>New Zealand Book Month Extended in Christchurch

>A quick update from New Zealand Book Month (NZBM), which has been extended into April for Christchurch after the recent earthquake.

Sadly numerous NZBM events in the city have been cancelled, including workshops with comic book writer Steve Malley, and the exciting ‘Create an NZ Superhero’ online competition – but libraries are still playing a major part in the recovery effort.

Carolyn Robertson, the city’s Libraries and Information Manager, told Books and Adventures, ‘I think books and library services were absolutely instrumental in helping people cope in the aftermath. The quake occurred on a Tuesday. By the following Sunday, there was a library story teller at every shelter with books, rhymes, and songs. The children’s responses varied from shelter to shelter: at one, they were very hyper and upset, at another they were painfully shy and needed lots of encouragement to even sit on the mat. So the library staff had to pull out all their tricks, and adjust the programme to meet different needs. 

‘Parents were having to queue for hours to get money, grants, information and so on, but the presence of our storytellers meant they could concentrate on the survival business and know their children were being well cared for – and within their eye sight.

‘We currently have eleven library sites open and our customers are thrilled to be enjoying these services again. We have stepped up our Mobile Library service, targeting the worst hit parts of the city, roads permitting, as well as taking pre-school outreach and other programmes further into the community. Some of our libraries are being used to accommodate essential council services, but we’re busy looking for ways to establish temporary sites or alternative services where there’s need and demand.”

Carolyn is pleased that NZBM were able to extend their activities for people in Christchurch: ‘NZ Book Month provides events that are fun and don’t involve much financial outlay. One of the things that gets some people down is the endless focusing on the quake and its impact. We also need to escape a bit – and we’re already planning for next year!’

>New Zealand Book Month: Interview with Lincoln Gould of Booksellers NZ and Jo Ockey, World’s Smallest Library, Whanganui

>While I prepare to move my next literacy project with Domingo Savio school in Peru, on the other side of the world New Zealand Book Month continues.

On February 22nd, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Among the many people left in need of assistance after the quake were booksellers, some of whom had been hit by the previous tremor in September 2010.

At the close of 2010, New Zealand had already begun to address the legacy of the previous quake through initiatives like Scholastic’s special picture book Quaky Cat, designed to help children cope with the shocking events they had experienced. Now, the city finds itself once again recovering from a natural disaster, and a number of bookstores have been badly damaged.

Zoe Toft at Playing By the Book was one of many bloggers who drew our attention to various relief schemes and aid programmes being run by the children’s book world, here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2011/03/02/books-for-families-in-christchurch-new-zealand/

Lincoln Gould, CEO of trade association Booksellers NZ, joined Books and Adventures for an interview.

He told us by e-mail that international booksellers’ organizations have been quick to offer their support: ‘In particular, the American Booksellers’ Association has not only donated generously to the Relief Fund but has also offered help based on their experience in providing assistance to Members following the Katrina disaster.’

‘Every effort is being taken to restore the availability of books to readers,’ Lincoln explained. ‘One group, Paper Plus, have established a special scheme to allow customers in other parts of the country to donate books for distribution in Christchurch. The Board of Booksellers NZ will administer its own relief fund, used to assist member booksellers in practical ways. One idea is that the expenses might be met for Christchurch members to attend this year’s annual conference, which by necessity has been moved from Christchurch to Wellington.’

Details of the relief fund can be found here: http://www.booksellers.co.nz/book-news/christchurch-booksellers-relief-fund

Meanwhile, in the North Island community of Whanganui, New Zealand Book Month took on a celebratory form as Jo Ockey and the team at Open Studios opened the World’s Smallest Library.

Based on an idea piloted in the UK, the project sees a working telephone booth in Whanganui transformed into a tiny book-swapping venue.

‘We’ve got stuff for all ages – everything from books for wee ones right though to the oldies,’ Jo told us via e-mail. ‘I have been trying to get folks to swap their favourite, not just any old book! There’s a real mixed bag: To Kill a Mockingbird up next to hand-bound books.’

The World’s Smallest Library is also the World’s Smallest Publishing House. Poet David Merritt will be taking up a residency at the micro-library during New Zealand Book Month. There’s a method to David’s madness as he perches on a park bench with a pile of old Reader’s Digests and Jeffrey Archer potboilers. Jo explains: ‘David makes new books from recycled ones – he cuts and stamps and in about 6 minutes creates these beautiful new editions with his own poems inside. David’s a very quiet man but every so often he may recite from the books too!’

