Getting children to love books
Letter to Friends around the World # 107

In Bayadeya, Egypt children learn to read. But getting them to love reading is a bigger challenge than swimming the Nile.

That is why we have put in place a project designed to show that reading is fun, using the ATD Fourth World Street Library model. If kids are reluctant to go looking for books, then we arrange for the books to go looking for them. Falling in love with reading comes from the heart. There has to be a connection between child and book, like the one that a mother creates when she reads a bedtime story to her child. It is that connection that we are trying to create when we bring books to where the children are.

Children feel at home in the streets they know. We tell three stories, using three different narrators, while showing the children the pages of the books we are reading. This is so that they can see the illustrations which accompany the text. We ask them to tell us what they think of the stories. Then we sing, put on a puppet show or other performance, and finish with a game. In this way we make educational activities fun.

The concept has been adopted by a couple of primary schools. In one, the “big boys and girls” familiarise themselves with stories which they then read to little ones in their first year or two of school. In the other, older children read to groups of younger ones. Who sit on benches lining the playground to eat their snacks during morning break. The older child shows pictures from the book while reading.

We then had the idea of making books readily available at various points in Bayadeya, with volunteers running loan services for local children via book boxes fixed to the walls of their homes. So far 19 boxes have been installed.

Finally, from the beginning of June until the end of August we ran a campaign called Children’s Stories, bringing together children from a number of schools to set up a fully-fledged neighbourhood library.

The dedication shown by young people, the quality of what they produce, the pleasure they take in it, and the convivial atmosphere which results are all things which encourage us to continue.

Books stimulate emotions. They help us to understand what it is to be human, to feel passion and desire. They give us an insight into human psychology. They enable us to experience the ups and downs of history, and to get to know creative thinkers and pioneers of science. And, casting a magic spell, they give us a taste of the wonders of nature.

Father Xavier Subtil, educator, Egypt