Reading Summit

Gillian O’Reilly, editor of Canadian Children’s Book News, attended the first TD National Reading Summit that was held on November 12 and 13 – the first step in developing a National Reading Strategy, similar to programs under way in many other countries. The program consisted of a wide variety of sessions – and some funny and excellent public service announcements for reading from Venezuela – followed by roundtable discussions of what our country’s reading strategy should look like. Here are her thoughts on the summit.

While not all sessions were equally successful (this being the first summit), here is a glimpse at just some of the fascinating speakers. Elissa Bonilla, a literacy expert from Mexico, described programs that have been developed for the huge urban and much smaller rural population and for the 7.1 million indigenous speakers (representing 62 languages). She outlined her Decalogue (10 Commandments) for successful programs – stability of funding was one of the most important elements.

Ingrid Bon of the Netherlands gave a lively and fascinating talk on the Fun with Books and Bookstart programs in her country – incorporating baby programs, library coffeetimes, integration with the health community and more. The aim of these programs is to increase the pleasure of reading among young children and their parents.

Canada’s Patsy Aldana, president of the International Board on Books for Young People, presented inspiring examples of IBBY’s program for Children in Crisis – showing how reading programs in countries such as Lebanon, Bosnia, Colombia, Gaza and Indonesia have been able to help children suffering from the effects of war or natural catastrophes.

An intriguing look at reading came from Raymond Mar, a psychology professor from York University who is looking at the effects of reading narrative fiction on developing a civil society. Describing narrative fiction as a simulation of social experience, Mar contends that readers are experiencing the world and developing the skills of empathy and abstract thinking that a civil society demands. This is something that all booklovers would probably agree with, but it’s encouraging to see the scientific endorsement of what we believe in.

There will be more on the Reading Summit in the Winter 2010 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News along with information about the next steps for the National Reading Summit and its objectives.