Friends in Need

“They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly to us about what really matters. They are the perfect cure for loneliness. They can be our very closest friends.” They are books, wrote Swiss-born British philosopher and essayist Alain de Botton, in a letter to children.

Today is the day to celebrate this timeless friendship. April 2 is International Children’s Book Day, a worldwide celebration to highlight children’s literature and encourage the love of reading among children. This date marks the birthdICBD.jpgay of Hans Christian Anderson one of the best known children’s writer who was born on 2 April 1805 in Denmark.

The celebration of this day began in 1967, initiated by the International Board on Books for Young People, or IBBY. Each year a different National Section of IBBY has the opportunity to be the international sponsor of ICBD. The hosting country picks the theme for the year and invites a prominent author from that country to write a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator to design a poster.

This year, IBBY Slovenia is hosting this day, and the theme is “A Hunger for Words.” Slovenian writer Peter Svetina has written the message for this theme. Sharing a few lines: “Words in poetry and in stories are food. Not food for the body, not food that can fill up your stomach. But food for the spirit and food for the soul.”

In the days of lockdowns when parents around the world are despairing, and desperate to “keep children occupied” why not open up a menu of books, to explore and discover, to taste and savour, and to assuage the hunger of a restless mind. This will plant the seeds of the magic of stories that will grow with them as friends, and sustain their spirit through the many unknowns that lie ahead.

Equally relevant, and perhaps one that presaged the year to come, was the theme for 2019 which was Books Help Slow Us Down. Lithuania was the host, and Kęstutis Kasparavičius the Lithuanian writer wrote this inspiring message.

“It seems that books have this wonderful quality – they help us slow down. As soon as you open a book and delve into its tranquil depths, you no longer fear that things will whizz by at a maddening speed while you see nothing. All of a sudden, you come to believe you don’t have to dash off like a bat out of hell to do some urgent work of little importance. In books, things happen quietly and in a precisely arranged order. Maybe because their pages are numbered, maybe because the pages rustle gently and soothingly as you leaf through them. In books, events of the past calmly meet events that are yet to come. …Someone who enjoys reading – be it a child or adult – is much more interesting than someone who doesn’t care for books, who is always racing against the clock, who never has time to sit down, who fails to notice much of what surrounds them. …Books help us not to rush, books teach us to notice things, and books invite us or even make us sit down for a while.”

Around the world, for perhaps the first time, we have been forced to slow down, to sit down for a while (and wonder what to do with ourselves). What better time to use this opportunity to revisit our old friends—books– that were part of our young and innocent days. And what could be more joyful than rediscovering these in the company of children? A beautiful way to celebrate this special day!

–Mamata

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