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On 10-11 November 2016, the first two-day Read with Me Conference was held with reading promoters and activists in the field of children’s literature at the conference hall of National Library and Archives of I.R. of Iran.

The purpose of this conference was to share the five-year experience of reading promotion from the Institute for Research on the History of Children’s Literature in deprived areas and with children in crisis and to appreciate Read with Me trainers, selected teachers and other people who help running this project.

Noushafarin Ansari, the head of Children’s Book Council and the professor of Library and information science, Zohreh Ghaeni, Read with Me project leader and a member of IBBY Executive Committee, Mohammadhadi Mohammadi, author and scholar, and Marit Törnqvist, Dutch-Swedish illustrator, lectured in this conference.

This conference was started by the memory of Touran MirHadi, one of the founders of Children’s Book Council and the Encyclopedia of Children and Young Adults. Then Noushafarin Ansari talked about the roots of reading promotion programs in Iran and she explained how the Children’s Book Council brought the cultural needs of labour children, refugees and children with developmental disability to public attention in the 80’s.

Noushafarin Ansari in Read with Me Conference

Zohreh Ghaeni, the Read with Me project reader, was the next lecturer in this event. After a brief welcome to participants and special thanks to the project sponsors, she started her lecture titled as “Necessity of planning reading with deprived children”.

Read with Me has been formed for unseen children. It is the right of all children to be seen and to benefit a place for living and being safe, to have warm food and enjoy playing and learning. One of these rights is to benefit the quality in their lives and one of the most qualitative needs of children is to receive rich human culture; a culture which can be a bridge to peace, toleration, friendship which all empower children in front of difficulties in life: from war to immigration and be a refugee, poverty and deprivations, being derelict or offspring of impoverished parents with addiction or depravity,” she said.

Zohreh Ghaeni in Read with Me Conference

Nehzat Ghoreishinejad, an Read with Me trainer and a member of the Association of children and adolescence literature lovers of Isfahan, shared her experience from running one of Read with Me programs: “Basic Literacy improvement through Literature” in Iranshahr. She mentioned her observations of the effects of reading literature on children’s learning and comprehension. “Learning a language has four bases: Speaking, listening, reading and writing. Unfortunately, it is thought that children learn the first two skills automatically and they need no education. So the children reach the school years and they suddenly face an education that it is hard for them to understand,” she explained. Then she stated the achievements of “Learning Alphabet” package in Iranshahr, Rask, Lashar and Sarbaz, where more than 400 teachers learned working with creative child-centered education methods.

Nehzat Ghoreishinejad in Read with Me Conference

Marit Törnqvist, the Dutch-Swedish illustrator, who has donated the copyright of two books which she has illustrated, “The Red Bird” and “Bigger than a Dream”, to Read with Me project, was the next lecturer.

“When I was a child I knew that I was living in a rich country where there is no war or disease. But I liked to read books about more serious items which can take me to a condition beyond my own life,” she said.

Then she showed a picture of children and she mentioned endless questions, thoughts and worries in their eyes which must be noticed. “These children must be helped to find the answers to their questions and that is what you do in Read with Me project,” she added.

“Once I realized the fear of my six-year-old daughter from death which I hadn’t understood for a while. It was then when I asked myself what we can do so the children speak about the hidden stories in their minds. We cannot just go to a playground and ask them what they are worried about or if they are afraid of death. These stories should be shared with adults in a proper time.”

Then she explained some of her experiences of working with children and how drawing, writing and reading can help children to talk about their worries.

Marit Tornqvist in Read with Me Conference

Fereshteh Dabbagh, Read with Me trainer, held the next lecture on the subject of: “Why reading with babies and toddlers?”. She explained the importance of language learning in the first two years after birth based on scientific researches. “Speaking to children, singing, lullabies, reading books and telling stories are very important for child’s lingual development and also they lead to a feeling of intimacy and enhance the emotional, cognitive and social skills of the child,” she explained.

Afterward, she described the steps of “Reading with Babies and Toddlers” program and its achievements and effects on babies and their mothers. Then one of the mothers, who had benefited this project in MahmoudAbad, shared her experiences of reading with her baby with the audience.

Fereshteh Dabbagh in Read with Me Conference

The next program was a roundtable with four experienced trainers of Read with Me project where they talked about challenges, experiences and their memories of running the project in remote areas of Iran.

Read with Me rountable: challenges, experiences and memories of running Read with Me project in remote areas of Iran

The conference continued in the afternoon by giving Jabbar Baghtcheban Award to ten Read with Me selected teachers. In addition to these teachers, 38 other activists in Read with Me project were also appreciated.

Jabbar Baghcheban Award

Before giving the awards, Mohammadhadi Mohammadi compared Jabbar Baghtcheban with Simurgh, an Iranian benevolent, mythical bird in his lectures and then he described the philosophy of naming the award after Jabbar Baghtcheban and Simurgh.

Mohammadhadi Mohammadi in Read with Me Conference

Tohid Zurchang, chair of the board of Omran Azarestan Construction Company, a sponsor for this project and also the Jabbar Baghtcheban award, talked about the life of Jabbar Baghtcheban and his role in the lives of children in Iran.

Tohid Zurchang giving Jabbar Baghcheban award to the winners in Read with Me Conference

Jabbar Baghcheban award winners in Read with Me Conference

Jabbar Baghcheban award winners in Read with Me Conference

On the second day of Read with Me conference, a workshop was held by Marit Törnqvist for Read with Me trainers and selected teachers and she shared her experiences of working with children with them in practice.

She lectured once more in the afternoon about the ideas and the methods of her work and reactions of children to her books.

Holding a roundtable: “Reading Promotion in the world: Experiences from Sweden, Netherlands and Iran” with Marianne Lindberg and Marit Törnqvist, holding an exhibition of Read with Me achievements and book signing by Marit Törnqvist, were the collateral events of this conference.

Marit Tornqvist book signing in Read with Me Conference

Read with Me achievements exhibition

Read with Me achievements exhibition

The first Read with Me conference was held by the supports and cooperation of Omran Azarestan Construction Company, National Library and Archives of Iran and Iran Book House.

This post is also available in: Persian