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Dr A.P.J.Abdul Kalam Speaks on Books , Magazines and Story telling during inauguration of International Conference on Children’s Libraries

Address during the inauguration of International Conference on Children’s Libraries
04/Feb/2010 : New Delhi
Dreams of Children
“Knowledge makes you great”

I am delighted to participate in the inauguration of International Conference on “Children’s Libraries – Building a book culture” organized by Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children. My greetings to eminent educationists, librarians, publishers, authors, illustrators, social activists and children participating in this function. Children, below 15 years, are around 200 million in number in our nation, and they would develop as active young members of a knowledge society. What the children need is the presentation of authors of children’s book with interesting and beautiful themes highly illustrated and skillfully edited and the book has to be affordable for all sections of the society. Since the dreams and aspirations of the children which will shape the future of our nation, today I would like to talk on the topic “Dreams of Children”.

Profile of children’s literature
Friends, in a decade, I have met more than five million children and youth from all parts of the country – rural and urban and from different region of the world – developed and developing. I believe that ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful source on the earth, above the earth and under the earth. The energy and enthusiasm of the youth give the experienced, a vision for life and a responsibility to leave a legacy that they can be proud of. I have been inspired by the learning pattern of children by studying the childhood of many great minds who have established themselves in various walks of life. Inspiring questions from children are thought provoking and have a common pattern.
1.The knowledge sources available for urban children, definitely should be made available in the form of electronic content or children’s book to the rural children who aspire for knowledge in large numbers.
2.Children have their unique interests with creative minds. Hence our education – both formal and informal have to nurture and grow the creativity among children through quality books.
3.Children learn through environment, family and neighbourhood. For example, when they see their parents or teachers reading books, they also develop interest in reading. If the parents and teachers discuss books with them it adds fillip to their own interest.
4.The children have to grow in an environment of learning skills, value system, sports, caring for family, civic responsibilities, mental and physical robustness.
5.Children need to be encouraged to ask questions. Questions have to be answered with patience and knowledge, so that minds of children are opened up and their thinking is not shut off.
Friends, the authors of children’s book may like to consider depicting such scenes in family and school environment and the lives of great minds. The children libraries must update themselves with such books. You would have heard, about the release of a book for children on the Chandrayaan and Writers Associations can facilitate reading of such books by children in remote places of our country. Reading books can ignite the minds of children to become authors. A child in Jammu and Kashmir may read a book about Rameshwaram and visit there and vice versa. When children from different countries meet, I notice that one aspect that makes them familiar with each other are the books they can relate to each other. In that context, children books with global themes are very relevant.
Home library
Friends, on 11 August 2009, I was participating in the valedictory function of the book fair festival at Erode (Tamilnadu). While addressing the audience, I suggested that everyone of the participants of the book fair to allocate at-least one hour in a day for reading quality books. This will enrich them with knowledge to empower the children and see them grow as great children. I also suggested all the parents should start a small library in their own houses with approximately 20 books to begin with. This library should particularly have 10 children’s books, so that the children in the house can also cultivate reading habits at an early age looking at the parents reading quality books. Many people who attended this function, appreciated this thought and they immediately started a library at their homes. With the result, the books fair did not have adequate books to supply to Erode households. The home reading habit will assist the children’s libraries created with large number of variety of quality books as libraries will attract reading, learning and building a habit of buying good books.
I saw a beautiful book Tiya by Samarpan – A Parrot’s Journey Home. I suggest the author’s present here to bring the Children’s edition of this book which will be very useful for children’s libraries.
The children book that transformed a special child
Dear friends, now let me tell you a real life story which happened two decades ago in Honolulu, which I read in the book titled “Everyday Greatness”. Essence of it is, how a child has been empowered by the parents through illustrated with children’s book.
