My Library – Robyn Chandler, Manager of Literacy Christchurch

Literacy Christchurch (formerly known as ARAS – Adult Reading Assistance Scheme) celebrates its 40th birthday today.  ARAS began on 13 December 1977 as a pilot scheme initiated by the Canterbury WEA (Workers Educational Association), with 8 volunteer tutors and 8 students.

Robyn Chandler, manager of Literacy Christchurch, talked to Jan Orme, Senior Library Assistant, Outreach and Learning Team for the sixth issue of our magazine uncover – huraina.

Professionally, what does the library mean to you?

So many things – university, education, nurturing, empowerment, research, choice, access to knowledge – the library is a place of instruction and delight, and such a key feature of a free society. It’s a world of information and cultural richness rather than a set of walls. Libraries have provided both education and entertainment for me.

And personally – what’s your favourite part of the library?

CoverDo I have to pick only one? I love the displays of artwork and artefacts, the children’s section and its sense of potential. I tend to focus on one area of a collection for a while – mountaineering, gardening, local history, music, art… recently the graphic novel collection (loved Northern Lights). But if I had to focus on just the one area because I had a time limit it would be the new books – there’s always something to find.

Would you please share some highlights of your own literacy journey?

CoverI remember sitting outside the University library on a bleak winter’s day reading the 19th century novel Wuthering Heights, the words collapsing the distances of history, space, and culture. I was there, on that “bleak hill-top,” lost in the “atmospheric tumult.”

On a professional level, it would have to be becoming a volunteer literacy tutor and having the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life and sharing their literacy journey for a time.

What would you say to your learners who are new to using the library?

I would want them to know that they are in charge of their library experience and that there are people available to support them with their library choices and needs. I would advise them to not be intimidated and to be aware of the resources available to them and that library staff are more than happy to help. The library is there for everybody; the library belongs to us all.

We’d love to see more of your learners in our libraries, what would be your best advice to help us achieve that?

The most important thing new library users need to see is a friendly face and to feel welcomed, to see proof that the library is there for them and their community. Some of our learners have English as an additional language and it would be nice to see more welcome signs in other languages. I’m really pleased to see that families are going to be able to take part in the Summer Reading challenges this year, this kind of activity encourages novice library users to participate in what’s going on in the library. Doing things with whānau can feel more natural than doing things alone.

What would be the one book you would take to a desert island?

I’m going to cheat – my desert island will have WiFi and I will be accessing the library’s great and growing collection of eResources. Me, my device, and more media than I’ll ever be able to get through … a whole world at my fingertips.

Read online in uncover- huraina issue 6, p 16

Relishing the moments with a wordless picture book

Cover of Anno's journeyThe other evening, Mr K — who doesn’t usually like “girly” movies and would much rather watch the likes of Conan or Easy Rider — suggested we watch About Time. We both rather enjoyed this touching, romantic comedy about Tim who discovers he can time travel, and sets out to fix all the mistakes in his life. I was rather taken with the words Tim spoke at the end of the movie about relishing the moments of life

“We’re all traveling through time, together, every day of our lives… All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable life”

I felt a kerplunk in my brain and a memory marble popped out showing me the day I picked up a copy of Anno’s Journey and flicked through it in a rush. I knew it was a classic picture book and had won like a bunch of awards and all that, but at first glance, I have to say I was underwhelmed. What was all the fuss about? There are no words, and the muted pictures didn’t seem especially eye-catching.

But then I took the time to sit down and actually look — to relish each page, each moment with the book — and I saw the clever details in the illustrations, the little stories within the story. I took it home for the Young Lad (who loves books, but does not like reading for himself) and it was a hit!

Although his teacher says he’s reading fine, he usually refuses to read at home. Give him a book he’s never read, and he refuses to read it because he doesn’t know the words. Give him a book he’s read before, and he refuses to read it because he’s had that one already. Getting him to read his school reading book is a nightmare! Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

This wordless picture book, though — it was a whole new experience. He didn’t need my help with it, he was in charge of the book. I think he found it empowering. Together, we found so many fascinating things in the illustrations. Miss Missy, not wanting to be left out, started searching too, and it was she who discovered Seurat’s “Bathers” and “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

So then, of course, I couldn’t help but bring home more wordless picture books. We spent several evenings side by side on the couch, looking at the pictures, wondering over the story, and relishing our time together with these wonderful books.

Cover of Clown by Quentin BlakeHere are some of our favourites:

Now I know that “reading” these books didn’t actually help the Young Lad learn to read a single word, but we had such fun together, and I think that’s actually more important!

Useful links to help early readers –Cover of Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Ready, set, READ

Kids who read succeed stickerMy toddler loves books and at only one year-old he already has his favourites (Boom, baby boom boom! gets regular outings) however he’s a bit young yet to read them himself. But how do you know when your littl’un is ready to start tackling the mighty task of reading?

