Room to Read

When you put a pic of a cool-looking dude distributing books to kids and match it with a headline that has “libraries” in it, you can be sure as getting the flu from Sneezy sitting beside you in the bus, that TNL’s attention is caught hook, line and sinker. I mean, come one, cool dude with books and kids – what can be more appealing to a little old librarian?

There was this article in Saturday’s Straits Times (26 June 2010, page B7) that tells of a John Wood who left his job in Microsoft so that he can get books to the children in Nepal. John started with donating 3,000 books to a Nepalese school. It has been 10 years now and there are 10,000 libraries set up by the non-profit organization Room to Read. Good on you, John and good on you, the Singapore chapter of Room to Read. As far as TNL is concerned, books always make things a tad better anywhere. Ok, enough of air time for John Wood and Room to Read.

Questions started popping up in TNL’s little mind after reading the article. Are these English books? If they are not, do they have a good range of Nepalese kids’ books? What stories are these? Do the kids read them themselves? Do teachers or librarians read to them regularly? Are these libraries accessible to every kid?

Way back in 2004, TNL started reading to little kids at a community centre. It was a weekly thing. TNL being an academic librarian, she doesn’t get a chance to read to little kids at her library. Oh, it’s ok. TNL loves being an academic librarian – dealing with “big” kids is, sometimes, let me see… as exciting an adventure as sending a convoy of book-laden donkeys up the Himalayan mountains. You just know you are going to get there. Somehow.

Anyway, reading to kids is about the most enjoyable thing you could ever, ever do. Seriously. No matter what happens – kids running around, pushing each other just to get to the front or even repeatedly asking questions before you even start reading… you know it is pure, unadulterated joy.

When you read, don’t focus on making the story sound enjoyable or fun (I mean, that helps too), but look at the kids. Look at how some would stare completely wrapped up in the book you are holding up, in your voice, the words that come out of your mouth and the fact that you are telling them something really cool. Look at their expressions. Their half-smiles. Their frowns. Their opened mouths. Their body language – leaning on one arm, sliding to the floor on their tummies, moving closer to sit beside you, reaching out to turn the page before you do.

And you know the best part is something you usually don’t get to see – the kid starting to pull books out of the shelves on her own to read or going home to tell her Mum or her kid sister about this princess who saved her boyfriend wearing only a paper bag or this puny boy who drew out a sword from a rock when nobody else could and became king.

TNL has since stopped her weekly stint at the community centre. She misses the kids and most of all, reading to them.

But kudos to Linus Lin, the writer of the ST article for writing this piece. And also for putting a 10 year old photo of a cool dude, kids and books with a statement like “46-year-old Wood, who is currently single”. It just nearly got this little old librarian to pack her nieces’ shelves of books to send the whole lot to Nepal.

TNL has just got to get herself one of these John Woods for her information literacy programmes. That should work.

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