Engaging children through reading

5 Apr 2012

Libraries are running a series of schemes this year intended to engage children. You might ask ‘what’s the difference between these schemes and children reading the latest bestseller (currently The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) all at the same time and talking about it on Facebook?’ The main difference is that these schemes have been designed with reading engagement in mind.

While adults are engaged with Dubliners: One City One Book this month, children also have their opportunity to get involved in reading engagements and three major reading programmes for children this year are: • Children Save Dublin! A citywide reading promotion by Dublin: UNESCO City of Literature • The Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award Shadowing Scheme • The One Area, One Book reading promotion organised through the Home School Liaison service. All three seek to engage children. Designed with reading engagement in mind, the schemes go beyond fan reading and seek to involve children in a conversation around books and the ideas they find through books. Engagement with designed reading promotions at a young age can give children the tools of critical thinking that will increase the enjoyment and benefit they get from reading all through their lives. This habit, of sharing ideas and viewpoints, while central to democracy, doesn’t always have as large a place in education as it should. The shadowing scheme in particular, gives children the opportunity to engage in critical thinking and gives them the tools and support to do that even at a young age. All of the reading promotions encourage an active reading of text and picture, rather than the passive reading so often associated with textbooks. Children often get the opportunity to meet the authors themselves and engage in a dialogue directly with them. Many schools are availing of the opportunities provided by reading promotions, despite the strain this can put on their staff resources. The partnership between schools and libraries is crucial, but it’s not without challenges and threats, and can never be taken for granted. Now, I’ll hand you over to Mags Walsh, Director of Children’s Books Ireland, to explain how the CBI Book Award Shadowing Scheme works: More than a Literary Award – Engaging Young Readers Book awards are fun. And children’s books awards can be lots and lots of fun. They create opportunities to celebrate writers and illustrators and they provide plenty of debate for passionate book lovers. They are however, often very adult – adult judges, adult winners and adult organizers. Our challenge over the past 6 years or so has been to create an award with integrity and rigour that would also be inclusive and fun. A little about the awards- Now in their 22nd year, the CBI awards are given annually to authors and illustrators born or resident in Ireland and are open to books written in Irish or English. About 80 titles are submitted annually and these are whittled down to a shortlist of approximately ten books. Previous winners have included John Boyne, Niamh Sharkey, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Siobhan Dowd. Passionate Young Readers Established in 2005, the CBI Shadowing Scheme is a unique programme for schools and libraries, designed to encourage awareness and enjoyment of the awards. The books featured in the shadowing programme can range from picture books to teen/young adult novels. We currently have over one hundred groups ranging from 3rd class to 3rd year involved in the programme, with a growing number of junior and teen library book clubs also taking part across the country. Participating groups make their own selection of suitable titles from the books shortlisted for the awards, using a specially devised activity pack to guide them in their reading. At the end of this process each group is asked to collectively vote for their favourite book. The really fun part of all of this is how the groups tackle the books – activities include art, drama, creative writing, debate and digital media. We encourage to try everything from reenacting court room dramas to adapting books into graphic novels. There is no right or wrong way to get to grips with the books, it is entirely up to the young readers and their group leaders what they do. Young Readers as judges In 2010 CBI introduced a new Children’s Choice award to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Awards and formalise the input of our young readers. Each year up to ten Junior Juries select a Children’s Choice winner. These are drawn from those groups, who have been taking part in our Shadowing Scheme for two or more years. These Junior Juries are challenged to read, critique and debate all the titles from the shortlist, before voting on their favourite in early May. The Children’s Choice award is decided solely on the results of our jurors and announced at the winners’ ceremony. Imagine hundreds of bookclubs busily discussing great books. Add in props, energy, art materials, ideas and drama and you’ll have some idea of how lucky we are to work with our very passionate young readers. More on Children’s Books Ireland and the book of the year awards on www.childrensbooksireland.ie Next, a few words on citywide and area-based reading promotions for children. CHILDREN SAVE DUBLIN – READ all about it! The Dublin UNESCO City of Literature reading engagement ‘Children Save Dublin! Read All About It!’ ran from January to March this year and was the first citywide reading promotion for children in Dublin that engaged children from all areas of Dublin reading the same book at the same time. The book chosen was Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent by Alan Early, published by Mercier Press. As well as reading the book and talking about it, many children got the opportunity to meet the author, Alan Early, in their school or library, others got to attend a Viking Show by Irish History Live!, and yet more got involved in ‘Serpents, Stories and Drama’ the art programme provided by Dublin City Council’s Arts Office. The final major event of the children’s reading promotion took place on the Monday of the St. Patrick’s Festival. In association with Irish Rail, an eight- carriage train at Connolly Station was the venue for activities connected with the book – author reading, runic writing, crafts, serpent (snake) petting as well as two peaceful carriages for accompanying parents. Viking stilt walkers, face painting and musicians added to the atmosphere. Jane Alger, who directed the promotion, had this to say ‘Children came from all over the country and their response to the author and book was heart warming. Three aspects of the book were particularly mentioned by children and their parents – the fact that it is set in a Dublin they know, it is a page turner and that there is another one coming in August. Parents particularly liked that the book and promotion appealed to children who are normally reluctant to read’. Area-based Reading Promotions These promotions have been organised by the Home School Liaison teachers with support from the local schools, Dublin City Council local area offices and local branch libraries. They are examples of partnerships between local schools and libraries and the local community that benefit everyone. By using the local library as a focal point for meeting the author and attending related events, children from different schools can mix and learn together. Some libraries also organise events for parents and other adults so that they can become involved in the reading promotion with the children. The value of having a public space, in this case the local public library, which can be accessed by all on an equal basis, is highlighted in programmes like these. Titanic Reading Promotion: At the moment schools in the Coolock area are organising an area-based reading promotion around the topical theme of Titanic. Coolock Library has booked two exciting events; the visit of the Titanic 100 show from Michael Moylan of Irish History Live!, and a visit from Nicola Pierce, who wrote Spirit of the Titanic (O’Brien Press, 2012). The main character in Spirit of the Titanic is fifteen-year-old Sam from Belfast, who plunges to his death whilst building his beloved Titanic. Now as the greatest ship the world has ever seen crosses the Atlantic Ocean, Sam finds himself on board – as a ghost! Many area-based reading promotions have followed the One Area One Book template and chosen one book for all he children to read at the same time. Books chosen so far have included; 17 Martin Street by Marilyn Taylor has proven a very popular choice and has been used in reading promotions in Inchicore, Kevin Street and Ballymun. 17 Martin Street is set in Dublin City during the ‘Emergency’ and one of the main characters is a young Jewish refugee fleeing persecution. Taking Sides by Brian Gallagher was chosen in Marino, where 107 children packed into the tiny library to meet the author and talk about the book. Taking Sides is an action packed thriller set in Dublin City during the Civil War where the two main young characters are from families who have taken opposing sides. For both these books the teachers and librarians were able to link the text to other sources on similar topics, for example, Ballymun Library hosted an exhibition from the Holocaust Education Trust of Ireland and Phibsboro Library included a presentation of photographs from the Civil War era.