of reading and the power of adults reading along with children. I think this is a fabulous book for all children to read.
Niki Daly has participated in the creation of 48 children’s books. Some of his other marvelous children’s books include: Not So Fast Songololo, Jamela’s Dress, Happy Birthday Jamela!, What’s Cooking, Jamela?, and Pretty Salma.

Happy Reading!
Grace Anne
If you would like to learn more about Niki Daly, visit his website:

5 responses »

  1. I have read this book and I loved it. It is a great book that shows the power and the impact that a person can have on a child. I also liked that it addresses the issue of reading. Thanks for the recommendation

  2. Grace Anne, thank you for all of the great background information on the author and your personal experiences with this book in South Africa! This seems like it would be an especially beneficial book to generate discussion with children about tough issues as well as help support those who may experience difficulty with reading. Great post and I will definitely pick this book up because of your recommendation. 🙂

  3. Great recommendation, Grace Anne! What an interesting author! I am always on the lookout for children's books or authors that are more up front about racial and cultural issues. I would love to use this book as a part of a larger reading/writing/social studies unit celebrating racial and cultural diversity or as a way to strengthen classroom culture by discussing how students learn differently. I would also love to learn even more about Niki Daly and use his work as part of an author study, as it sounds like his work would be a great way to address diversity and prejudice, and could lead to more critical thinking about those issues in our own communities. Thanks for the recommendation!

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