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Round table “Reading Promotion in the world: Experiences from Sweden, Netherlands and Iran”

The Institute for Research on the History of Children’s Literature held a roundtable on the subject of “Reading Promotion in the world: Experiences from Sweden, Netherlands and Iran”, with Marianne von Baumgarten – Lindberg, children’s literature expert from Sweden, Marit Törnqvist, Dutch-Swedish illustrator and Hans Christian Andersen Award 2016 nominee and Zohreh Ghaeni, the Read with Me project leader.

This roundtable was held on 9 November 2016 in collaboration with Iran Book House and it was a collateral event of Read with Me conference. In this roundtable, the speakers shared their experiences about reading promotion in their countries: Sweden, Netherlands and Iran.

Marianne Lindberg is an editor and children’s literature expert, founder of the Children’s Book Club in Sweden and she also runs the newspaper Opsis Kalopsis. She has been a member of juries for different awards for children’s literature. Lindberg is a member of the board of the directors of Medieval Museum and a senior advisor in Astrid Lindgren Museum in Stockholm. She has been awarded the gold medal for reading promotion between children by the king of Sweden in 2016.

Marit Törnqvist is a Dutch-Swedish illustrator. In Sweden, she was asked to illustrate Astrid Lindgren’s work and so she gained a large audience outside the Netherlands and Flanders too. She has been nominated for Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014 and 2016. She is one of the international artists who support Read with Me project. The books “Red Bird”, written by Astrid Lindgren, and “Bigger than a Dream”, written by Jef Aerts, are both illustrated by Marit Törnqvist and the copyright of these books in Iran has been donated to Read with Me project.

Zohreh Ghaeni the head of Read with Me project started this session by the Memory of Touran MirHadi educator, author and researcher in the field of children’s literature. “Before starting this session, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to all friends and attendants in this session. It’s a big loss for everyone who works in this field. We have lost on of the greatest people who have ever worked in this domain but as she always said, we must try to change our grief into big acts,” she said, “I hope that each of us can follow her way with the same quality.”

“Why is reading promotion is so much important in the world?”, Ghaeni started the roundtable by asking this question.

“The best way to teach the children is to read books,” Marianne Lindberg answered who shared her knowledge and experiences in the field of reading promotion, “If parents read books to their children since the very early years of their childhood and get their children used to reading, the children comprehension of art and democracy would grow. The sooner it starts, the better it results.”

“As we know reading has important effects on the school results, linguistic skills development, intelligence and curiosity. But for me it’s something more,” Marit Törnqvist replied the same question, “each book opens a door for me, both inside and outside. It opens a door outside through which I realize and know new worlds and feelings and it opens a door inside which helps me to know myself better.”

The Reading Holiday

In this session, Marianne Lindberg, as a member of Läsrörelsen (the Reading Movement), explained to the audience some of the projects and activities of this association to promote reading.

“Läsrörelsen is a non-profit association which runs different projects. We have a school holiday week since World War II, which was aimed mainly at children in the countryside and was called the Potato Holiday and allowed pupils to stay at home and help out on the farms. Our project is to turn this holiday into LÄSLOVET (the Reading Holiday). In museums, libraries and other places books are read and all family members take part in this reading programs,” she explained.

A program for 1-3 year-old children for the first time in Sweden

Lindberg also explained some other reading promotion projects in Sweden.

“There’s also a project for 1-3 year-old children named “BERÄTTA, LEKA, LÄSA” (Narration, Play, Reading). Three books are chosen for every preschool and about 30 educational conferences are held. One of the most important aspects of this project is the close collaboration between teachers, librarians and parents. It was the first time in Sweden that such project was performed for this age group,” she explained.

“The three chosen books included a fact book for children, a poem and a story book which were provided financially by some organizations. Children could read the books and each of them could take a book home. All of the children read and read these books plenty of times in school and at home and they did different activities related to books. This project was performed for two years and now we are in the follow-up stage. It was a very important project for me as I was one of the people who started this idea. Children usually go to preschool when they are 1.5 years old and the teachers who work with these children get a very useful education through this project which normally they don’t have.”

McDonald’s replace plastic toys with quality books

“We ran another project for reading promotion in collaboration with Swedish McDonald’s fast food restaurant chains. Many authors were not interested in this project at the beginning but the total success of the project attracted lots of attention. Usually, many families go to McDonald’s and there are some plastic toys in children’s “Happy Meal”. In this project, it was decided to hand out quality books to children instead of these toys. Based on the plan, McDonald’s bought selected books and these books were given to children,” Marianne Lindberg continued.

“These books included also classic books and copyright of many books which no longer were published, were bought by McDonald’s and they were again available. Most of the families who usually go to McDonald’s are not rich families and they rarely spend money on quality books. But this project brought quality books to many homes where there were no books. As of 2014, the project included 15 million picture and children´s books. This collaboration began in 1998 and resulted in a first Book Happy Meal campaign in 2001.

Book Reading Week in Netherlands

Marit Törnqvist, the illustrator of “Red Bird”, spoke about Book Reading Week and other reading promotion activities in Netherlands.

“Since 1955 a week has been named as children’s book week. The idea is to maintain everything in the country during this week for book reading. Every child in Netherlands knows that a week in October is dedicated to children’s book. In this week different programs are held in many different places and children get the chance to see and have a variety of books. Each child who buys a book gets a quality book from a well-known author,” she told the audience.

“Every year on this week a quality book is selected and published in a vast number and children can buy this book at a lower price. Two years ago this selected book was one of my books and about 52000 books were sold on this week.”

Along with lots of programs, authors and illustrators travel around the country and run projects for reading promotion in schools and libraries. Also, there are lots of awards for the authors and illustrators of selected books.

Junibacken children’s museum in Stockholm

Marit Törnqvist then described her cooperation with Junibacken children’s museum.

“They came to me and asked me to set design a story train for this museum. I have always loved Astrid’s works and I had grown up with her books. They asked me to design a fantasy trip for children to seven scenes from her stories. Children get on this train and the train goes to the world of different books of Astrid Lindgren. So they get to know Astrid and her stories and they get interested in books so they like to buy and read it themselves. Everything is so special in this museum. Children feel they are living in another world. There are also lots of interactive games in this place. The complex also includes Sweden’s largest children’s bookshop. 400,000 people visit this museum every year.

The importance of reading aloud

Then, Zohreh Ghaeni, the RWM project leader gave some explanations about the Read with Me project.

Read with Me was first conducted as a pilot plan five years ago with some children next to MahmoudAbad brick-making kilns and it gradually spread through the country and now covers more than 30,000 children in Iran,” She described.

Then she mentioned international Reading Aloud Day. “There is a day in the international calendar named “Reading Aloud Day”. Unfortunately, enough attention is not paid to this day in our country. I am really happy that one of the main axes of Read with Me project is Reading Aloud. We give the children the joy of reading by reading aloud then we give them books and that is how we promote reading among children.”

McDonald’s replace plastic toys with quality books

This post is also available in: Persian