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In these hectic times, getting teens to read involves a lot of effort unless it is reading for educational purposes. Normally this age-group would want some “aenture”, commonly known as “swag” in street lingo, in the things they choose to embark on outside their educational parameters. Unlike music and movies, reading for pleasure seems to be a no comfort zone for some teens. However, technology, despite being a threat to the traditional book form, has brought on new ways to make reading an enjoyable experience to young people.

The Harare City Library, one of the biggest expected exhibitors at this year’s annual Zimbabwe International Book Fair which kicked off on Monday under the theme “Indigenous Languages, Literature, Art, and Knowledge Systems of Africa”, have come up with activities to lure young people into reading.

While Monday and Tuesday were devoted to Indaba Conference deliberations and today to Young Persons Indaba and traders only, the real book experience begins tomorrow July 31, at the Harare Gardens when admission is free to the Book Fair until Saturday. This is the time children, parents, teachers and students can visit exhibitions and have a feel of the local book industry.

In an interview, Harare City Library committee member Katrina Wallace-Karenga said this year they have decided to have special focus on teenagers at their Children’s Reading Tent which has over the years been a major attraction for children at the Book Fair, giving them a free platform for storytelling, games, quiz, and prizes that appeal to their fun-loving imaginations. Admission to the Children’s Reading Tent is free from 10am to 4pm.

Harare City Library have designed an exciting three-day programme that will run from tomorrow to Saturday at their tent mainly with a special objective to encourage teens to use mobile technology for reading purposes.

“Teenagers are a much harder group to engage with libraries and outside of studying you rarely see a lot of teens hanging on the library. We have focused on this age-group this year because we think that could help expand the reading group,” Karenga said.

Harare City Library has partnered FunDza Literacy Trust, a South Africa-based organisation that has successfully harnessed mobile technology for the benefit of young readers. FunDza provides stories via mobile phones using an application called MxIt, and has a Mobi site which has about ten million followers who are mostly young people. The site hosts a large number of books, short stories that are free to download.

Edwin Madziwo, who is a new consultant librarian at HCL, also said they have realized that most teenagers are into mobile technology and FunDza is coming in to primarily share their ICT expertise.

Tomorrow, the tent hosts storytelling in the morning for children aged 12 and under and then South Africa’s hottest teen publisher Cover2Cover takes to the platform to talk about the books they have published for teens.

In a statement last week, Harare City Library said it already has books in the “Harmony High” series which are published by “Cover2Cover” and are available for members to borrow. Teenagers can also take aantage of the Tent at the Book Fair to hear more about this serialised fiction and how they can perhaps be part of the online publishing train.

“FunDza also encourages readers to develop their own writing skills and become published authors by hosting space in the FunDza Fanz section of their Mobi site for young writers to publish their own work and showcase their talent to their peers. A session on Thursday afternoon will provide an opportunity for budding teenage writers to find out more about this,” said the statement.

Paradzayi Mhonde, author of Spot-On English, will also have a Write4Life skills building session with primary school age children.

On Friday morning, FunDza will facilitate a session dubbed “Pane Nyaya Yako” part of which will be on how to access free teen fiction on cell phones. Karenga said this is the core of this year’s Children’s Reading Tent programme of activities.

“With ten million readers on their Mobi platform, that is, 10 million young people reading serialised fiction for free in South Africa and to some extent Botswana, FunDza can really offer Zimbabwean youngsters something. I think they are worth listening to,” said Karenga.

According to surveys, Karenga said, the majority of buyers and users of smart phones are urban young men.

“We are very keen on getting young women to use smart phones for reading or learning as well. They need to overcome their anxieties,” she said.

The world over, the same question has been asked: “why are teenagers not reading as they used to?” Various reasons have been given including technology which, at first, was blamed before thinkers came up with progressive software applications that have helped get teens back on the reading track.

This then could be an opportunity for the Zimbabwean book industry to see if it can use this mobile technology to get local teens to read.

On the last day of the Book Fair, Saturday, August 2, Paruware Trust and Happy Readers Books will facilitate some more fun-filled activities for the younger age-group from 4 to 10 years who will visit the Children’s Reading Tent.

Karenga said beside the focus on teens and ICT, there will also be an interactive tree on which children will hang their poems, drawings and stories with their details on them.

“We will then collect and rate their works and those who are shining will be invited to the library and be presented with prizes. We want also to see if we can compile the poems, drawings and stories into a booklet because a book has life beyond the Book Fair,” she said.

As part of its ICT drive, the Harare City Library, situated along Rotten Row Road, now has the important Oxford Online Reference Library which library members can access. Madziwo, who will engage in ICT matters at the HCL, said they are looking at computer solutions that allow schools to access the database remotely. “Once we are done with that, students can log in from their different computer stations wherever they are in Zimbabwe,” he said.

The HCL will this evening at 5.30pm host a discussion focusing on how to get teenagers to read. The discussion takes place at the Book Cafeacute where Dorothy Dyer and Mignon Hardie of FunDza will be guest speakers. HCL will at the same time launch its three-day programme for the Book Fair.

“We do not want to give the impression that teenagers are not reading and therefore we invite people to come along to the Book Cafeacute and share their experiences with teens. If they know about a teenager who is a reader, bring himher along,” said Karenga.

Harare City Library says it believes that this discussion will be of particular interest to both established and budding writers, as well as publishers who are interested in learning more about the use of new technologies for this market.

Apart from the diverse book exhibitions, visitors to this year’s Book Fair will have a wide range of activities to enjoy such as the Live Literature, Meet-the-Author sessions and Literary Evenings. On Saturday, August 2, ZIBF will also hold a writers’ workshop under the theme “Maximizing on Mother Tongue Writing through Value Addition”. Attendance to the workshop is by invitation.

Source : The Herald