Will the Real Tooth Fairy please stand up . . . (translation research)

Many children in South Africa, and most of the English-speaking world, grow up with the notion of a Tooth Fairy. The most common version sees the Tooth Fairy visiting children who have placed their lost teeth under their pillows, and she (or sometimes he) gives them money in exchange.

The lore surrounding this fairytale fairy has expanded over the years. Some versions say the Tooth Fairy will plant a child’s tooth in a nearby field so that their adult teeth may start growing, while others say there is a whole town of Tooth Fairies that collect teeth to build their houses, roads, furniture, toys and such like. The theme of the Tooth Fairy has been used throughout the English world and can be considered an intrinsic part of English childhood culture.

But what about non-English-speaking countries? In many European countries children grow up with the ‘Tooth Mouse’, a character which, strangely enough, is also present in the South African Afrikaans culture known as ‘die Tandmuis’, who collects teeth that children have placed in their slippers. ‘Die Tandmuis’, using the same premise as the tooth fairy, collects teeth from children in exchange for money, which he then uses to fix the ivory keys of tiny pianos.

There have been many versions of the Tooth Mouse throughout history, but the oldest story dates back to the late 1800s in Madrid, Spain, where Ratón Pérez lived in a box of cookies with his family. At night he would steal into the bedrooms of children who had lost a tooth, using the city’s pipes. This story was created by Luis Coloma, who was commissioned to write the story for a little Spanish prince on the occasion of losing his first tooth. Thus Coloma managed to make Ratón Pérez a national folkore icon.

In France the characters of the Tooth Fairy and the Tooth Mouse collide in a story written by Madame d’Aulnoy about a fairy that it able to turn into a mouse, but this story has a much darker side and is not really a fairy tale that plays into the rest of the Tooth Fairy genre.

Asian and Middle Eastern countries have rather different traditions when it comes baby teeth. Many Asians do not tell their children the fairy tale of the Tooth Mouse or Tooth Fairy, but encourage their children to throw their teeth onto the roof of their home. Some take it even further with the tradition of throwing teeth from the bottom jaw onto the roof, and teeth from the upper jaw are dropped between the floorboard. Other traditions specify that children should make a wish while they toss their teeth, and most children wish for the teeth of a rat, or mouse, because of the longevity of rodent teeth.


Originally researched for an Afrikaans>English translation project.

All this information was gathered from the following websites:

Tooth Fairy vs Little Tooth Mouse

Thope Foundation’s Tutor Programme

Thope Foundation’s Tutor Programme

Thope Foundation’s Tutor Programme

It is a warm Saturday morning that finds me driving through the dusty, sun-drenched streets of Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town. Street name signs are few and far between and I wonder whether I have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Around a bend, where the informal and formal housing structures crowd each other for space on the street, I finally see the big school gates of Chumisa Primary School. I pull into the parking lot where a handful of cars are parked.

I can already hear the girls’ voices as I get out the car; joyful and boisterous as they play tag in the courtyard during their morning break. Some are busy snacking on sarmies and hot chocolate. These girls, unlike most girls between the ages of 11 and 14, come to school every Saturday morning to take part in a special educational programme, expertly designed and implemented by the Thope Foundation. Not only do these girls have extra maths and science classes on a Saturday morning, but the programme also offers talks by different women on a variety of social subjects. Today, they’re talking about periods.

There is a twitter of young voices and clacking keys as I walk into the computer lab through its thick, metal security door. Some girls are already at the computers busy researching, finishing off homework or interacting on social media. My high school friend Rethabile Mashale, Programme Director of Thope Foundation, greets us with a proud smile. The vibe and the energy she, the tutoring staff and volunteers have created is welcoming, inclusive and conducive to a social learning environment.

Once everyone has been called inside and settled down, the tutor who is leading the day’s topic enthusiastically addresses the class.

“Today we are going to talk about periods! Who can tell me what a period is?” One girl raises her hand shyly and gives a soft, awkward answer before hiding her face behind her hands as the girls around her burst out laughing.

“Yes, that’s right. A period is when you bleed once a month. And your body goes through a lot of changes when periods first start. Who can tell me what else happens around the same time that you get your first period?” A girl near the front gestures with curved hands over her chest, and gales of giggles erupt around the room once more.

“Yes! We also get boobs. What else can start to happen?” The classroom is alive with twitters of engagement. The girls are not afraid to answer questions and get involved in the discussions that follow. For many of these girls, something as everyday as periods is not something which is freely discussed at home. Some may have conservative, or absent parents or family members.

The Thope tutors have essentially created a safe space for young township girls to learn about and discuss topics which are difficult and important topics concerning young girls in any environment, but especially so for young girls living in a township in South Africa. Most young girls in suburbia would, for example, have more access to information on periods and more than likely their parents will purchase them sanitary pads or tampons upon the arrival of the first period. But most of the young girls growing up in townships, where poverty, violence and teenage pregnancies are prevalent, will notice the changes in their bodies but have no access to support networks with whom to share or discuss these changes.

And this is where Thope is essential in affecting a positive difference to the environment of young girls. By mentoring and tutoring young girls, they initiate and inspire a culture of informed and engaged young women who enter the world after school on a confident footing. Those women are then able to step up and continue to encourage the education of the young girls still to come.

Thope Foundation has been running the Tutor and Mama Mentor programmes, amongst others, since 2013 and they always appreciate any funding that can assist in keeping their essential and valuable programmes running. For the Tutor Programme in particular they need to cover tutor transport costs, a snack consisting of a sandwich and hot chocolate for 40 – 50 pupils every Saturday, and any printing costs for required handouts. There are many ways to support Thope. Please visit for more information on how to donate and support this NGO.