Lindy Kunishima and Geri had two daughters Trudi, thirteen, and Jennifer, nine, and had a small son Steven. Unlike the sisters, Steven would stay wherever his mother, Geri, put him, seldom moving or making a noise, till the child was eighteen months old. The worried parents took their son to a neurologist. A CT scan revealed that the vermis, an area of the brain that transmits messages to and from the body’s muscles, had not developed. That explained why he woke up so often at night-his tongue muscles were too weak for him to swallow enough milk to satisfy his hunger. The neurologist declared that, Steven will never walk or talk, or do much of anything that requires muscle control. Neurologist also told that Steven will be profoundly retarded. Shattered by the diagnosis, Geri the mother couldn’t eat or sleep for days. Looking at the mother’s sadness, Trudi the sister of the boy challenged the doctor’s prognosis and announced that, she did not believe what the doctor said about Steven, since she saw a spark in his eyes. Jennifer and Trudi took an oath to work with their mother Geri to make Steven normal. They started reading a passage from the children’s book with illustration to him everyday on the dinner table. This habit of reading followed for many nights until it became a half-hour ritual every dinnertime. Along with reading, Jennifer and Trudi asked questions and pointed out animals or people illustrated in the books. But week after week Steven only kept staring blankly into space, seemingly lost in a dark empty world. He is not even looking at the picture. Geri thought that it was impossible to unlock, what is in the mind of the child?
After three months, one evening Steven suddenly wriggled away from the cushions. This surprised the whole family. They watched him drag himself across the floor, inching towards the children’s books along the wall. Unable to run the pages with his fingers, Steven whacked through the book with his hands. When he came to a page filled with pictures of animals, he gazed at it for a long time. Then, just as quickly as it opened, Steven’s world shut down again. The following night, as Jennifer prepared to read, her brother crawled to the same book and opened the same page again. This showed that “Steven got a memory”. As the months passed, Steven showed more and more response to the night reading. From her study of the subject, Geri learnt that other parts of the brain can often compensate when one area is damaged. Maybe that is happening with Steven, she thought.
Both Trudi and Jennifer played the piano, and now they propped Steven under the grand piano while they played. One day after practicing, Jennifer lifted Steven from his place under the piano. This time, he was uttering new sound. He was humming the music and enjoyed. Simultaneously, the family also worked to build up his muscles. Lindy attended massage school and learnt how to knead his son’s arms and leg. Geri, Trudi, and Jennifer dabbed peanut butter on the boy’s lips, by licking it off, he exercised his tongue and jaw. They also gave him gum to chew and feathers to blow. Slowly, flaccid muscles in Steven’s face began to strengthen. When Steven was four and a half years old, he still couldn’t speak words, but he could make “aaah” and “waaah” sounds. Also, with a walker, he could now stand and take slow, shuffling steps. Moreover, he displayed a surprising visual memory. After studying a 300 piece jigsaw puzzle, he could assemble the pieces in one sitting.
Still, Steven was rejected by every pre-school his mother applied to. Finally she took him to Louise Bogart, then director of the Robert Allen Montessori School at Honolulu’s Chaminade University. Bogart saw the pain and frustration in his face. But she also saw something else: Steven was determined to make himself understood and agreed to admit the child in her school.
In the months that followed, the boy continued making slow progress. One morning, in his second year at Montessori, he was playing idly with blocks in a mat. Bogart stood off to the side, watching the teacher work with another child on numbers. “What number comes next” the teacher asked. The child drew a blank. “Twenty!” Steven blurted. Bogart’s head swiveled. Steven had not only spoken clearly, but also given the correct answer. Bogart approached the teacher. “Did Steven ever work on this?” she asked. “No,’ the teacher answered. “We worked with him a lot on numbers one through ten. But we didn’t know he had learned any beyond ten.”
The boy Steven was transformed into a normal student at the age of ten. The family succeeded in this great mission of recovering the child using multiple approaches, mainly by reading children’s book with illustrated pictures.
Importance of Reading
Reading is essential for the children as it helps them develop initiative, originality and character, besides providing instruction and invaluable experiences. Reading also enables the children to see possibilities, alternatives and options that they could not see before. A well read child seeks meaning in his or her day to day life and desires to unfold the mysteries of the wonderful world of nature, science and intricacies of human relations.
Coming into contact with a good book and possessing it, is indeed an everlasting enrichment of life. Book becomes a permanent companion. Sometimes, they are born before us; they guide us during our life journey and continue for many generations. I had bought a book titled “Light from many lamps” at an young age from an old book store in Moore Market, Chennai. The editor of this book is “Watson, Lillian Eichler”. This book was my close friend and also companion for more than five decades. The book was so much used; it had to be bound many times. Whenever there is a problem, the book wipes away the tears based on the experience of great minds. When the happiness overwhelms you, the book again softly touches the mind and brings about a balanced thinking.
Books enable the children to view the past, use the experience for the present and dream for the future. The children are introduced to history and geography, to culture and arts, to science and technology and are evolved as members of knowledge society.
