05 Apr ‘Yay, books!’
I recently attended a primary school in Lismore, near Captain Honey HQ in the Northern Rivers area of NSW, to do a talk about the ‘Books in Homes’ programme. I was asked to be a role model, to talk about my love of books and my work as a publisher.
I tried to tell them about the books I loved as a little girl.
The book I loved about a pair of twins, because I was a twin (subtext: you see yourself in books). Or the Famous Five, because I really wanted to be George (subtext: it’s okay to be different). Or my obsession with stories about girls with ponies, because I didn’t have a pony (subtext: books allow you to dream a different life for yourself) or Agatha Christie because ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was a lot more interesting than ‘Lying on the Couch in Mansfield’ (subtext: books are more exciting than real life) and then, later, my infatuation with the novels of Graham Greene, because he struggled with religion too (subtext: books teach you it’s okay not to believe everything your parents tell you is true).
But, kids are a tough crowd. And they made me nervous as hell. As sweet as they were, all 300 of them, sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of me, those kids could do the death stare better than any disgruntled employee at a staff meeting. Of course they weren’t really disgruntled, or bored. They are just kids. The social niceties haven’t been developed yet. They haven’t been taught head-nodding and smiling as gentle encouragement to a shy friend or nervous public speaker. They gave me nothing. Or at least that’s what I thought until I was leaving when one little boy pipped up “Yay, books!” and another called out “Thanks Roz”, which provoked a domino effect of little voices shouting “Thanks Roz, Thanks Roz”.
And that made it all worthwhile.
The Principal explained the process to me. The kids got to choose three books from a catalogue of excellent current titles. Every single child in the school gets to do this, and to take those books back to a home where there might not be very many books, if any at all. The vision of the program is to ‘create an Australia where every child and family has access to books-of-choice at home’, and that’s why the program is tailored to schools ‘living in remote and low socio-economic circumstances, ensuring crucial early literacy engagement and the development of reading skills needed for lifelong success.’ As evidence of this commitment, 25% of titles on offer are either written or illustrated by Indigenous creators.
Awesome. I’m happy to be a role model for this excellent program.