So, again a long time between blog posts. That's life isn't it. Anyway, here are some reflections after a busy book week, 2013.
Book week is exhausting. If only I had to just organise a costume or two, that would be great but no, my kids don't do costumes for book week anymore (and if they did they could make them themselves, alas, they have grown up). We plan ahead for book week very early in the year. My husband works out his work schedule to fit in around it and we prepare for the busiest week in our year.
Yes, it is busier than Christmas!
As I sit still feeling weary after my last school presentation yesterday I reflect on this busy and exhausting time and wonder why I do it? Well, that's easy.
Because I love it.
This morning I was greeted with dozens of emails from students in Launceston and Hobart that listened to me promote reading, talk about art and heard my stories. It is nice to make a nice difference in a child's life, enough for them to write to me and ask more questions and share their stories with me as well.
To all the schools I visited, thank you for inviting me, it makes a positive difference in my life as well.
I learn from these schools and children. It is a wonderful privilege.
So what did I learn this book week?
Normally I spend my working year huddled into my studio cave, head down and working away wishing people to leave me alone so I can meet that encroaching deadline. My friends think I'm just a name on a book or a fictional character they once new. Occasionally I emerge to drink beverages with other writers and to attend to family matters. I have become a cave dweller and I wonder if that is good for the soul or for keeping in touch with reality. I suppose that is a necessary thing, if only in small doses.
But this week was a big dose. Each school is so different. The approaches, attitudes and focus in each community quite varied. It is almost like visiting micro-countries. I visited both private schools and public, each catering to a different socio economic group and it has made me realise a lot.
Mostly, I take so much for granted.
Obviously I love books and reading and I promote passionately the benefits of reading as a life time journey. The first item I bought when I found out I was expecting my first child (22+ years ago) wasn't a pram or a grow suit , not even a teddy bear, it was a book, or a few to be honest. When my children were born they had library cards before they were issued an official birth certificate. They were read to in utero, they were read to while they fed, they were read to in the bath, at bed time and we had books on tape for the car. We made up silly stories together, we made up story games and we were surrounded by a myriad of books. Books were as important as air and food.
Books and stories helped to mould and nurture my children. It helped them to develop an independence, they could seek out answers without always asking us. It helped develop creativity, discernment and a questioning mind. It didn't make them more intelligent but it certainly made them clever. What use is intelligence if you are not clever enough to use it and develop it. It meant that when they went to school they had the advantage of already having knowledge, a different way of thinking and an ability to think outside the square.
But what if they had not had books? What if we were not a reading family?
I've been considering this. A terribly scary thought for me, but what if the cost of a book (they are not cheap items) meant no bread or milk that week? I know we would choose bread. What if there wasn't a car or cash to go to the library? What if my parents hadn't encouraged reading and therefore I didn't have that role model in my life to do the same for my children? What if the government had reduced funding to public libraries so they weren't as available as they were years ago (oh dear, that's not a what if!)?
I always encourage reading, am often critical of the way we teach children to read and those shocking 'readers' some schools still tuck away on their shelves. I have had those discussions of how do we get people to read books and why can't they understand the value of it. I've been part of the programs that push reading and try to promote it to non reading families. But this morning I feel a bit like Marie Antoinette.....'let them eat cake.'
We can survive without books, we can get by if we can't or don't read. We can continue to exist so if you are a family that lives in that world, so different to mine, without books, how do you prioritise reading over putting food on the table each night. How do you expand your own horizons with the wealth that reading and books have to offer if you just can't.....
My heart is a little chipped today, pondering these things. How do we bring books into the lives of people who can't afford cake and who find cake foreign as it isn't a part of their culture?
How do we step back and reconsider the way we push and promote an expensive commodity to those who already go without many of the basics and have learnt to survive without?
Big questions. Many are working on it and some great things are happening. Wonderful programs in schools that promote reading in a fun way. Book for babies given to all new parents. all trying to lead this generation into the idea of reading being an essential tool and skill in life. But how do we hang on to them as adults? As they in turn become parents? How do we make cake an affordable and desired thing as important as air and food?
Well, the letters I received this morning from a number of nine and ten year olds has answered that question a little. One young lady wrote to thank me for visiting their school, she had never met a real live author before and she said she was most excited about learning how to draw anything she wanted and finding out that if you don't like reading because you can't find the right book, to write it herself.
So, I don't think I'm going to lose my head any day soon but, as I have my cake and eat it to, I will always remember how privileged I am to be surrounded by books and that life time journey they take me on. I will always cherish the busiest week in the year, knowing it can change our future.
Keep reading everyone, it will change the world!