Celebrating World Book Day 2017

Celebrating World Book Day 2017
14th March 2017

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On the 2nd of March, WIL Uganda celebrated International World Book Day. If you mull that sentence over for a couple of times, it begins to look strange. World Book Day is not a holiday proper. It is on a par with World Pet Day. Far from everyone knows of its existence and, I submit, fewer remember the date. Reactions are usually ‘ah, is that today?’ instead of ‘Happy World Book Day!’

Not so in Uganda.

Together with Noraly and Joseph, I picked up a group of students from Townside High School. I preach my love of books and reading here during the weekly book club that is part of the Literacy programme. While walking back to the office, I wonder. Is WBD really for us? For them? They hardly have books, there is no reading on the curriculum in schools. Could they name one Ugandan author?

We make it to the office a little before 11 and show them around. Even though our event is outside, it is worth the slight delay to show them the inside: some of their pictures are on our walls. There is a mixture in the air of stolid concentration and elated excitement when they find a picture of themselves. Outside, where we have decorated the outer office with banners that Joseph whipped up, and an easel with Poppy’s delightful summary-in-drawing of Harry Potter, we explain the day’s objective. They are to read a story, in groups of 5, summarize it in word and picture and present the story to their peers. We gave them stories from our little WIL Uganda library.

From Treasure Island to Deadalus and Icarus

The event itself goes off without a hitch. Despite finding my accent hard to follow they have understood exactly what the assignment is. Poppy and I assist where needed. The younger girls get direct translations of difficult words. I proffer my ESL dictionary to the senior 2’s. I’ve taught them how to use it during the programme.

Slowly but surely, drawings start to appear. The youngest groups read about, and then draw, a wounded wolf on an icy tundra. The girls with the biggest knack for reading get a real challenge: Daedelus and Icarus, the Labyrinthe designer and his son, the boy who flew to close to the sun. To my elation they nail the main themes of arrogance and human inventiveness. The story has been one of my favourites since high school. My classics teacher would never, in his life…

Each group presents their story. I question them about their drawings and the story’s morals. “What does the captain drink,” I ease into Treasure Island. “Rum!” That one was hard to miss. “Now, why do you think he drinks so much rum?” It stays silent. This is nothing new. It can mean they have not understood me, or they don’t know. The shy timidity is apt to be a result of something in the water here. Then a soft voice goes “to forget about his problems.” “Excuse me?”

“He drinks to forget about his problems.”

Today is the day I find out that most of my students are more gifted readers than they have hitherto let on in my sessions. The certificates of successful participation are welcomed and will be cherished, we are told by Madam Carol, for time to come.
The day was joyous, stimulating and -snore- educational. There was something off about it, though. We had 25 girls and 5 books.
The World Book Day website gives you a wealth of reading ideas, tips for activities, lists of acclaimed children’s authors etcetera. It is a great source of inspiration, provided you have access to a bookstore, reliable internet, a proper library or at the very least more than one copy of the same book. How easy it is to have a celebration when you live next to a balloon store.

“Those who don’t have books at school, at home, at all, are the ones celebrating”

I, much like many of the people I know, have grown up around books. By the time I went to high school I had read every children’s book in my local library. As me and my friends grew older, George R.R. Martin and Nabokov replaced J.K. Rowling. Reading has remained a favourite pastime. Having had books available at all times has been a blessing. One that is denied my students here.

Here then, is what is such a doublebind, concerning World Book Day. The most avid readers with the most literary resources hardly acknowledge it. Those who don’t have books at school, at home, at all, are the ones celebrating.

There is an upshot. It is through Book Aid, through WIL Uganda that the girls from Townside get in touch with reading at all. It is the literal difference between something and nothing. The value of books is something students and teachers alike understand to the fullest. In part because of their scarcity.

In the past month and a half I have been welcomed at Townside, at Busembatia Secondary School, at Standard. Every week I bring a new story to read. When I introduce Animal Farm, and imitate the farmer kicking of his shoes drunkenly, they laugh. When one of their classmates reads Sherlock Holmes to them, they are attention incarnate. When we discuss gender-roles after a Dave Eggers story, they are engaged and serious. On March 2nd, enthusiasm and seriousness lay over them like a blanket.

Yes, I thought. World Book Day is for us.

written by Jamie Assendorp

 

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