Monday, 23 June 2014

Free your mind...

This lovely poster lights up an old Victorian stairway in St Matthew's Primary School, a stone's throw away from Westminster Abbey in London. I immediately felt at home!

Celebrating reading as a way of freeing your mind makes perfect sense to me. Books have been hugely important in enabling my mind to travel freely. As a student when I first read Es'kia Mphahlele's autobiography Down Second Avenue and Peter Abrahams's Tell Freedom (banned at the time), these books blew my mind.

The two writers took me to places I had never entered before as a white South African. They could have been describing another planet - but they weren't. They were talking about the country of my birth, their birth, our birth. Most amazing of all, they invited me to listen to - and to hear - not only their voices, but their inner voices and innermost thoughts.  What an extraordinary privilege in a society of barriers, imprisoning black people and imprisoning white minds.

The first book that had ever opened this almost secret door for me into someone else's inner thoughts was The Diary of Anne Frank. I've written elsewhere about the lasting power of her strong young voice, speaking out against injustice. Yet when I'd first read her diary, crying many tears, I still did not see the injustice all around me.

That would only come some years later. Being given books to read, like Down Second Avenue and Tell Freedom,was an important part of the process of taking the blinkers away from my eyes. I didn't attend a school like St Matthew's where children are encouraged to read widely and to 'free your mind'. Nor was there an organisation like Authors Aloud UK encouraging schools to bring writers into school!

Meeting children like those at St Matthew's is always a delight for me, encountering young minds that are brimming with curiosity and questions. I shall not forget this poster of butterflies flitting from flower to flower. Some people say butterflies are not as swift and efficient as bees in pollinating. But they do their share and what pleasure they give us. Moreover, they linger long in the mind, like certain books.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Read, read, read!

From this bird's eye view, I seem like Mother Hen here, with young ones ready to fly!  Anna, Lucy, Donya and Matthew are 2014 North East England regional winners for Read for My School's national competition. We are actually looking up into the dizzy heights of Newcastle's splendid new City Library where we met to celebrate the pleasures of reading and writing.

I enjoyed the 'buzz' at this gathering in Newcastle of participants, parents, teachers, librarians and Sophie Hallam from Booktrust. In Read for My School, Booktrust and the Pearson Foundation challenge young people in schools across England to read as many books as they can in two months. This year, at least 100,000 books will be donated to Book Aid International's Library in a Box programme.

A further element this year has been for participants to write a letter to children in Tanzania reflecting their love of reading and why it's important to them. The results will be announced soon and published on the Read for My School website here.

My message, as ever, is 'Read the world'. What better form of mind-travel? What better way to fly...