Reading habits among children
In spite of these advantages of reading for building a sound society, every child does not get the opportunity to read quality books. High cost of books is a definite discouraging factor as average parents often find books out of their reach.
Secondly, lack of good children’s literature is another significant reason for the lack of reading habits among the children. This scarcity is attributed to the lack of interest on the part of authors and publishers since writing for children is often considered as less important form of writing and less lucrative. Thirdly, overburdened workload at the school and excessive home work assigned to them, our children generally get little time for extra reading. Television further takes away most of their spare time. Fourthly, unimaginative and uninteresting test books diminish the children’s interest in books. The same is true about most of what is available in the market for the children’s reading.
Parents and teachers are prime source of inculcating good reading habits among children and making them avid, willing and responsive readers as Geri the mother which I had described earlier. This should be supplemented by children’ libraries, book displays, exhibitions, mobile children’s libraries and book fairs which help overcome deficiency in reading habits among children. Thirst for reading books should be generated by parents and teachers. Parents should not wait till their children grow up but start familiarizing them with book right from the young age. To such of parents who have not been fortunate to read and write or only marginally do, the importance of reading has to be inculcated so that they encourage their children to read books. Educated parents, teachers and NGOs can play a role here. Recommending or providing right kind of books to children is equally important. Thrusting upon a child a book which is of little or no interest is a sure way of reducing the child’s interest in reading. My team has introduced an e-paper Billion Beats where one page has been specially allotted for special children. It is popular because it is very interactive. The Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children may like to introduce an e-paper for children and encourage them to write articles, including cartoons and poems.
Children’s book should be designed specially for children of nursery, primary and secondary classes and also uniquely designed for special children. I have a friend Fr Felix, who is the chief of the Institute of Mentally Challenged Children at Trivandrum. He has specially designed alphabets and books for mentally challenged children with colour codes. I have witnessed, how the children love his books. Presenting books to children on occasions like birthday, New Year and other festive occasions would also go a long way in creating reading interest in the children.
Childhood of great minds and books
Here I would like to refer to Einstein’s experience of the second miracle in Albert Einstein life, we find that his interest in science started early, beginning with his encounter at the age of nine with magnetism, which he called “the first miracle”. He was given a compass by his father and Einstein was endlessly fascinated by the fact that invisible forces could make objects move. His interest in compass was reinforced when he found a caring mentor to hone his ideas. At the age of 12, he experienced second wonder in a little book given by his mentor Max Talmud with Euclidean plain Geometry which he called “Holy Geometry Book”. Einstein called this his “second miracle”. Here Einstein made contact with the realm of pure thought. Without expensive laboratories or equipment, he could explore universal truth, limited only by the power of human mind. Mathematics became an endless source of pleasure to Einstein especially if intriguing puzzle and mysteries were involved.
Srinivasa Ramanujan a great mathematician of 20th century, demonstrated a natural ability at mathematics, and was given books on advanced trigonometry by S. L. Loney. He mastered this book by age of thirteen, and even discovered theorems of his own. He demonstrated unusual mathematical skills at school, winning many awards.
I would suggest the parents and teachers to take a message from these incidents and present beautiful books to the children for every good act, they perform. The reading habit created by such presents can generate a passion for search of more and more information by the children leading them to children’s libraries which is a store house of many reference books.
Role of libraries in Promoting Reading in Children
Libraries are a means to stimulate and develop the reading interest. The librarian should help develop among the reader’s pleasant and positive attitude towards reading. The development of pleasant and positive attitude among the readers will be able to automatically create a habit of reading and love for books. We have been witnessing a beautiful environment in Delhi International book fair during the last few days where parents have been bringing their children in large numbers and motivating them to get attracted to quality children’s books.
Librarians have a responsibility and an opportunity to tell the children what they have in their children sections of libraries. Families have to build the habit of coming to the libraries and introducing the children sections of the libraries and making the librarians converse periodically with the children, so that they can understand the nature of books which attract the children.
Making the library attractive to children: The following activities can enhance the attraction of the library to the children: advertisement of new arrivals of books and magazines including salient features through Radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines; announcement of special seminars, training workshops, interviews of reading authorities being conducted in the children’s libraries. The authors of children books should come periodically to the children libraries, read their books to the children. The projection of the author’s thought will definitely influence the children to read their books.
