An Iranian young adult reading club
Esmail Yazdanpour- After several years of practice and development, the Cup of Reading Clubs for Children and Young Adults is national event that is annually held in all over the country. Every year, a group of writers for children travel to different cities and organize workshops for local teachers, librarians, Kindergarten coaches, parents, book promoters and everybody who is interested.
The workshop is about how to read for children and how to organize a small community of children for group reading. The “facilitators” who are trained in these workshops start gathering and listing around 12 children and young adults within the same age group for their reading clubs. When the clubs are registered in bookpromotion.ir, the members can buy a number of books at 50% discount in their local bookshop.
Every member buys at least one book, reads it, brings it to the club and talks about it. Then the members exchange book and through the 8 to 12 weeks of activity everybody in club has read a number of books. They argue for and select the most favorable book they have read, write a letter to their favorite author and make a one minute film about it.
A Young Adult Reading C H lub
In addition to these minimum activities, the club performs any other creative activity it feels good and necessary. Finally they must submit a report on their activities for the secretariat, the profile is required to be well-documented and it should include the name of the selected book, collection of letters to writers, and the collection of short video clips on books they have read. The best arguments and most creative plans, performances and activities are the subject of competition at local, regional and national levels. In the final ceremony, both the winner clubs and the highly graded authors and illustrators are appreciated.
Most of the clubs that are formed in this process continue to gather and read even beyond the final round of competitions.
Running a reading club is not a new idea and there are a variety of well-reported reading clubs all over the world. A reading club for children with plans to competition at national level, however, is a new and fanciful; at least the sheer participation of so many children proves this.
The first version of the idea was introduced to a school in Neyshabur, demanding them to read and exchange books in small groups and form a library in their classrooms. An expanded version of the idea to run in a city found its way among the programs of Neyshabur for her nomination as national book capital. Later on, a group of writers for children worked on it for implementation at a national level.
The educational system of Iran is an old system with heavy homework and little room for children’s freedom and creativity and does not allow any other organization to participate in the process. Therefore reading clubs for students was transformed into an independent reading clubs for children to make it free from the boundaries of schools and to invite a variety of different stakeholders into the process.
To make the idea more familiar, it was designed after popular football club competitions. Cup has certain associations and connotations in both Christian western world and ancient Persian world.
Initially, given the special structure of Iranian society and government, the idea was seen too ambitious and unconventional for implementation, therefore only 15 candidate cities where selected as pilot. These 15 cities were high profile cities during the previous round of national book capital designation with active governmental and non-governmental bodies being present in the city.
Afterward, a group of civil and non-governmental organizations such as the Association of Writers for Children and Young Adults, Council for Children’s Book and active book promotion groups were invited for collaboration. They introduced a number of prominent writers, scholars, activists and experts. The resulting group of people decided on a two day workshop to discuss and decide on a concerted and coherent and approach to book and its promotion across the country. The workshop also resulted in the main plan for further workshops in every city.
These were the workshop where a group of writers talked about their experiences of book promotion in different rural and urban settings.
In 2014 the writers and book promotion activists who have attended the workshops travelled to different cities to run workshops. The ‘facilitators’ who participated in these workshops were mostly local teachers, librarians, NGO activists and a variety of other people with access to a number of children in different setting, even in residential buildings. After participation in a two day workshop, they were certified to build and run a reading club for children or young adults.
The number of cities and villages to run reading clubs increased to 102 in the second year. In the third year, more than 1700 cities and villages have volunteered for running reading clubs.
Reading Clubs for Children and Young Adults is an event supported by a variety of different civil and non-governmental organizations including Association of Writers for Children and Young Adults, Network of Book Promotion Groups, HAMI Association, Children Cultural Development Center, some international partners including UNISEF, public institutes such as municipalities, city councils, village councils, Iranian House of Books, and governmental bodies such as Ministry of Culture, Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, Ministry of Education, etc.
Stages of Running Reading Clubs for Children and Young-Adults
1. Formation of executive committees in cities and provinces
2. Running workshops for local facilitators
3. Formation of clubs and registering them
4. Members buying books with 50% discount
5. Exchanging and reading books by the members
6. Discussing books
7. Selecting the best books by the members
8. Writing a letter to favorite authors
9. Making a short video on the subject of books
10. Doing creative group works
11. Documenting the activities of club
12. Assessment and evaluation of club profiles at local level
13. Running celebrations for clubs at local level
14. Submitting the profile of the city and successful clubs to the national secretariat
15. Final evaluation
16. Celebration of reading clubs and nomination of most successful clubs, short films, letter to authors, and appreciation of the best authors, translators and illustrators as voted by club members
There are certain characteristics that has made the reading clubs attractive to children and young adults:
1. It has a simple and familiar structure;
2. It provides collective and participatory activities for children.
3. It has a minimal and flexible structure, inviting the members to run their own creative plans.
4. It provides new spaces for collective and active reading.
5. It enables children to read deeply and actively to talk and argue on their special reading of the text.
6. Its simple and familiar structure can be reproduced in a variety of social settings.
7. It provides great potentials for networking and linking reading promotion activists and the transfer of experiences.
8. It demands for a variety of different organizations participation.
9. It can be used as a platform for thinking about, discussing, and providing solutions to certain broader social problems.
10. Cities and villages are voluntary in their participation and they need to provide some conditions for joining the cup.