Children should be encouraged to read for pleasure, Swaha Sahoo, Head, Parag Initiative, Tata Trusts, told Express Parenting on the sidelines of Children’s Library Unconference, an event held in Delhi on July 2 in collaboration with the state government. The event witnessed several school librarians from the state engage in interactive sessions to discuss ways of instilling love for reading in kids beyond their textbooks.
Excerpts from a conversation with Sahoo:
How is Parag encouraging kids to read?
We believe children should have access to literature and good books in the language they are comfortable with or that they hear at home. We try and enable this in three different ways. Firstly, we support good quality children’s literature for which we work with different children’s publishers, identify gap areas and work towards filling them. For the past few years, we have tried to develop books with differently-abled protagonists , for instance, since we don’t feature enough kids with disability in our books, to develop empathy and understanding. Other subjects comprise gender or just varied kinds of childhoods that kids experience. My personal favourite is Payal Kho Gai by Shivani and Maheen, which is about a girl who is a ragpicker.
Our second concern is access. Even if you have good books, how do you ensure children are being able to read them? So, we work with school libraries and to a small extent with community libraries in enabling access. Thirdly, we focus on capacity building of people who are instrumental in getting books to children, from principals, teachers to parents and community members.
How do you ensure children take interest in not just books in English but in other languages too, say their mother tongue?
The books have to be of the kind that children want to read, in terms of quality and content. We have to work harder because children are smart and they figure out if something is boring or untrue. There is definitely one section of the society where children may prefer reading in English over the mother tongue. But I would say that for every one such person, there are many other kids who would want to read a book in their regional language because that’s what they understand and enjoy.
Do you focus on a particular age group of children?
We focus on children in primary classes because we believe if the habit of reading is built at this age, the rest of the years are taken care of.
In what ways are parents and schools collaborating in creating libraries as vibrant spaces of learning?
All our libraries are actually in the rural areas in various parts of the country. We ensure that the school management community becomes part of school libraries. We also celebrate Library Days where we invite community members and parents during summer camps to come and read with children. And they have witnessed a change in the way their children perceive reading. Our libraries are not just about reading, a lot of writing and art also take place after a certain level within the space. So, all of this contribute to the child learning much more than just reading a book and parents are able to see that. We have tried really hard to keep the libraries open in the schools we work with, which means it is not restricted to a library period.