'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Sue North - from National Year of Reading

Kids Book Review is delighted to welcome passionate literacy supporter, Sue North, to tell us about the National Year of Reading 2012. Don't miss this enlightening interview.

2012 will be our National Year of Reading. As a founding member, can you tell us where this idea came from?

The inspiration for the National Year of Reading came from our vision to see all Australians discover the joy of reading. For so many of us who love reading, we take it for granted that this is something available to all of us. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Forty six per cent of adult Australians can’t easily read the printed materials they encounter every day – things like reading the newspaper, following a recipe, reading a bus or train timetable or the instructions on a medicine bottle.

Reading for pleasure has been shown to improve people’s basic literacy skills. By helping people discover the joy of reading, they become more confident readers and this powerfully contributes to literacy, educational achievement and productivity in the workplace – really important things for all of us and for the future of Australia!

In 2008, the United Kingdom held a really successful National Year of Reading and this too has inspired us to venture out on our own unique year of events.

Who else was involved in this initiative?

A key purpose of libraries everywhere is to support reading, so it probably comes as no surprise to learn that libraries and library associations are driving our National Year of Reading, but the National Year of Reading is about much more than libraries. Just as literacy is something that affects the whole of Australia, the National Year of Reading is about all levels of government, business and the community coming together to celebrate the power of reading and the difference it makes to people’s lives.

Tell us about your background and your own personal interest in literacy.

Throughout my career as a librarian, I’ve always been passionate about the positive difference that libraries can make to people’s lives through supporting reading and literacy. I’m really lucky now to have the best job in the world! I work on the State Library of Western Australia’s Better Beginnings family literacy program, which fosters a love of books and reading in families of young children.

I became really interested in this early literacy area a number of years ago when I read a story by Wendy Cooling, an author and editor who has pioneered programs to encourage children to read in the UK, about her visit to a class of five year olds on their first day of school. The teacher was really busy meeting the children and their parents and she gave the kids a book to look at while she did this.

Wendy observed one little boy who didn’t know what to do with his book, not even how to hold it or which way up it went. She found out later that he’d never held a book before. This story still gives be goose bumps whenever I think about it – I think it should inspire all of us who love books and reading to work together to make sure that all children are introduced to books and this is why I’m so excited about the National Year of Reading.

What does the National Year of Reading actually involve?

The National Year of Reading will link together all the wonderful things that are already happening around books, reading and literacy as well as some inspiring new programs and events throughout Australia. It will provide a whole range of terrific activities to introduce people of all ages to new reading choices, increase their enjoyment of books and reading and provide forums for people to share their reading experiences.

Why was this very special year needed?

We hope that the National Year of Reading will raise the profile of the pleasure of reading and its value in improving literacy. Every Australian should be concerned that within all sectors of our wealthy society too many people suffer hardship because of their inability to read well. The National Year of Reading will promote the fact that everyone can be involved in reading – by themselves, with others, to a child or group of children. Reading should be encouraged, celebrated and supported by society, at every stage of a person’s life.

Why are books and reading so vital to a child’s wellbeing?

Books and reading give children a better beginning on their reading journey. Emotional growth through reading can’t be over-estimated. A child who searches for the lost green sheep, goes to the beach with their mob and has a fun day out with Grandpa and Thomas – all without leaving the pages of a book – will grow up able to connect more readily with new experiences and empathise with diverse characters and situations. In print and in real life! Reading really makes a difference to children’s opportunities long-term.

There’s so much research that demonstrates how important building a reading culture is to a child’s wellbeing. A study by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (established by Professor Fiona Stanley OAM) found that children up to the age of five who have limited exposure to printed language and who have not been read to as a child have increased risk of reading failure and general poor school performance.

In 2002, an OECD study found that “Being more enthusiastic about reading and a frequent reader was more of an advantage, on its own, than having well-educated parents in good jobs”. Young Australians Reading (Woolcott Research 2001) found that children who are engaged as readers, tend to come from families where reading is modelled by parents.

Working on a program like Better Beginnings, I often hear stories from parents about the positive effect that sharing books with their children have. We’ve had Edith Cowan University evaluate Better Beginnings for us and this has shown that the program is having a significant positive impact on early literacy practices, attitudes and beliefs of parents surveyed.

It’s the comments from parents participating in the evaluation that show why we need initiatives like the National Year of Reading. Many commented that without the program, their baby wouldn’t have owned a book and that the program had helped them feel more confident about reading to their child. We know from research that children who are read to from an early age, learn to read more easily when they begin school, so for me, it’s wonderful to have ventures like the National Year of Reading that can really make a contribution to spreading this message.

How difficult has it been trying to implement such a grand-scale initiative?

Not difficult at all. It’s a real collaborative effort. The fact that libraries of all kinds are driving this means that we already have 10,000 ‘shop windows’ in cities, towns, country and remote parts of regional Australia. We have 15 founders and an ever increasing number of partner organisations and friends, all reaching out to their communities. We have used our website, wiki, Facebook and Twitter to help build the National Year of Reading network online. While it is on grand scale in terms of national programs and events, there will be many hundreds of smaller scale activities at a local level.

How are people reacting to this initiative?

We’ve had a fantastic response to the National Year of Reading from everyone we’ve spoken to. Award winning actor and bestselling author William McInnes has accepted the role of patron for 2012. Already, the National Year of Reading has a wide range of partners including writers, schools, publishers, booksellers, businesses, child care providers, health professionals and groups who share a passion for reading like KBR! . We’re always very pleased to hear from new organisations who would like to partner with us, so if you’re interested…!

How can ‘regular’ people get involved?

We hope that through our partners, the National Year of Reading will have something for everyone, no matter your age or where you live. There are lots of great ways to join in – visit your local library or bookshop and pick up a book you really want to read. If you spend a lot of time on the road, try an audio book. Join a book club – if you can’t find one, start your own! There’s nothing nicer than having a story read to you, so share a few pages from a book with your family each night after dinner – it will become something that you’ll all really look forward to.

And don’t forget, if you have a young child, read to them every day! There are some fantastic early literacy projects around Australia and your local library is a great place to start. Ask for information about baby rhyme-times, storytelling and other pre-school activities. To keep up-to-date about all the exciting events and activities that will make up the National Year of Reading keep looking at our website.

Can kids get involved?

Absolutely! We’re planning lots of great reading programs and activities just for children, and there will be activities for the whole family. Children are often the impetus for adults to improve their own reading, so their involvement is vital. Keep an eye on the website to find out more.

Children are an especially important audience in the National Year of Reading and schools libraries and public libraries will all be joining in with programs for them. There will be opportunities for kids to enjoy the National Year of Reading no matter where they live. Alison Lester’s wonderful children’s book  Are We There Yet? about a family camper van trip around Australia, is one of the main theme titles for the National Year of Reading. If you haven’t seen this book, try your local library or bookshop.

Many of our partners, including The Pyjama Foundation supporting children in foster care and the Indigenous Literacy Project supporting Indigenous Australians living in remote and isolated regions, will help spread the National Year of Reading to kids who may have difficultly accessing bookshops and libraries. The National Year of Reading website will have lots of games, pictures, words and competitions in 2011 so stay tuned!

What do you hope to achieve with the National Year of Reading?

We want Australians to discover and rediscover the enjoyment that reading for pleasure brings.
Sue's passion for literacy is an inspiration
We believe that the National Year of Reading will help Australians improve their reading confidence, literacy and general knowledge and connect the value of reading with the benefits for success in life and work. If the National Year of Reading can contribute to introducing a reading culture in Australian homes and schools, we will have made a difference to current and future generations.

Learn more about the National Year of reading at love2read.org.au. You can also follow them on Facebook and twitter, and remember to sign up for their newsletter on the front page of the website. Their events calendar is already packed - get involved!