ArtsEtc launches reading programme

Read2Me!, ArtsEtc’s latest literary adventure, is up and running.

The six-week pilot programme sends writers and storytellers into schools and other venues to read to and engage with young people.

It began January 10, 2015, and forms part of a joint literacy outreach by Writers Ink and ArtsEtc, and is sponsored by Oxford University Press (OUP), Days Books and Apex Eye Clinic.

Three Barbadian primary schools (Milton Lynch, Grantley Prescod Memorial and St. Margaret’s) are the first to benefit along with Days Books serving as a fourth venue for the sessions.

“The aim,” says coordinator Linda M. Deane, “is to encourage children’s greater love of books and reading and to help with their classroom performance. If it produces more literary talent for this country and gives children greater self-esteem and self-confidence that they can take with them into other spheres of school life and life in general, then that’s just extra gravy.”

DJ Simmons, Sarah Venable, Celeste St Hill and Deane herself—all experienced storytellers, writers and/or writing tutors—form the Read2Me! team.

The emphasis is on small groups interacting in a relaxed, alternative classroom setting, with the storytellers bringing the printed word to life for their young audience. Children are also encouraged to read aloud and to take part in Oxford Dictionary-related activities and writing exercises to help boost appreciation of selected texts.

The storytellers themselves are also encouraged to write out of and about the experience, either as individuals or collaboratively with pupils and teachers.

“These are artistic residencies, really,” says Deane. “For six weeks, participating schools basically have their own writer-in-residence. It’s exciting.”

The programme is customised for schools with storytellers reading “on and off syllabus.” Reading material can come from school libraries, syllabus readers and from the storytellers’ own collections. Emphasis is on classics, recommended new and contemporary titles, and Barbadian children’s literature.

“The school I’m at has me reading Charlotte’s Web and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to 7- and 8-year-olds. It’s an interesting challenge, bringing classic Western literature to life for Barbadian children in 2015.

“We’ve also been dipping into Give The Ball to the Poet, an excellent new anthology of Caribbean poetry that has some great poems about cricket and other aspects of Caribbean life in it. The children are loving that! I'm hoping to read Edward Bloor's sports-themed novel Tangerine to older pupils. Also Norma Meek’s Watching Out for Mummy. It’s a lively, well-told coming-of-age novel by a Barbadian author and an important one to share with boys especially. OUP has its Project X series of graphic novels, also aimed primarily at boys, and that’s proving popular, too.”

The programme, which requires storytellers to interview children on their reading habits, is already producing useful data. Storyteller Celeste St Hill’s findings echo some of her colleagues’: that even the good readers say they prefer someone else reading to them rather than reading themselves.

“What’s really interesting,” Celeste explains, “is while [most] of the girls said that their parents read to them, [less than half] of the boys said that their parents do this! This could make a really interesting discussion point for Read2Me! to take back to the sponsors.”

While the pilot targets children aged 6 to 11 in just three primary schools, other primary schools are expressing interest in the programme. ArtsEtc is seeking additional funding to reach not only them but secondary school students next time around.

“We really want to thank Karen Austin of Days Books and her father, Keith Austin [who passed away in 2016], for seeing the beauty of this programme,” says Deane. “We are greatly indebted to the staff there, also to OUP and Apex Eye Clinic for their generosity.”

Parents are encouraged to get involved in Read2Me! both in the participating schools and at Days Books, located in Independence Square, Bridgetown.

Says Deane, “DJ is the storyteller there and, I tell you, he works wonders with the little ones! It’s a fantastic sight to see him and the children all on the floor in the middle of a busy bookstore just caught up in the love of books and reading. You need to come down, see and join them.”


Teachers interested in having the Read2Me! programme in their school and parents wanting to know more about the Days Books sessions can email or or tel: 246-426-1792 or 246-436-8003.