Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Because I read...

On Monday, I was invited to join New South Wales Premier, the Honourable Morris Iemma, to a presentation for the conclusion of this year's Premier's Reading Challenge at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum. My principal graciously let me attend, in my capacity as a member of the reviewing panel, even though there wasn't much direct benefit to my school.

An innovation of the previous premier, Bob Carr, the first Premier's Reading Challenge's caused a bit of a scramble at Scan, when I worked there, digging through all our old book reviews to find the best of the best in children's literature, both classic and new, to help the coordinator draw up a reading list for school students in time to meet a tight deadline. Since then, the PRC has become a well-oiled machine, and I'm really enjoying being part of the review panel, which meets numerous times each yea, both in person and via email.

5900 students successfully completed the PRC in 2001, but 119 796 did so this year: a 40% increase! The number of students (Years K-9) signing up to take part in the project was almost 260 700. Between them, 3.6 million books were read.

All attendees, big and small, were asked to bring their "favourite book". I took my well-loved Cole's Funny Picture Book No. 1, a uniquely Australian publishing phenomenon, which still carries my paternal grandfather's handwritten inscription inside: "to Ian, aged 6." Whenever I riffle through it, being aged six years old seems like only six months ago...

My friend and fellow book review panellist, the prolific author Libby Gleeson, was a guest speaker at Monday's presentation, and I loved the quote she used during her speech. Quoting another Australian children's author, Paul Jennings, she recalled that when Paul was asked by a young fan, "Why do you read, and why should we value reading?", he replied:

"Because I read, I don't bash people up."

So eloquent! Reading allows us to see the world through the points of view of other people, and this helps children (and adults) to realize that all "other people" have thoughts, feelings and actions - whether they are the same as our own thoughts, feelings and actions or not. Reading literature grants us unique and valid perspectives that are not our own.

It would be difficult to sit through such an inspiring day and not be affected by the fact that everyone in that room - and many thousands of others who weren't - have made astounding differences in the lives of 260 700 NSW students in 2006. Amazing stuff.

Next weekend, 410 new book titles will be added to the already-impressive existing PRC booklist.

Cole's Funny Picture Book

(ed. E. W. Cole, 70th edition, purchased December, 1964. Originally published: 1879.)

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