María Beatriz Medina, Managing Director at Banco del Libro, about:
How I came to realise the importance of reading
It is not easy to remember accurately when and how one becomes conscious of the importance of reading, since reading is part of our everyday life. Nevertheless, we become aware of its value acknowledging the significance of the evocative words of the stories we read or heard in our childhood, those that showed us worlds near and far. This awareness enables us to understand that reading is our primary source for information and knowledge.
At Banco del Libro, we’ve resized our personal journeys as readers in each of the reading promotion projects we’ve carried out, having faith in the enormous potential of books. As Maité Dautant, our documentation and study coordinator, says, ‘we’ve turned reading into a profession of faith’. As the poet Rafael Castillo Zapata put it, we believe reading is ‘a force of civic communion that can open paths towards an integrated community, more solid, democratic and tolerant of diversities and differences’.
The power of art
Aesthetic experience generates a space of encounter between the symbolic and the real, providing a special access the world. This is the power of art.
Books for children and young adults provide a symbolic register, from two narrative structures; two languages that invite imagination and test our ordinary view and perception of things. Consequently, literature is an important agent of change. The affectionate encounter with the written word can generate social formation, self-acceptance and the recognition of others. In this manner, art is an exceptional tool with which to provide the ideal conditions to learn to read and enjoy reading.
Children’s books are essential. Contemporary works not only re-educate our aesthetic taste; they also open the possibility to develop and access language. Our institution carries out projects that promote citizenship through a variety of reading materials that, from a symbolic perspective, generate a therapeutic space. This line of work aligns with Serge Bomaire’s statement that metaphors and fiction are capable of containing and relieving complex issues, heated matters. In this way, we have verified the potential of literature.
What has the award meant for you?
The award is an important recognition of the knowledge of an institution that validates its work with the name of Astrid Lindgren, a champion of children’s rights to read and imagine. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award presents a very special energy. As Carmen Diana Dearden stated in 2007, ALMA in Spanish means soul, vital energy. The award’s recognition inspires us to work harder. It also underlines the institution’s dedication to Children’s literature. The ALMA has reinforced Banco del Libro’s mission from two perspectives. The first perspective is the strength that derives from the international recognition to continue promoting children’s literature and educating competent readers. Secondly, it has reinsured the possibility to work nationally, regionally and internationally to that end.
What are you working on at present?
Since 2008, Banco del Libro has continued working to promote children’s books and educate mediators in the county, working with private and public institutions in less advantaged areas. We have continued to expand our Tendiendo Puentes con la lectura programme, based on the possibilities of literature to construct the personal and the social. This programme was selected for the Por leer site of CERLALC (The Regional Center for Books and Reading of Latin America and the Caribbean). We have also developed the Palabras para la no violencia programme with the support of the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives. This project aims to promote a culture of peace in schools and is on the shortlist for UNESCO’s Hamdan Prize. Another new project, Lectura en la botica, trains volunteers to engage with reading promotion in hospitals.
The Los Mejores Libros para niños y jóvenes exhibition was present at the Guadalajara Book Fair in 2009 and at the Bogotá Book Fair in 2010, showing our work on book promotion and evaluation. In 2009, we assessed Asolectura Colombia in a reading promotion programme for those displaced by the internal battles of that country. In 2010, we carried out workshops for the coordinators of 35 reading rooms in Mexico, based on the role of reading in contexts of crisis.
Since 2008, we have carried out four editions of the online MA in Children’s and Young Adult Literature with the Universidad Autónoma of Barcelona (Spain). We have also offered the Astrid Lindgren Scholarship for that MA.
In 2011, we developed a special course for writers and illustrators of children’s books with the aid of IBBY’s Yamada Fund, offering professional guidance and schooling for local creators and artists interested in the field. International guest speakers were present at the time. In May 2011, together with several EU embassies, we put on the Leer y aquí y allá exposition. This event had special guest visitors like Michel Peroni and Alain Serres. This year, we also created a live picture book in the mural of our institution with the help of local illustrators. The goal was to display the work of Venezuelan illustrators of children’s books.
In 2011, we organized the Primer Encuentro de Promotores de Lectura, a congress of international and national reading promoters. We have also been present in local book fairs promoting Latin-American works for children and carrying out various activities with children. We are currently developing a reading observatory project with the Sao Paolo University. This mission will include a course to instruct mediators and reading promoters.
We have also continued our academic work, producing new specialised texts that reflect our research on children’s books and reading. Some of our novelties include: Cruce de miradas, from the Parapara collection, which contains relevant essays on contemporary picture books; De la ficción a la acción from the Formemos Lectores collection, which provides strategies to work and comprehend citizenship; and Los libros informativos: una guía para transformer el placer de leer en saber, which provides relevant information and strategies for mediators working with non-fiction and knowledge.