As I arrive home on my iron donkey, I notice a resplendent fluorescent orange mango. My eyes flick down the tree to ten expectant children sitting underneath. It’s reading time!
“‘I can jump,’ said the frog. ‘I can’t jump,’ said the snail’” exclaimed Gloria proudly. Tessa, Phoebe and I read the books with the ten kids. Eight read well enough to swap their book for a new one and receive a sticker from the magical sticker book. Stickers are hot property here, and due to their relative rarity are extremely valuable. One kid often knows the sticker she wants before she even reads the book! Every five books a kid earns the ultimate reward: a sweet! Generous Tessa has just spent big on some ginormous ‘Big Daddy’ sweets which have blown some kids’ minds.
About two years ago we started our book exchange with the kids from our English class. Mum and Jodie (thank you!) brought the lions share, and with contributions from other visitors we now have hundreds of books to swap. We have books at every level, from two words in a page to young adult fiction. Latim has read more books than anyone else. He’s clocked over 60 books and counting. To see his reading and vocabulary level soar in just two short years has been a joy. Sometimes, Tessa and I alone struggle to find the motivation to read with the kids who come to read every day. Visitors like Lydia and Phoebe have reinvigorated the book exchange, and right now it is soaring to unprecedented heights.
Reading books isn’t a common practice here. I know of only two adults who read in their spare time. Many kids reach high school having never read a fiction book, and almost no-one has books at home. How do you learn English without reading, you might ask? How does your imagination and worldview expand? We hope that as well as improving their English, the unusual practice of reading books will open these kids to new worlds, both in their imagination and in their own lives.