The phone booth library is a bit of fun for local residents, but there’s also a serious point for Jo and the rest of the Open Studios team of community artists. ‘NZ Book Month gives us a chance to show the rest of the country a good side to our city. Over the past 6 years, we’ve had some bad press, but I want our town to realize how clever we all are – and understand that sharing is caring! Whanganui is a beautiful town with some spirited folks, and tons to do!’

For more information on the scheme, visit http://www.openstudios.co.nz/

Up next on Books and Adventures, more NZ news from the Create a Superhero project in quake-stricken Christchurch itself, interviews with Wole Soyinka prize winner Nnedi Okorafor and Finnish education minister Henna Virkkunen, plus charter schools and the future of US education. Stay tuned!

>New Zealand Book Month: Interview with Nikki Crowther


When a teenage photography apprentice picked up a 25-year-old fantasy novel to while away a long train journey through New Zealand, he could hardly have known that his choice of reading would lead to a knighthood and a piece of Kiwi cinematic history.

But for movie director Sir Peter Jackson, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would become one of the books that changed his life.

This March, the people of New Zealand are being encouraged to share the books closest to their hearts as New Zealand Book Month announces that ‘Books Change Lives!’

Undeterred by the tragedy of the recent earthquake, the campaign is running over 200 events across the country, from the ‘World’s Smallest Library in a Whanganui phone box to a nationwide giveaway of four million ‘Books Change Lives’ vouchers.

Throughout March, Kiwis will find these discount vouchers in their schools, banks, gas stations and letterboxes – a free gift from New Zealand’s booksellers and publishers to readers old and new.

‘New Zealand Book Month celebrates books and reading – all books, any books – and takes that message out to an audience who do not necessarily frequent libraries and bookshops. We have strong ongoing support from committed and passionate readers,’ Book Month director Nikki Crowther told me by e-mail, ‘but we wanted to extend our message to lapsed and occasional readers, and to parents of young children – to remind and re-engage them: with books, and the value that books can bring to all of our lives.’

Across the world, Books and Adventures – always a lover of Kiwiland – has found organizations recognizing the power of the book, especially in the early years of childhood. Australia’s Paint the Town Read scheme, which featured on the blog last November, has encouraged parents to read with their children right from the maternity ward. New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read program, which I also wrote on for Books and Adventures (here) and DNAInfo (here), ensures that their child patients each receive a book at every clinic visit from birth until the age of five.

That’s not to say that the Kiwi book lovers are being prescriptive with their scheme. Nikki explained:

‘As far as we’re concerned, any book you enjoy is a good book. Choosing a book for oneself is an important step to becoming a passionate reader, and we hope to empower as many people as possible by having them choose the right book for them.’

To help readers find that special book, Nikki and her team have instigated a national conversation around the books that have changed Kiwis’ lives. Not everyone will read a book, as Peter Jackson did, and find themselves making a multi-million-dollar movie adaptation – but many of us have special favorites that have sustained us through significant moments in our lives.

Some of these choices can be very revealing: a British survey of male and female readers in 2006 suggested that men and women had very different senses of what constituted a ‘life-changing’ read, and Nikki Crowther admitted that the results of her survey in New Zealand were equally surprising:

‘So many people voted for the classics! Do people feel compelled to pick what they think they “ought” to love, rather than the books they really couldn’t put down and raved to all their friends about?

‘My first life-changing book was Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. There have been many since – perhaps it was rather cruel to ask other folk to choose just one. I certainly couldn’t. I always reckon that the next book I read will be the next life-changer…!’

While New Zealand Book Month was born among Kiwi publishing insiders, it’s supported by a network of passionate volunteers across the nation.

‘I’m completely awestruck by our “activists”,’ admitted Nikki, ‘in terms of the time, energy and ideas that they put into promoting books and reading in their local communities. We’re taking the message that “Books Change Lives” out to a much wider audience than the traditional places where books exist – so that it touches people sitting at home in front of the TV, or listening to the radio, or visiting their local bank.

‘We hope to promote the notion that books can be a part of everyday life – and that by giving people a good reason to pick up a book during March, we will encourage just some of them into starting a regular reading habit!’

To find out more about New Zealand Book Month and its nationwide program of events in March, visit http://www.nzbookmonth.co.nz/

>World Read Aloud Day at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Manhattan

>Busy times here at Books and Adventures. Caught up in the celebrations for World Read Aloud Day, I managed to turn in a photo story for local Manhattan news website DNAInfo.

You can check out the great work of New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read program at http://www.dnainfo.com/20110310/washington-heights-inwood/waiting-rooms-become-reading-rooms-on-world-read-aloud-day

Next – New Zealand Book Month’s Nikki Crowther joins us to discuss book token giveaways, Kiwi lit culture, and her own life-changing reads…