Silvanian families

This post is specifically for my friend Hannah – the delightful 7 year old daughter of very good friends of ours – but first a small introduction and some background to the reason for the post.

Hannah lives in South Africa and has not yet had a chance to travel outside of the African continent. She loves the bush and she loves animals and as is befitting for someone of her age she has a vivid and active imagination which is stimulated through playing with toys. One set of toys that Hannah is very fond of is her Sylvanian families, so on a visit to South Africa a couple of years ago, we took Hannah a toy Silvanian house with a few characters to occupy it. As Hannah gasped ini wonder at the house (which apparently was not available in South Africa at the time) she asked where we had found such a beautiful gift and I explained that I had visited Silvania and had seen the houses that people live in so I brought her one back specially. Some time after that, Hannah proudly told her teacher at school that I had been to Silvania, at which point the teacher promptly dismissed the comment by saying that Silvania isn’t real!!

Now I think that’s just rude! Just because the teacher hadn’t been there doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

I personally believe that the most important role an educator has is to encourage children to have open minds, to stimulate creative thinking and to enable them to believe in “the art of the possible” – and at 6 years old you don’t achieve that by shutting down a statement made by an innocent child!

So I promised Hannah that the next time I went to Silvania, I would take some photos for her to prove it is a real place and what follows is a story about Silvania for Hannah:-

Dear Hannah

For the last few days I have been in Silvania (that’s how they spell it there – it’s only English speaking people that spell it “Sylvania”), visiting my friends, the Silvanian families. I had to ride my motorbike for many days (more than a whole week) to get here as you can’t just fly in on an aeroplane and it was a very dangerous journey – one that you have to be over 21 to make so your parents won’t be able to bring you here for a while I’m afraid but I tell you what, if you still want to come here when you are 21 then I will be happy to make the journey with you to introduce you to my friends.

Now the Silvanian families are very shy and don’t like their photos taken as they think that photos steal a bit of their magic – just in the same way that many of the Africans that I grew up with also believe in fact! As a result, the photos that I managed to get for you are more of “things” rather than people but I managed to get a mum and a dad to let me have my photo take with them but you can see how their faces are all blurred that their magic doesn’t let you know who they really are!


The next photo I have to show you is of me standing their big sports stadium. Now the sign says “Transilvania” but “Trans” just means “through” so “Translivania” means “through Silvania” – the sports stadium is where people from all through Silvania come to compete against each other in all sorts of sports and games, just like you have sports days at school.



The Silvanian families are very hard working and most of them work in the fields and forests all day tending their crops and almost all the work is done by hand as they are too poor to use big tractors and things. But the animals are their friends and there are lots of donkeys and horses on the road pulling wagon loads of wheat and straw (like the picture at the top of the page) and fruits and berries and my favourite – watermelons! The fields are full of families cutting and picking and working hard all day long.

At night, they go home to their houses, which are more like castles! Every house in the street is more fantastic than the next one and the decorations gleam and glint magically in the sunlight. I’ve included a couple of photos for you to show this wonderful world where everyone lives in a castle.






This is how it is all through Silvania – Transilvania (remember, that means “through Silvania”) – the important thing to remember is that not everything in life can be learned from books – some things can only be learned from getting out into the world and seeing things for yourself – something that I’m sure you will do much more of as you get older and then you can have your own stories of magical places to tell me about!