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Imagine a world where everyone can read

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Imagine a world where everyone can read

That is the powerful slogan of World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) scheduled worldwide on March 7. It is a day when everyone is encouraged to take action to assert that the right to read and to write belongs to all people.

WRAD motivates children, teens and adults to celebrate the power of words, especially “those books that are shared…” It is an initiative of an international nonprofit committed to the promotion of global literacy, never forgetting that 793 million people remain illiterate, and reminding us all that the right to read and to write is a fundamental human right.

What made me sit up and take notice is the fact that a classroom strategy that literacy teacher training workshops relentlessly push today has taken to the streets, in a manner of speaking. Because of the obvious need, because it has not quite taken off in many classrooms and homes in the country, and because many appear unconvinced as yet and tend to be dismissive of it, reading aloud has taken on the form of a political advocacy. It has finally arrived—no longer a lonely crusade directed just to classrooms, but a tool toward reading, an essential life skill.

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In the early 1980s, American author Jim Trelease wrote “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” which became a bestseller and is now a bible of literacy. Trelease felt the need to crusade for reading aloud as the most inexpensive, most effective, most painless way to arrest the growing disinterest in books and reading in the United States. It is an easy tip for teachers and parents to adopt to lure children and even grownups to discover the joy of reading. One does not need to be a great actor to engage in a read aloud—the very act of sharing a book that is loved by the adult reader is what is important. Those who are in search of research-based reading techniques and theories may be disappointed that the lap method of reading is highly valued. Nothing to it but a young child held on a lap and read to.

Closer to home, it is Project PEARLS (Peace, Education, Aspiration, Respect, Love, Smile)—a young nongovernment organization registered in California with a 501(c) status which allows it tax-exempt privileges and registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Manila—that is organizing read-aloud activities on March 7. It is led by San Francisco-based Melissa Villa. Ulingan, a depressed community in Tondo with no electricity or access to toilets, is the adopted beneficiary of a community preschool and a mini-library in progress. Nestled on a dump, Ulingan is so named because its residents live on charcoal made from dismantled edifices and old wood.

In partnership with other groups, Project PEARLS will also hold read-aloud activities in the provinces of Masbate, Zamboanga and Agusan del Sur, the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, Vicente Lim Elementary School in Tondo, and Quirino High School in Quezon City. PEARLS and Ulingan were a recent feature of the TV show “Storyline” and National Geographic online.

Though a read aloud does not really require a structured format, PEARLS is making sure that American and Filipino books are featured by their storytellers and readers.

A read aloud is alternatively called a read-along, as in this paper’s regularly scheduled, well-received sessions featuring celebrity readers. But the thrust of Read Aloud Day is to raise our collective reading voices in unison to celebrate the printed word. Children, we are reminded, learn best through reading, writing, and speaking their own stories, or stories that capture their total attention.

The rest of the year, PEARLS embarks on developing libraries in public schools, and has begun this project in the provinces of Bulacan and Quezon (Tiaong). That is why its request for book donations goes on unceasingly.

Perhaps it would do well for grownups to pause and think back to their childhood and their school life. What are your earliest pleasant memories of reading? Was it the first book read to you by your parent or your teacher? Many successful adults look back to their school life and admit that no, they remember nothing of those drills and worksheets, but only the books read to them.

I still relive the childhood wonder of my initial introduction to the myths of Icarus and the Cyclops and continue to feel terrified of their fates. Thanks to my mother, too, I still cry over Heidi’s sad life as an orphan, living with her grandfather in Johanna Spyri’s Swiss classic. May your childhood reading memories be as pleasant and compel us to build similar pleasant memories for the children in our midst.

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On March 7, celebrate with the rest of the world the power of the shared written word. It is the very first time that the Philippines is officially participating, in collaboration with the National Book Development Board and Vibal Publishing House at the National Library in Manila.

Who knows what worlds the words will allow the listener to discover?

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrc@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: education, featured column, learning, Reading, world read aloud day
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