What I Want the World to Know About Reading in My Country: International Literacy Day

Today, September 8, 2017, is International Literacy Day, when governments, organizations, and communities around the world recognize and celebrate the magic of books and reading.

This year we checked in with Scholastic International: David Peagram (Australia), Nancy Pearson (Canada), Neeraj Jain (India), Amanda Clarke (United Arab Emirates), Catherine Bell (United Kingdom) and Michael Haggen (United States).

We asked two questions: 

  • What do you want the world to know about reading in your country?
  • What is your favorite children's book?

Their thoughtful replies are below (nearly everyone was reluctant to commit to just one favorite children's book!).

Australia: David Peagram (Managing Director, Scholastic Australia & New Zealand)

The Australian Curriculum says: Australia is a linguistically and culturally diverse country, with participation in many aspects of Australian life dependent on effective communication and literacy. Australians pedestal the development of reading and literacy as gateway skills, essential in helping young people develop the knowledge and skills needed for almost every aspect of adult life. We believe it helps them become ethical, thoughtful, informed and active members of society.

Literacy plays a most important part in developing the understanding, attitudes and capabilities of those who will take responsibility for Australia’s future. Reading paves the critical paths for literacy and the intellectual growth of all young Australians.

Scholastic Australia agrees: we love reading! Whether it be reading aloud or reading together or reading all by ourselves, tucked into a corner nook – reading is our favourite activity, from the beaches of Sydney to the deserts of Perth and everywhere in between.

Favourite children's book: Possum Magic (Mem Fox)—still in the Australian top ten of all time after 34 years!

Canada: Nancy Pearson (President, Scholastic Canada)

Scholastic Canada recently published its first Kids and Family Reading Report™, and it revealed a fascinating portrait of reading in this country. We can confirm: all ages of Canadians love to read, in both official languages–English and French.

They also view reading as the number one habit that impacts future success. Canadians value humour and personal choice when it comes to reading. Humour has been one of our greatest exports for so long, we’re delighted to see it’s still a priority for our youngest readers! Although this wasn’t revealed in our report, I think it’s safe to say our long winters have shaped us to enjoy curling up indoors with a good book, or perhaps that’s just me…

One of my absolute favourites was a book called From Anna, which recently celebrated its 45th year in publication. Author Jean Little is a national treasure, who has been decorated with every known award for her groundbreaking storytelling—a feat that is amplified by the fact that she’s been legally blind for most of her life.

But for me, this story about a young girl whose family moves from Nazi Germany to Canada in the 1930s, was my first understanding of books set in Canada, with references that I understood. And it’s also the most beautiful portrait of young girl dealing with loneliness, and the enormous challenges of integration. Prescient topics that are so timely today.

India: Neeraj Jain (Managing Director at Scholastic India)

India has always had a rich heritage of storytelling, from being a medium of passing down ancient religious wisdom of the vedas and the upanishads (before they were finally written down as texts) to a grandmother telling her grandchildren about the adventures of her childhood. With time, we saw an increase in the number of nuclear families and decrease in storytelling. Storybooks and read-aloud are slowly starting to bridge this gap, with families increasingly understanding the importance of read-aloud and picture books. While reading time continues to compete against screen time and play time, yet we see an upward trend in the reading habits of children in India.

It's very difficult to pick a favourite children's book. As a child, I loved a comic book series called Chacha Chaudhary. It revolved around two main characters: Chacha Chaudhary, who could think faster than a computer; and Sabu the super-powerful giant from Jupiter. This series had everything, super powers, aliens and action coupled with a quirky sense of humour and bizarre situations.

One of my favourites currently is The Bad Guys. Aaron Blabey has chosen a unique and interesting set of characters who are always on a mission to help people thereby trying to fight their ill-reputed image of being bad guys. It makes you laugh out loud and at the same time keeps you on the edge to know what happens next.

United Arab Emirates: Amanda Clarke (Sales Director, Scholastic Middle East & Africa)

Last year was the ‘Year of Reading’ in the UAE, so there is a huge focus on reading. Scholastic ran a competition for whole year, giving away over 40,000 books. So I think we have contributed a lot to the love of reading in the UAE.

It’s so difficult to choose one book!! Can I choose a series? I love, love, love the Defender of the Realm series by Mark Huckerby and Nick Olster. The second book left me biting my nails in anguish—I cannot wait for the third book.

I also have a favorite picture book called Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy, which is a fantastic book about a mummy elephant trying to get just five minutes peace from her hectic family. In the end she gets just under two. It’s such a great, funny picture book.

United Kingdom: Catherine Bell (Managing Director, Scholastic UK)

Children in the United Kingdom love reading. The children’s book market has grown by 11.7% this year, driven by a range of wonderful books from a host of talented authors and illustrators. 72% of schools say reading is on their school improvement programme, and over half of children 6–11 years told us that their school book fair is their number-one source for reading for pleasure.

Funny books are still the most-wanted genre by children themselves, and 49% of children say that the person who does the best job of picking books is “me.”The mix of talented writers and illustrators and such enthusiasm from children makes us very proud to support International Literacy Day celebrations.

Favourite children's book: Oh, this is too hard! If you force me I would settle on Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I loved being transported to the world of 1930s London when I read the story as a child. It was even more magical to read it out loud to my children and to delight in their enjoyment at the same world and the strong and determined Fossil sisters.

United States: Michael Haggen (Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Education)

Now, more than ever, American educators understand the importance of our students reading more nonfiction that allows them to explore the world and learn more about others. With diverse classrooms and the English language learners population growing each year, diverse books can be used to tell a variety of stories. The Scholastic 6th Edition of the Kids & Family Reading Report found that ninety-one percent of children ages 6-17 say “my favorite books are the one that I have picked out myself.”

My favorite children’s book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. When reading this book to kindergarteners, first and second graders, we all relate to the woes of Alexander but understand tomorrow is a new day, even in Australia.

To learn more about kids' and parents' attitudes and behaviors around books and reading in Australia, Canada, India, the UK and the US, go to scholastic.com/readingreport.

Read more: Working Magic: International Literacy Day, September 8, 2016 (Lois Bridges)