For advice you need look no further than our recently revamped Ready for Reading pack.

In it you’ll find an informative booklet that outlines the important skills your child needs to have in order to start reading, some handy tips on how to get preschoolers interested in books, and suggestions of further resources to help get your child on the road to reading.

Artwork from Storytime Te Wā KōreroThe pack also contains a special bilingual storybook, Storytime Te Wā Kōrero which features a simple story for young readers and gorgeous illustrations with a Christchurch feel. Also included are stickers and a magnet.

And the best bit? The Ready for Reading pack is free to all four-year olds. Just rock up to one of our libraries with your budding reader in tow and claim yours!

Check out these kids at the Ready for Reading launch at Aranui Library this week. Those are some book-keen future readers.

Ready for reading launch at Aranui Library

Adult Learners’ Week — He Tangata Mātauranga: an opportunity to try something new

My grade three teacher confused me. He told me that he learned something new every day. How could that be? He was a teacher and he knew everything. My grandmother and her sister added to my primary school-aged confusion by telling me that they enjoyed learning new things all the time. What was going on? Adults know everything.

What I didn’t realise then, but I am well aware of now, is that adults don’t know everything, and that many, if not most, like learning new skills and information, and expanding their horizons by trying new experiences. The importance of this lifelong learning is celebrated every year during  Adult Learners’ Week — He Tangata Mātauranga.

Adult Learners' Week brochureThe library fosters learning at all times, of course, but during Adult Learners’ Week it particularly encourages you to learn something new and to celebrate your successes and achievements as a lifelong learner. If you want to take on a new challenge, I recommend you:

Adult Learners’ Week also incorporates International Literacy Day on 8 September. Find out about our English Language Skills resources for both people with literacy difficulties and their tutors.

Adult Learners’ Week – Take That First Step

As someone who doesn’t  remember a time when I couldn’t write, read and use mathematics, I find it hard to imagine how life must be if you have limited or no literacy. I’ve known adults who have hidden their lack of literacy well into their middle age, for fear of ridicule and embarrassment, but who, with support, have taken the steps to literacy and now are enjoying the freedom and excitement of even small things, such as reading the newspaper, writing emails to friends and yes, even reading the back of the cereal packet.

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope – Kofi Annan

Literacy is fundamental in our ability to interact with the world, and our prisons, for example,  are filled with those who have fallen through the literacy cracks and struggle with even the most basic levels of writing, reading and numeracy. It creates a separateness and isolates through embarrassment and usually unfounded feelings of being stupid or inadequate.

September 2- 8 is Adult Learners’ Week. The week incorporates International Literacy Day on September 8 and here at the Christchurch City Libraries, we have a wealth of resources to help increase literacy, whether you are a native speaker of English or not.

Libraries in your community are holding events during the week

You can also search our CINCH database to find community based programs aimed at improving and encouraging literacy, no matter where you are on the literacy ladder.  Your local library has easy readers aimed at adults and books that can test you and give you practice on essential skills.

Mango languageIf you are looking for ways to be a life long learner, check out the resources available at your local library and online. We also have a large number of resources for people learning English as a second language. Our Mango Languages database has lessons for Japanese, Korean and Mandarin speaking people wanting to learn English.

If you are someone who struggles with literacy in any way, there is help out there, and the first step you take will help you travel into a whole new world.

International Literacy Day – Are you feeling privileged to be reading this?

CoverProbably not a great deal, but you should.  Not because of the opportunity to sample my ever-so-sparkling prose (yeah, right!), but because far too many people in Aotearoa have difficulty in reading and understanding what they read at all.  In fact,  according to the results of  the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey, over 40% of the adult population in New Zealand have low literacy skills.

It is hard to fully comprehend the difficulties that this large minority of people faces in dealing with the demands of everyday life.  So here’s my challenge to you on this International Literacy Day, 8 September:  stop and think about how often you rely on the written word … And how reading involves a lot more than just deciphering letters (ever felt lost trying to fill in an official form? I know I have, and I have a Master’s degree). Literacy Aotearoa has some suggestions.

So how can we help those who struggle with reading, writing and basic maths? Well, if you have taken my challenge, you are already helping: having an awareness of the issue is a great start.

If you would like to improve your literacy skills, or want to help someone else do so, try the following links.

“Never never never give up”

Winston Churchill said it, and Michael Marquet applied it after leaving school at the age of 15 unable to spell his own name. By the time he was 25 he had completed a horticulture apprenticeship, won a scholarship, travelled to Paris to receive the UNESCO Literacy Award and was the published author of Michael’s Challenge: Overcoming Illiteracy.

This first book told the story of Michael’s long struggle to learn to read and write and is one of the few personal accounts of how it feels to be on learning side of the illiteracy barrier.

