With television, electronic games and the Internet taking over children's leisure hours, there are growing worries about children losing interest in books.
What is not helping matters is the fact that there are not many libraries around. The ongoing international conference on children’s libraries organised by the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children (AWIC) in the Capital, has some foreign delegates, who are running innovative projects that have helped create a book culture in their respective countries.
Dashdongadog Jamba, a renowned Mongolian children’s author, started a project called Mongolian Children’s Mobile Library in 1991. Jamba’s mobile library is not about carrying books in a bus or a van. Jamba collects books from all over the world as donations, and transports them to the remotest areas in Mongolia on horses, camels, reindeer and even cows. He often travels to the nomadic groups of herders with wife and son and hundreds of books.
“Book culture in Mongolia was completely destroyed by the Communist regime. I launched mobile library project in 1991 to build a book culture by making books available to children even in the remotest areas in the country,” says Jamba, speaking to HT with the help of a translator from the Mongolian embassy
“My wife and son serve as my staff. My son takes care of transport, my wife takes care of books, and I act as an actor comedian as I read to children. The idea is to make reading an entertaining exercise and rebuild the book culture.”
Jamba has written 80 children’s books and travelled 80,000 kilometres on his mobile libraries, benefiting one lakh children across Mongolia.
Catching ’em young
Like Jamba’s mobile libraries, First Words in Print Projects run by National Library of South Africa, encourages parents to develop reading habits among children.
“We encourage parents to start reading stories to their children in the local language the day they are born. If parents are illiterate, then we train them to narrate stories from picture books. By the time children go to school, they have already developed a love for stories and language,” says Nombulelo Baba, who runs the project. She says the project has created a whole new market for children’s books in local languages in South Africa, which was earlier dominated by English books.
The celebrity lesson
The ABC Foundation, an NGO based in Poland, runs a unique All Poland Reads to Kids Foundation.
“We invite celebrities from various fields such as writing, music and sports to read to children at local libraries, kindergartens and even hospitals,” says Monika Chojnacka, representing ABC Foundation at the Conference. “These celebrities explain to children the role books played in making them successful in life. This really inspires children to read.”
Besides, every year, on October 14, the foundation organises the birthday of Winnie-the-Pooh in libraries, schools, community centres across Poland. The occasion is marked by book readings, book collections and book launches.
Books in gift boxes
Japan’s Chanthasone Inthavong, who runs the NGO, Action With Lao Children (ALC), believes books are the best gifts for children. Her organisation promotes reading habits in children in Laos, where civil wars have caused a lot of damage to the education system.
“We collect high quality Japanese picture books, get our volunteers to translate them into the local language, and distribute them for free to children across Laos in designer boxes shaped like a book,” she says.
“This is also our way of encouraging parents to start small libraries at home.”