Author: Oscar Ranzo
(Originally published in 2013)
There is a time I was selling one of my books to a parent in a prominent Boarding Primary school. The Parent was sitting with his daughter under a tree shade, sharing some father-child love, when I interrupted like the typical annoying salesman, poking my books in front of them and telling them how it was the best thing he could buy for his daughter this year. Upon seeing the books, the child’s face lit up with excitement and she quickly told the dad that she wanted the book – The Little Maid.
The father was less enthusiastic, and started coming up with several reasons to avoid buying the book: first, he said, she had lots of work to do, but she said she would read the book in her free time; then he said reading story books would negatively affect her performance, and she assured him that it wouldn’t, to which I added that it would instead help her become a better student, and he told me I was just trying to sell my books. Finally, he told the daughter that if she really wanted the book, he was going to deduct it from her pocket money, and she told him to do so without batting an eyelid, at which point he relented and bought the book for the little girl, who immediately opened the book with a gleeful smile across her face.
I moved on to the next parent, happy to have made my sale, but the scenario has always boggled my mind. For those, like me, who went to boarding primary school, you must know that when it comes to pocket money, every shilling counts. You need this money to buy biscuits to take with your porridge, an appetizer to make your food more delicious, and to buy sweets in the evening. Yet here was a little girl, who so loved to read, that she sacrificed a big chunk of her pocket money to get a storybook.
Her father, however, was either unaware of his role or simply didn’t know the importance of nurturing the reading culture in children while they were still young. For here was a man, who so loved his daughter, and to show which, he had gone to the supermarket and bought her all kinds of grub, then spent some time at school chatting with her, urging her to be a good student, but was oblivious to the fact that reading helped children develop their critical thinking abilities, which ultimately improves their grades; a father who was not willing to spend very little money to buy his beloved daughter a story book, never mind that the girl needed and wanted it more than everything else he had brought for her, a parent who was deliberately abetting the poor reading culture in the country by refusing to buy his beloved daughter a book she really wanted.
The sad truth, though, is that this dad is not alone. In the few years since I established the Oasis Book Project, I have met many parents, who are totally unaware of the fact that the responsibility of nurturing the reading culture in their children starts with them. Parents who think that storybooks would distract their children from their studies and negatively affect their grades in school (even though studies show that the opposite of the same is the truth). Parents who spend huge sums of money every term, buying edibles to take to their children at school on visitation days, but are hesitant to spend a paltry sum to buy them a storybook in addition; parents who think that textbooks are the only books that they have to buy for their children, and, ultimately, parents who, through all the above and more, are playing a big, even though unwitting, role in frustrating the development of the reading culture in our beloved country.