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17 August 2013 ·

From Mad Hatters to Reading Hour – sharing the love of reading

In honour of Australian Children’s Book Week, and the Reading Hour at the end of it, I thought it was time for a much delayed post on why I was so thrilled to be invited to be a Love2Read Ambassador.

The first was the Melbourne opening of the National Year of Reading with a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the State Library. Graeme Base, Andy Griffiths, Alice Pung and I joined Sherlock Holmes, Thing One and Thing Two, the Hungry Caterpillar and a host of other kids and families dressed as their favourite characters. What a treat to be amongst so many people who feel about books the same way I do!
Later in the year I did a session at a severely disadvantaged school as a role model for the Books in Homes organisation. The statistics the principal gave me were horrifying, a result of generational poverty and hopelessness, but the anecdotal examples were nearly worse: Yr 3-4 girls who, when questioned on their dreams for the future, say to have a baby when they’re 16 so they can stay home; kids living 5 km from the sea who’ve never been to a beach.
But the school has a new principal and teachers who are determined to change the outcome for these children, and reading is one of the tools they’re using. Every child had read or heard one of my books before I arrived, and most classes had prepared something based on them. The kids were close to hysteria at meeting me – especially as I was handing out the gift books provided by the organisation. It was easy to see how treasured these books would be.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as strongly that these children not only needed the gift of loving to read, but that the determination of their teachers was bringing them to the point of achieving it.
You can see why I felt so strongly about being a Love2Read ambassador.
And as a corollary – earlier this year, the St Kilda football club transported the entire school to the cinema to see Return to Nim’s Island. (There’s no cinema in their town.) The following week I gave them writing workshops – and I don’t think it’s my imagination, but they seemed to have made remarkable progress in that time. It’s not just from reading, of course: the principal has managed to get an Olympic athlete in for sports training, and musicians for music lessons – (in fact yesterday I received an invitation for their concert and I’ll do my utmost to get there).
Reading’s not the only thing these kids need, nor the only thing that’ll inspire them. But it’s one of them, and it’s one that I can do something about.
We all can. Celebrate the Reading Hour on Saturday 24th with one of the many sessions around the country, or at home – but most importantly, make a commitment to read to your child, or grandchild, or visiting child, every day. 

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio