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IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award
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IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award Winners 2014

South African NGO and Canadian citizens' group give joy of reading to many children

South African non-governmental organization, PRAESA, and Canadian citizens' group, Children's Book Bank, were chosen for the 22nd IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award that supports activities to convey the joy of reading to children. The Asahi Shimbun interviewed the representatives and other members of the groups about their activities.

PRAESA (South Africa)

South African children read a story written in English and Xhosa. (Provided by Carole Bloch)

South African children read a story written in English and Xhosa. (Provided by Carole Bloch)

South Africa's PRAESA promotes the establishment of reading clubs for children and nurturing of volunteers to operate them. It is also developing reading materials written in English and African languages, which are their mother tongues.

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, children's singing voices are heard from an elementary school in the Langa district in a suburb of Cape Town. It is a song sung in Xhosa, which tells the start of the reading club held once a week. More than 50 children ranging from infants to teens gather in the club, including those who are attracted by the joyous melody.

On one day in late August, Ntombizanele Mahobe, 40, a member of the NGO, asked children in English, "How are you feeling today?" An 11-year-old girl replied in a particularly big voice, "Happy."

Mahobe spontaneously asked her the reason. She said with shining eyes, "That's because today is Saturday. It is the day when I can read books."

In the two-hour reading club, children have volunteers read children's books under the shade of trees. They also practice reading and writing with the volunteers in the classrooms. They also spend time with some other activities they like.

The number of reading clubs the NGO has supported amounts to about 180. South Africa has 11 official languages. As there are few books written in African languages, however, the NGO also translates picture books and children's books into African languages in cooperation with publishers.

The NGO was established in 1992, a year after apartheid-related laws were abolished. "African languages have been ruled out from classrooms for many years. As English is more advantageous in businesses, the trend to make light of African languages continues even now," Carole Bloch, director of PRAESA, explains.

"All children have the right to have their mother tongues respected. If they read stories in their familiar languages, they can really feel the joy of the stories and become more curious. Their interest in learning grows naturally," she says.

She aims to make an environment in which children can master both English and their mother tongues.

In 2012, PRAESA also started a project of inserting a story written both in English and an African language into a newspaper as a supplement in cooperation with a local newspaper company. Anyone can easily make a picture book from the supplement by cutting it from the newspaper and folding it. The supplement is also distributed to reading clubs and schools.

In one reading club, Bloch met a teenage girl who speaks Xhosa but can read and write only in English. Bloch told her, "I want to read the supplement in Xhosa. Can you help me?" Then, using the English sentences as reference, the girl began to read Xhosa sentences written in alphabet. She gradually became able to read the sentences smoothly.

"Experiences of being able to read and write give children self-confidence and joy," Bloch says. From now on, she wants to nurture an environment in which children also enjoy books at home, she adds.

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Children's Book Bank (Canada)

Children hold up their favorite books. (Provided by Kim Beatty)

Children hold up their favorite books. (Provided by Kim Beatty)

The Children's Book Bank of Canada was set up in 2007 by lawyer Kim Beatty, 55. The group asks families and publishers to donate books that have become unnecessary. Whenever children visit the Book Bank, each of them can take home one favorite book free of charge.

"In Canada, there were food banks and clothing banks that distribute goods to impoverished people. But there were no activities to distribute children's books. I thought that this is the activity I can do as a social contribution," says Beatty, who has been a "bookworm" since her childhood.

The bank is located in a district in Toronto where many low-income earners live. Immigrants from various countries live in the neighborhood. Of them, not a few people are unable to land high-salary jobs as they are not proficient in English.

Even now, Beatty cannot forget the words of an immigrant child who took a book home for the first time. The boy of around 10 years of age approached her timidly when she was pulling books together on a counter. He asked her, "When should I return this book?" In response, she said, "You don't have to return it. It is yours forever." He was overjoyed at the reply, saying, "Forever! I feel like I am in heaven."

"There are parents who are facing financial difficulties and cannot afford to buy books. But the experiences of placing favorite books next to their pillows and repeatedly reading them in excitement enrich their lives," says Beatty.

Picture books and children's books for children aged up to 12 line the bookshelves. About 250 children visit the bank a day on average.

In recent years, high school students who previously visited the Book Bank help its operation as volunteers.

When they tell children, "This book is interesting. I also read it when I was around your age," the children naturally have interest in it, she says.

"Children nurture love for reading, and return to the Book Bank when they become adults. We are proud of such a tie and want to cherish it," she says.

(By Maiko Ito, The Asahi Shimbun, September 26, 2014)

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