Book Nook

Published: Sunday September 21, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday September 22, 2014 MYT 12:42:56 PM

Making more readers

Books our columnist shared with children during her last round of giveaways.

Books our columnist shared with children during her last round of giveaways.

Our columnist shares her passion for putting books into as many young hands as she can connect with.

I have a rather peculiar habit, a fetish of sorts that my husband initially viewed as a disorder: I love to buy books and give them away to the kids who come to my reading session every week.

If a child says he does not know what to read, I will go get him a book or two right away. The thought of thrilling a young soul with books is exciting and gratifying. And if I know a kid hardly gets to go to the library because her parents are way too busy to think of reading as a priority, I will go on her behalf and return with enough books to last her at least a week. (Since libraries limit the number of books you can borrow, though, I inevitably end up visiting more than one library.)

I remember visiting two libraries earlier this year before leaving for a holiday. I took with me two empty bags and returned with three filled with books four hours later. As soon as I got home, the books were divvied up among different kids to enjoy during their holidays. Minutes later, parents arrived to pick them up, their faces showing gratitude and their hands holding a bag of fruits or desserts.

I do not do this for the gifts, though. I do it simply because I want kids to read.

Kyle Zimmer, a former corporate lawyer and now president of First Book, a Washington DC-based organisation that helps disadvantaged children get their first book, once said this: “You give books to children and good things happen.” The words, so succinct and plainly simple, moved me to tears, as I wished someone had given me books when I was a poor child.

So, inspired by Zimmer, I started buying books for children three years ago. It is an endeavour that has, time and again, proven the life-changing power of books. Little ones who have been utterly pleased by the books I give them tend to have eyes that shine with the light of hope and enthusiasm. As they tell me why they love the books, I always find myself placing my hand on my chest to feel the lightness in it.

Every bit of trouble residing in my heart melts away at the sight of children trembling with excitement at the prospect of a book. I imagine them being dazzled by shafts of light emanating from the pages and being teleported to worlds they would never otherwise visit. These are worlds of imagination, worlds of stories. Their eyes become wider, faces more studious, and they settle. Books ground them while giving them pleasures they never knew could exist.

But that is not the worst of my “fetish”. As if buying books for children is not enough, I sometimes buy books for libraries, too. My son’s primary school has benefited tremendously from both my son’s books as well as the new books that we picked out together.

We want the library to have the many books that my son has read and loved so that more children will become bookworms like him and emerge to keep the book industry alive and well far into the future.

Our selections are eccentric and eclectic. We bought Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy series as well as the entire collection of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books. After our recent trip back to Kota Kinabalu where I visited my old school, Tshung Tsin Secondary School, for the first time in 26 years, my son and I stormed into a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur to buy his favourite books for Tshung Tsin’s library.

The absence of David Walliams’ popular series for children in that library irked him and the thought my old school’s current students reading any of the Walliams books thrilled him to bits. “David Walliam is like Roald Dahl, a must have,” he justified – though he did not have to – when picking out the books.

My husband has come to realise the value of a mother who loves to buy/borrow books for other people. “It goes to show my kids that their mother’s fetish is as much an excitement as it is their privilege to be part of her endeavour to connect readers with books,” he smiled recently when relating his wife’s bookish fanaticism to his boss.

Abby Wong is travelling back to Kuala Lumpur with her son this week; with money they have saved for the last 10 weeks, they are on a mission to buy more books for her old secondary school.

Tags / Keywords: Book Nook, column, Abby Wong, books, fiction, non-fiction, book fetish

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