Students in a Guided Reading session
Author: Oscar Ranzo
(Originally published in 2013)

Recently, I was having a chat with a Uganda Christian University lecturer who had just bought copies of each of my books for his children.  Because he was a lecturer, he had lots of questions to ask, first about me: do you really write these books? Where did you go to school? What course did you study? Et cetera, and I could tell that each of my answers left him more intrigued than convinced, thus prompting more questions.

 Finally, we ended up talking about the books he had just bought, and again he had a barrage of questions for me.  To cut the story short, at some point he asked me what age group my stories were best suited to, and I told him all age groups.

He asked me how they could be suitable for all ages when they clearly looked like children’s books, noting that they were short and had giant illustrations on every page. “Especially the illustrations,” he said, “No adult would like to read a book with pictures on every page.” At this point, I told him that most adults in Uganda have the reading age of a primary four child, and for that matter are more unlikely to read long blocks of text, especially if that text is unaccompanied by pictures.  The lecturer didn’t seem to understand my argument.

So I informed him that when it comes to literacy, every person has two ages: their real age and their reading age, and then went on to explain how the reading age can only be developed by reading books, and that the more books one reads the more their reading age grows. Finally, I told him that since most Ugandans rarely read books, their reading ages get stunted around the time they are 10, even though they themselves go on to grow into adults and later elders.

Suddenly, the lecturer seemed to get what I was saying, but to make the picture clearer for him, I asked him to take a look at all our newspapers, and he would quickly notice that for all of them, the ratio of pictures to text is 50/50, although, in most cases, the pictures might get the lion’s share of space. “In fact,” I pointed out, “all of them have whole pages dedicated entirely to pictures of this and that, but mostly revelers at some obscure party, a sports event, or corporate engaging in some CSR activity, but rarely any pages dedicated to text.”  Even feature articles are either illustrated by an artist or will have more pictures than text. And it’s worse for magazines: too many pictures, very little text.

Fortunately, he was one of those guys who buy newspapers every day. So he sent his sons for the papers he had brought with him, which were in his car, and upon leafing through the pages, immediately noted what I had just been telling him was true.  I informed him that the papers were like that because their editors know their audience well, and so tailor their content to suit the reading ages of most Ugandans. He nodded his head in agreement and then admitted that he had never thought about it that way.

Then he put the papers away and started to flip through the pages of one of my books. Before long he was hooked, and I moved on to the next customer, inwardly wondering if he had just discovered his true reading age.

Moral of the story: Uganda needs more children’s stories than stories for adults, for that’s what most Ugandans, due to their inferior reading age, are more likely to read, regardless of whether or not they are children or adults, highly educated or school dropouts.  And that’s where we should start if we’d like to promote the reading culture in the country. That is why The Oasis Book Project focuses on books for children that adults will enjoy.

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