“Many books have beeen written on illiteracy, but there was nothing from a student’s point of view”, says Michael. “It was then I decided to write a book about my own experiences.”

Two years later Michael wrote Literacy My Prize, a fuller account of his achievement of literacy in the Christchurch Adult Reading Scheme,  including the story of his trip to Paris to receive the UNESCO Literacy Award for 1988.

Now he has written a third book, describing how, as a young man, he built up a small property portfolio on low gardener’s wages. Michael says of his latest “the essence of the story is about perseverance with life struggles to achieve my goals and dreams, by telling a good yarn in my own quirky style, as I reminsce about the challenges I have overcome and the people who have touched me.”

The name of his latest book will be revealed when it is launched by the Honourable Anne Tolley, Minister of Education, at the Central Library on Wednesday 13th October at 6.30 pm.

Away with the Fairies

Cover of Rainbow FairiesThere is something about fairies, if you have a 6-year old daughter they are everywhere. Books about fairies are everywhere! To take just the the Rainbow Magic series – there are colour fairies, jewel fairies, animal fairies, dance fairies, ocean fairies,  sporty fairies, fairies for the days of the week, holidays (including 5 devoted solely to Christmas) and even the weather – one suspects that they must be running out of ideas soon – surely! Series for children are not all bad – previous blogs here have discussed their role in encouraging early readers. I remember  my first solo reading – Five go off in a Caravan.  I pulled this from my mother’s hands to try to read by myself as I was so frustrated by her rationing of one chapter a day.  Ignore the badly written prose, poor storyline and zero dimensional characters – getting kids hooked reading words is the goal that will lead them on to higher things.

However, at this stage – my daughter’s not reading the fairy stories – I am!  Since my daughter’s primary judgement for good reading  is based on how pink the cover is – sometimes I do get a reprieve.  In addition to fairies, there are princesses and also ponies, and sometimes I am truly lucky and I get all three – Princess Evie’s Ponies – Silver the Magic Snow Pony – fortunately due to the wise judgment of library selectors not available at Christchurch City Libraries.  I am afraid to say that I am not always the most patient of parents – some of these books I have found so truly dreadful, that despite protests and even  tears, I am physically incapable of reading more than one page.

So what series are good to read to your 6 year old girl? Well, we have found some that we both enjoy:

  • Cover of Grandpa ChatterjiGrandpa Chatterji – a delightful series about a strange and mysterious grandfather from India who comes to stay.
  • Ivy and Bean – Two friends who get up to mischievous pranks.
  • Just Grace – Imagine being in a class with 4 other Graces.
  • Tilly Beanie – Tilly has a great imagination and always wants to be someone she’s not.
  • Katie – The Revolting bridesmaid – the girl who hates pink and “exquisite beading” has to be her sister’s bridesmaid.
  • Daisy and the trouble with … – Daisy is a cheeky girl who is often a  bit naughty and things go wrong and she gets into all sorts of predicaments.

Raring to Read

Cover of Mum's Robot Want to help your child with reading but unsure where to start? The library offers a terrific selection of early readers on their Into Reading shelves found in the Children’s area. Much of the reading fare my daughter has brought home from school has been pretty lacklustre and uninspiring  but on the library shelves we have found some gems.

The Wayland Start Reading selection is worth particular mention. The titles are organised into reading level colours and within each level a number of titles are arranged in groups of four. Each group is about a particular character – the books are humorous, engaging and exceptionally clever at creating  real, original stories with vocabulary that can be deciphered by the beginning reader.

My daughter loves them so much that we have taken to placing holds (free for children) on all the books in a particular group so that she can read them on successive nights. These books we use to supplement the homework books, particularly on weekends or holidays.

Other useful series of books we have enjoyed are the Reading Corner and Leapfrog titles.

The Exquisite Corpse

The wonderful thing about my job is that with all my searching for new stock to buy for the Library I often stumble across really interesting and quirky bits of information.  Today I learnt about “An exquisite corpse”

An Exquisite Corpse is an old game in which people write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold it over to conceal part of it and pass it on to the next player to do the same. The game ends when someone finishes the story, which is then read aloud.

The Stinky cheeseman and other fairly stupid tales. By Jon Scieszka
The Stinky cheeseman and other fairly stupid tales. By Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka,  a well known children’s author has written the first episode in this story, and he has passed it on to other well known writers and illustrators, who will eventually bring the story to an end.  The next writer is Katherine Paterson.

This is a rather intriguing idea, and for the life of me I have no idea how it can possibly all come together to make something coherent and readable.  However, seeing as  The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a project of the Center for the Book (which is part of the Library of Congress), the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, (an American organisation that promote literacy and Libraries) and is obviously including some really good authors, then I may well subscribe to the RSS feed to get weekly updates.  The story will conclude a year from now.