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IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award
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2016 (23rd) Award Winning Groups



The Pleasure of Reading Spreads Smiles

The 23rd IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award, which supports activities that encourage children to read for pleasure, recognizes and highlights the efforts of two organizations, one based in Laos and one based in Iran. Provided below are reports on their activities.

 

Big Brother Mouse (Laos)

Festive events held at more than 2,000 schools

Since 2006, the citizens' group Big Brother Mouse has published children's books in Laos, where many children have never encountered books other than schoolbooks. In addition to nurturing Laotian authors, the group to date has published more than 370 picture books and books in translation. The group also ships books to schools to help share the experience of reading for pleasure.

Big Brother Mouse is based in Louangphabang, a World Heritage site located about 220 km north of Vientiane, the nation's capital. In August of this year, I accompanied the staff on a "book party" event. To start, this involves delivering books in person to a school located about one hour away by car and boat from urban areas.

After loading two cardboard boxes of books into a car, crossing the Mekong River by ferry, and driving up a bumpy road, we arrived at the village. The village operates a five-year elementary school system. Around 40 students were present, even though the visit fell during the school's summer vacation period.

The party began with the visitors singing and dancing. "There is knowledge to be found in books, things fascinating to read, write, and learn about." Buoyant rhythms and gestures brought smiles to the children's faces.

Using a picture book entitled Who Am I?, the visitors started a game that involved guessing the type of animal, based on hints given in the book. "Tortoise!" "Dog!" The children cheered each time the page was turned. At the end of the event, each child was given a book they liked.

Children beaming as pages turn at the book party (Louangphabang, Laos)
Children beaming as pages turn at the book party (Louangphabang, Laos)

Three individuals initiated this event: Khamla Panyasouk (33), Siphone Wuttisakdy (31), and Sasha Alyson, a 64-year-old American.

Due mainly to the influence of a civil war that persisted past the end of the Second World War, the habit of reading did not take root in Laos in the generation of the children's parents and teachers. Laos has few publishers. Surprised to see no books in Laos, Sasha, who used to run a publishing company in the United States, mentioned the idea of creating Laotian books to Siphone and Khamla. Siphone is someone Sasha had met on his travels and a student at a teacher's school. Khamla is a friend of Siphone.

The two Laotians found it awkward to write stories because they'd never read books other than school texts. Based on a study of children's books from overseas, they began writing their own, including ones based on folktales told by their grandmothers. They organized an art contest to identify potential illustrators. They taught other young staff members how to write stories, nurturing them as budding authors.

They launched the book parties to communicate the fascination of books to children, holding these events at more than 2,000 schools. They distribute a handbook on reading to teachers and advise them to spend 15 minutes before each class reading to the students.

The quality of education in rural areas remains poor. At the book party I witnessed, I saw a third-grade boy close a book as soon as he opened it. "You don't know how to read, do you?" I asked. He responded by nodding quietly.

This year, the group built a school building in a farming area outside the city to create a free boarding school where children can learn how to read and write, with a focus on reading. "I used to think I wanted to create good books on behalf of Laos, but now I'm thinking how I can get more people to read," said Khamla. "Step by step, I'd like to make reading more widespread."

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Read with Me (Iran)

Guidance for teachers on how to teach reading

Reading aloud to children seated in a circle (source: IRHCLI)
Reading aloud to children seated in a circle (source: IRHCLI)

Read with Me is a project run by the Institute for Research on the History of Children's Literature in Iran (IRHCLI), formed by scholars of children's literature. The project has delivered books to more than 13,000 children living in border areas and slums. It's also held workshops for more than 500 teachers and volunteers. Since 2010, the scope of its activities has expanded to account for about half of the provinces in the country.

We met and interviewed Zohreh Ghaeni (62), representative of the IRHCLI, in New Zealand, where the awards ceremony was held.

Many refugees from neighboring Afghanistan live in remote areas, while children in urban areas sometimes work due to the poverty of their families. The IRHCLI launched the project based on the following conviction: for children raised in proximity to war, hunger, and violence, reading is an antidote to anger and sorrow.

Despite the merit of the books selected by experts and sent to schools in remote areas and to shelters for street children in urban areas, the important achievement is to establish a system that motivates children to read. For this reason, the project has poured its efforts into workshops for teachers and volunteers.

For the first four days, participants learn about the significance of reading and how to read stories aloud to children, touching on the approach of "reading with all the emotions" and "reading seated amid a circle of children and looking up to meet their eyes." Educational experts revisit these classrooms one month later to give advice. Each of these efforts goes on for two years. Project organizers remain in touch with teachers to help them in their own efforts.

At one school that hosted this project, Zohreh heard that children who had been shooting doves with toy guns stopped after reading about a child who helped injured doves. "Really, not only can good books say 'Peace is important'; they can change how children think and change their future. I want people to understand the significance of these efforts and to spread this idea across the country by boosting the numbers of people involved in this effort."

(Written by Nozomi Matsukawa - From the morning edition of Asahi Shimbun, September 1, 2016 )

 

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