The last few weeks have seen a deluge of marketing gimmicks to remind people of the day which is meant to be a demonstration of love–Valentine’s Day. This love, as glossy advertisements remind us, is to be demonstrated by gifting loved ones with “appropriate” tokens such as red roses, chocolates, candlelight dinners, and jewelry. Thousands of rupees are spent in this market-driven frenzy on products and experiences that soon fade, wilt, or melt away.
Lost in the glimmer and glitz of Valentine’s Day, was another day that is also marked on 14 February every year. This is International Book Giving Day.
This is a global, totally volunteer initiative that seeks to increase children’s access to, and enthusiasm for books. The goal of the day is to get books into the hands of as many children as possible. The day is said to be the brainchild of Amy Broadmoore, a K-5 school librarian in the United States. In 2010 Amy, then a mother of three young children started a blog called Delightful Children’s Books. As a lover of books herself she was passionate about raising her children to be curious, creative and to love books. She wanted to share this passion with others. Amy was also aware that there was a serious lack of access to books for children. Even in countries like the USA and UK large numbers of children did not have any books. In 2012 she collaborated with fellow blogger Zoe Toft to create an event that celebrated the gifting of books to children, especially to those who did not have access to books. The event held on 14 February made waves on social media. Emma Perry a UK children’s author reached out to Amy and offered to help. In 2013 Amy handed over the reins of the project to Emma. A decade later, the passion, fuelled by volunteers, has spread and the day is now celebrated in almost 45 countries across the globe.
International Book Giving Day is not just about giving books, but a symbol of the ongoing crusade to use books to foster a child’s appetite and enthusiasm for great storytelling and literary adventures.
Coincidentally, I was recently part of a stimulating discussion which posed an important question towards the same end. How to nurture children’s responses to literature? The panelists, themselves authors and educators, shared both experiences as well examples of how books can provide comfort, companionship, and entertainment. They discussed the critical role that books can play to stimulate imagination and foster creativity; create and answer questions, and expand the worlds of children.
The magic of books is beautifully evoked by American author Anne Lamott in a letter to children:
If you love to read, or learn to love reading, you will have an amazing life. Period. Life will always have hardships, pressure, and incredibly annoying people, but books will make it all worthwhile. In books, you will find your North Star, and you will find you, which is why you are here.
Books are paper ships, to all the worlds, to ancient Egypt, outer space, eternity, into the childhood of your favorite musician, and — the most precious stunning journey of all — into your own heart, your own family, your own history and future and body.
Out of these flat almost two-dimensional boxes of paper will spring mountains, lions, concerts, galaxies, heroes. You will meet people who have been all but destroyed, who have risen up and will bring you with them. Books and stories are medicine, plaster casts for broken lives and hearts, slings for weakened spirits. And in reading, you will laugh harder than you ever imagined laughing, and this will be magic, heaven, and salvation. I promise.
Which raises the primary question, of how to bring children and literature together, before they can respond to the magic.
The first step towards this would be to facilitate children’s access to books. Classrooms and libraries are perhaps the more formal spaces for such access, while homes are the cradle where exposure to books could sow the seeds of a life-long engagement with words and visuals.
However, passive or organized access to books alone may not be enough. To nurture this initiation requires also facilitating contexts where children could express their ‘response’ to books. Which also raises the question of what do we mean by ‘response’?
Each child responds in a different and very personal way to the same book. Some children respond to the sound of words, some respond to the characters in the story, some respond to the situations, some respond to the pictures. Perhaps the last thing that children respond (or not respond to) is the “message”. But is that even really important? What the book has done for each child is unique to that child. What is common is that the child has had the opportunity to look at, touch, feel, (even smell and taste!) a book. Whichever way a child may respond, it is important that a child have the time and space to absorb and interpret the experience in its way.
While the panellists in the discussion agreed strongly about the potential of engaging with printed books, there was also the concern about the huge challenge to this posed by the overwhelming attraction, (almost addiction) to digital media. In an age of information at ones fingertips, fleeting bytes, and constant rush, these words by a Lithuanian children’s writer help us to pause and ponder, once more, the power of books.
No less frequently do we hear that we live in the age of information overload, haste and rush. But if you take a book into your hands, you immediately feel a change. 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. 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.
I am sure that books are never bored when they are in your hands. 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.
If only we could make this message heard more widely. Perhaps at an individual level each one of us can play a small role by gifting books to children in the hope that some seeds may find fertile soil to sprout and grow.
3 thoughts on “A True Gift of Love: Books”
‘The first step towards this would be to facilitate children’s access to books.’ – could you please suggest how can I help/facilitate this in a primary school of the village where we are located? I started with an annual scholarship for kids this year. Can do more if I have some inputs. Thanks.
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The best way would be to set up/support a small library of reading room in the village school. It could gradually build up a collection of books that could be accessed by all the children. That would be a valuable and sustainable way to bring children and books together. Appreciate your involvement and passion. Mamata
It would be wonderful if a library could be set up. Nothing elaborate, even a trunk of books will do. Organizations like Prtham books have so many low-cost titles in so many languages, that would be a good starting point. Then donations of books through friends and families.
Another idea we have found that works is after-school sessions, both extra-curricular like crafts, reading etc., and help with academics.
All the best!