Social organizations can play an important role in elevating the standard of library and services through conducting activities like forming library users committee which will have members from parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, authors and children with the aim to bringing out high quality books which the children will love and read leading to getting motivated for self-reading and self-learning. For motivational purposes the libraries can organize reading programs which provide an incentive to children to read books. Capacity building can be done through reading camp which will enhance reading skills of a child like – speed reading, information handling and absorbing the material quickly and effectively. Further acceleration of reading habit can be done through organization of contests by the libraries.
If the child is old enough to talk to, he or she is old enough to read also. Most critical task during these early stage is learning how to calm the child, not to bring it under control. By 9 months the child is able to respond to the sight of certain books and convey to his or her parents that these were his favorite. By age 5, child had taught oneself to read. Fairy tales and space adventures offer us an excellent opportunity to introduce the child or class to comparative literature. Such a training will enable the parents and teachers to direct the energy of an hyperactive child towards constructive activities. There is also a need for efficient translation of quality children’s books across a multiple language spectrum of the nation – so that children from one part can be inspired from tales and personalities of other regions. This will also promote a spirit of national integration.
Magazines imparting value based knowledge: Children’s magazines like Chandamama, Dimdima, Champak have been playing an important role in providing value based knowledge and entertainment to the children through easy to understand and well illustrated stories. As the children grow up, these stories help them in building wisdom to decide between wrong and right and the courage to pursue the right path. There is a need for such types of magazines to be made available in all the regional languages of the country.
Poetry is a great motivator: Poetry is also an important method by which the child can be motivated to read. The rules for developing love of poetry within children are: read it aloud; read it often; keep it simple; keep it joyous or exciting. Poetry sets an excellent medium for training the disciplines of listening and reading that are such integral parts of reading aloud program. Poetry must be read word by word “because it is bound by meter and rhythm; every word and every syllable counts”.
Story telling to book reading: For younger children, libraries should start with picture books which can be easily read and understood by children. Story-telling is one of the easiest activities for the library to organize. Traditional tales or short stories of the same type and picture book are the easiest to use. Apart from these myths, legends, fairy tales, stories about animals, things which appeal to the sense of wonder and the sense of humor that stimulate the imagination of spirit of adventure are the most suitable. Librarians can be trained in this task so that the children who come to hear the stories will be slowly attracted towards reading good books and self-learning.
Quiz Competition: Children’s Libraries should organize Quiz programs so that the children are encouraged to read beyond their textbooks in school and promoting books as a source of information.
Computer based reading: As amount of information grows and as it becomes more easily and quickly available, there will be a need to teach individual strategies for both dealing with information and accessing the information available in the libraries. In the long run, some books will be available in digital forms. This modern technology is opening a new arena of reading promotion in libraries. Libraries should be equipped with radio, computers, Audio-Visual based material like CDs and DVDs and internet. This will facilitate the children to get updated information in electronic form for supplementing the knowledge available in printed books. This will also create a habit in them to search for in-depth information.
Many families these days, get products home delivered from commodity stores and food restaurants. In the same way, families can develop a habit of getting quality children’s books home delivered as either outright purchase or as a loan.
Conclusion
The authors, librarians and publishers present here should evolve strategies through which children’s libraries can become an effective tool for promoting human values. Children should be exposed to books of many different cultures, religions, languages and socio-economic systems and increase the scientific temper. This will generate a future society which is respectful and tolerant to others views and cherishes unity in diversity. The history of national heroes from different regions should be lucidly brought out to the children, so that they understand the national values and can be inspired to work towards building a greater nation and they all start thinking that nation is bigger than any individual, organization, group or party.
I appreciate the Association of Writers for creating 155 libraries. There is a need for creating mobile children’s libraries which can reach the rural and semi-urban children at an affordable cost. I have come across two models one in Chandigarh and the other in Virudhunagar, which attracts large number of readers, particularly the young. The Chandigarh model called BROWSER envisages payment of graded membership fee and availability of large number of books for the members. The Virudhunagar model enables the student to draw comics, adventure, fiction, magic books at a small fee of 50 paisa per hour. This small but time based fee forces the students to concentrate and read the material with speed. We need to expand these models of mobiles children’s libraries to all the rural areas in the country. Let us connect all the 600,000 villages through mobile library arm of an existing children’s library.
With these words, I inaugurate the International Conference on Children’s Libraries. My best wishes to all the participants of this conference success in their mission of motivating every child towards reading books and acquiring knowledge needed for the evolution of 21st century Knowledge society.

May God bless you.

Courtesy by A.P.J Abul Kalam

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