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Reaching Out with Books: How Some Inspiring Kids are Sharing Stories with Others Around the World

December 11, 2015
reaching out preschool book 2014

A book created by Preschool students from Sydney’s Waverley College is ‘read’ to Timorese children.

At Better Reading Kids we know how much pleasure books can bring to kids, and what an enormous impact reading can have on children’s academic, emotional and social development.

Books can provide a window into other people’s lives.

Creating their own stories to share with other children can also be a wonderful experience for kids.

We know of several Australian schools where individual classes or Year groups create picture books for younger children in their own communities.

We’ve also come across some inspiring examples of children and young people reaching out to kids in other communities, other countries and even other languages! Here are three:

From Marrickville to the remote Northern Territory

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the ‘launch’ of Our Westside Story, a beautiful book created by the students at Marrickville West Primary School in Sydney, to be sent to a remote indigenous school in Western Australia.

Full of artwork and stories, the book folded out, concertina-style, to a length of around 40 feet! The Sydney Morning Herald described it as ‘like the Bayeaux Tapestry – except, instead of depicting the Norman conquest of England, it depicts a single day in the life of Marrickville West Public School.’

Our Westside Story was created in conjunction with The Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and the project provided an opportunity for the Marrickville kids to learn about the importance of literacy and the lives of children in remote areas, while consolidating their own writing and art skills.

The joy and pride on the kids’ faces at the launch event was truly something special!

Literacy resources can be scarce in remote schools, and Our Westside Story gives the West Australian students a unique insight into life in Sydney, as well as a sense of connection and rapport with kids from the ‘big city’. (SMH story)

From Waverley to Timor-Leste

reaching out assembly

Assembly of students at Samelete 3 Teka, Ermera District, T-L

Two years ago, Waverley College, an independent Catholic boys’ school in Sydney, launched an annual ‘Immersion’ program, taking groups of students from Years 10 and 11 to Timor-Leste (East Timor). As part of each journey, the students spend time visiting schools in the Ermera District and working on projects such as painting classrooms.

It’s an eye-opening and life-changing experience for the students who are directly involved, but the program also creates awareness about social justice and Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste in the wider school community.

Staff from Waverley’s Preschool and Junior campuses were keen to find a practical way for their younger students to contribute to the project and reach out to the children of Timor-Leste. Books were the perfect answer.

In the first year of the Immersion, Waverley’s ‘Waterford’ Preschoolers drew pictures and wrote statements about their lives in a Sydney suburb, which were collated into a book.

This year was the turn of the Junior School. A group of Year 6 boys were given the task of putting together a photo book showing what life is like at Waverley. Tony Banboukjian, Director of the Junior School, says the students were ‘thrilled’ at the chance to participate in the project.

The first – and hardest – part of the process was going through thousands of photos taken over the years and agreeing on which to use. Banboukjian recalls that the students ‘wanted to have as many photos of boys smiling as possible because they really wanted the Timorese students to know that they enjoyed coming to school!’

The team then wrote simple sentences in English, giving context to the photos, and used an online photobook site to put it all together. (Children in Timor-Leste are taught Tetum and Portuguese at school, but they and their older family members are generally also keen to learn as much English as possible, to improve their access to employment and connections with the outside world.)

The book was donated to the Samelete 3 Teka in the Ermera District, which caters to preschoolers (under 5s) as well as older students. The Teka Director immediately ‘read’ the book with the assembled students, showing them the images and describing what was happening in each photo.

reaching out director shows cover  reaching out director reads internals

Brad Thompson, one of the Waverley College teachers who travel to Timor-Leste with the Immersion students, describes the Assembly as ‘a wonderful celebration’. He says the highly visual format of the book worked well, as the Timorese students could immediately engage with the images. ‘They all seemed genuinely excited about the book, and very curious to know more about the lives of children in Australia.’

For Tony Banboukjian and his students back in Sydney, the ‘best things’ about the project were hearing how much enjoyment the Timorese children got out of the book, and feeling they had built connections with other communities.

From Virginia, U.S.A to French-speaking Haiti

In another variation on the theme of young people creating books for others, the Huffington Post recently ran a story about French-language students at a College in Virginia writing books for children in underprivileged schools in Haiti.

While many children in Haiti speak Creole at home, French is spoken at school and used in goverment documents.

The French-language books cover a range a fiction themes including princesses, dinosaurs and adventure, and – thanks to a Kickstarter campaign run by Jennifer Shotwell, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland – they are printed on thick paper, with durable hardcovers.

The benefits to the American students? Shotwell says:

‘My students have an opportunity to use the [French] language in a unique way by writing children’s books. Though some learners don’t think they can produce much with a new language, my students are learning to express themselves and create entertaining stories that we ultimately share with disadvantaged children who are also learning French.’

(Image: Haitian girl reading ‘Le Nouvel Enfant’)

Girl reading Le Nouvel enfant

Inspiring!

Are the young people in your school or community involved in creating books and stories for others? We’d love to hear about your experiences in comments, below.

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(image sources: Waverley College; https://www.flickr.com/photos/randolphmacon)

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