Saturday, December 03, 2005

Indian Celebrities Can Endorse Reading Activities

Ask Aishwarya to ask children to read - Sridhar Balan

The widespread concern that there is a marked decline in the reading habit among children has led to a number of initiatives to spread the reading habit and love for books among children.

The Habitat Children's Book Club recently organised a function to mark the bicentennial year of the master storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. His favourite stories were read out aloud and children were encouraged to enact scenes and initiate other activities from his stories. They were also encouraged from their favourite stories.

The British Council Children's Library too has organised a series of reading sessions for children all through summer. Titled the ‘Reading Rollercoaster’, the programme is aimed for a fairly diverse age group, 4–12 years. No doubt, the readings will be structured accordingly.
These efforts, along with others in the country, are laudable and noteworthy. They are motivated by a sense of concern and also by the strong belief of the immense pleasure reading can bring to young minds. Above all, they are impelled by a strong belief that if we can inculcate the reading habit among our children while they are young, the habit will stay with them well into adulthood, just like other basic skills like swimming and cycling.

These efforts are even more significant in the absence of a strong and vibrant library system in the country unlike the West and even in countries like Japan, where public libraries act as common resource centres, and are an integral part of the vibrant life of local communities.
These efforts need to be strengthened by multiple, similar movements all over the country, leading to what we have been pleading for some time now, a national movement for reading. We would need the support of a host of agencies, both government as well as private, for this to happen.

However, in our efforts to strengthen reading among children, there is perhaps one vital resource that we seem to have overlooked, and this that of celebrities both endorsing and initiating reading activities.

We use our celebrities from diverse fields, from warning us to the dangers of aids and the necessity of the pulse polio vaccine to educating the girl-child and the problem of dowry. Apart from the social messages our celebrities endorse a host of consumer products from automobiles to soft drinks and mobile phones, detergents and what have you. Strangely, no one has thought of enlisting the support of our celebrities to the cause of reading.

Read Across America was originally started as a one-day event to mark the birthday of the famous children's author, Dr Seuss. The initiative has now become a year-round event in the US, sponsored by the 2.7 million member National Education Association and Dr Seuss Enterprises along with 45 national partner organisations.

This year, the celebrations are headed by actor Morgan Freeman.

To encourage children to read, it has enlisted the help of two NFL super stars who happen to be twins. They are Tiki Barber of the New York Giants, and his brother, Ronde Barber of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Barbers are themselves authors of By My Brother's Side, a children's book illustrating the value of hard work and perseverance.

There are of course, a whole host of activities designed to celebrate books and reading. The celebrity host must certainly have made the proceedings lively and interesting.

A similar move in India would pay rich dividends, and in addition to strengthening reading, would also give us an insight into what children are reading.

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