Cork library initiative to encourage kids to read is progressive...

Colette Sheridan hails a new reading initiative launched by Cork County Council Library Services 
Cork library initiative to encourage kids to read is progressive...

Cork County Mayor Cllr Gillian Coughlan with Alexandra Walsh-McLoughlin (centre) of Bandon and Ella Gavin of Newcestown, both aged four, at Bandon Library last week for the launch of the ‘My Little Library Book Bag’ initiative. Picture: Brian Lougheed

WHILE my generation didn’t quite go to school in our bare feet, with little in our satchels other than a copybook and some pencils (and a Catechism), we nonetheless suffered for our education.

It was a time when corporal punishment was still legal. Teachers could ask their charges what their parents did for a living. Classism was rife.

Catholicism didn’t seem very forgiving. Children weren’t cherished to the extent that they are these days. And there was most definitely no such thing as a goody-bag when starting school.

This September, children starting school will be given freebies; a goody-bag that is called ‘My Little Library Book Bag’.

Courtesy of the Cork County Council library service, the bag will contain three books on the subjects of starting school, making friends, and being comfortable in your own skin.

There will also be a postcard that the children can write or draw on and give to their new teacher, and the precious little ones will receive their very own library card.

It’s a wonderful initiative, a way of encouraging reading in a fun and memorable way.

Refreshingly progressive, it’s a far cry from thumbing through dog-eared spelling books and learning off new words, in terror of getting anything wrong.

Today’s children are being seduced into reading through fun and a sense of them being made to feel special. 

We have come a long way from the dunce’s corner and other oppressive tactics, aimed at clamping down on youngsters and denying them any sense of joy.

The wonder is that we grew up reading, with many people attending book clubs. That’s because we know that when we have a good book on hand, we are never bored. That’s a good lesson to teach kids.

But, despite knowing the value of reading, parents and teachers often find that there is competition for the young ones’ attention. Screen time is the great bugbear of our age.

Children’s brains need stimulation in order to learn and grow. But they’ve become addicted to their phones and computer games, which have a negative effect on brain development.

Youngsters tend to stay at home, spending hours on their screens. 

Whatever happened to the knock on the door and the simple query: “Is Johnny coming out to play?’

Just as play time is good for children’s social development, books inspire them to learn and develop and to explore the world around them.

Reading needs to be encouraged, but not in a po-faced way. It should be promoted as something exciting. It can even bridge the generation gap.

A friend is currently reading books by the children’s author, David Walliams. She is doing this as an act of love and bonding with her young nephew, who posts her the books.

My friend duly reads them and writes letters to her nephew, with her opinions on the books. He writes back. This is all done by snail mail.

It’s a win/win on a couple of fronts including practising the almost lost art of letter writing. No doubt, the young lad treasures the missives from his cool aunt. And he has developed a love of books that will hopefully last for his lifetime.

I searched my shelves for a Patricia Lynch book and found The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey Goes Visiting, which has survived a particularly complicated house move. 

It conjures up days spent in the garden, lapping up the adventurous stories of Eileen, Seamus ( no trendy names here) and Long Ears, the donkey.

Patricia Lynch (1898-1972) was one of the great storytellers of her age. (She was also a suffragette.) She was born in Sunday’s Well. Despite the fact that she lived in Cork for only a short time, she saw it as the dream city of her youth.

While she eventually settled in Dublin, she felt that no other city could equal Cork because “once it gets a grip on the heart of a child, it can never be loosened”. Her childhood ambition was to live in Blackrock Castle.

When the family finances took a nose-dive, Patricia, her mother and brother moved to Patricia’s grandfather’s house in Fair Hill. Her father, who worked as a journalist in Egypt and then as a stockbroker, was a bit of a disaster on the financial front. When he died in Cairo in 1900, he left behind a lot of debts.

While Patricia Lynch’s books were quintessentially Irish and enchanting to me as a kid, I also revelled in what was on offer across the water. I was in thrall to Enid Blyton and also loved the Just William books by Richmal Crompton. They’re not PC but such fun.

The Cork County library initiative should engender a love of reading among children. It’s a far cry from a getting a hostile poke from a bata!

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