If I don't read, I get bored
Statistics show Latin America to be a continent with high literacy rates. For example, in the United Nations development report for 2009, Cuba reached second place in the world for highest literacy rates, while the U.K. and U.S. came in at a joint-21st place.
However, such data can be misleading. Peru, for instance, has high rates of literacy but also high rates of “functional illiteracy.” Many children, if shown a text can “read aloud” the words. But if asked what they mean, they are left floundering.
Literacy projects can have significant impact in Latin America. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire talked of critical literacy as a means of enabling communities to gain access to information, to reflect upon it and thus resist oppression. The evangelical church has also placed great emphasis on reflective literacy, as men and women have read the Bible for themselves and been transformed.
Functional illiteracy is therefore a great concern for the Church and for Christian publishers. It is of little use that boys and girls can parrot-read passages of the Bible if they cannot understand the meaning of the text. Real reading implies the reader’s ability to engage with the text, to enter the world with imagination and to reach his or her own conclusions.
So what can Christian publishers and booksellers do, faced with this huge but crucial challenge?
We may not be able to reach all of society, but we can contribute to families and churches. Publishers in Peru have organized workshops for families to stimulate reading in the home. Parents were encouraged to read with their children and to set a good example by having books in the home and allowing their children to see them enjoy reading. Grandparents, aunts and uncles can also support reading and give books as presents. Some of these ideas could also be turned into an attractive leaflet and distributed widely.
The local church can do a great deal to promote books and reading, starting with the pastor. Pastors can recommend books on Christian living or basic discipleship to build up the church body. Also, some years ago several projects were initiated to train volunteers to run book tables in local churches.
Many Christian bookstores have worked to become more attractive over recent years, especially those with children’s sections. The large Maranatha shop in Mexico City, for example, has a child-friendly area, with educational toys and books. Both parents and children can also enjoy treats in the bookstore's coffee shop. Bookstores like these are doing the important work of engaging early readers. The challenge that remains is the small numbers of quality Christian children’s books available.
Of course, efforts to promote reading are not limited to Christian publishers. So it makes sense to join with national publishers’ associations, relevant government ministries and similar organizations which share the same aims.
The SEPA group of Spanish language-book and music producers is one such organization that has adopted a continent-wide promotional campaign with a nice sense of humor. Called "Si no leo me aburro," or "If I don’t read I get bored"— the phrase can also be taken as "If I don’t read I become a donkey." The illustration is, of course, of a friendly donkey.
By Ian Darke, MAI's Latin America regional trainer
More creative programs that encourage reading:
World Book Day – program materials available with registration
Argentina’s Book Fair and Coffeehouse Libraries
Send us your ideas on encouraging reading: firstname.lastname@example.org