Reading makes better readers but not better humans

The wonderful Michael Kevane (of Friends of African Village Libraries fame) has recently produced a short video (below) about his time as a Fulbright Scholar in Burkina Faso.

He wanted to discover whether reading fiction affects the economic preferences of individuals. By ‘economic preferences’ he means trust, contribution to public good, risk-taking and patience.

The resulting research paper makes for fascinating reading. It concludes:

Much as advocates of reading fiction would like to believe that reading transforms lives, deepens empathy, and develops better intuitions about the interior lives of others, the reality is more likely to be that effects are small or short-lived.

Or, as he phrases it in the video:

Reading makes better readers but not necessarily better humans.

As an author of books for young adults, it would be lovely to think that my ilk are saving the world. And no doubt Michael, as a champion of African village libraries, would have been pleased if his research had uncovered a clear link between reading and development. Alas, this is not the case. Reading provides relaxation, enjoyment and solace, but that’s pretty much all.

One of my FAVLourite organisations in Africa


More than two years ago I blogged enthusiastically about the work of FAVL (Friends of African Village Libraries) in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in Africa. This morning I had the pleasure of finally meeting Michael Kevane (pictured above right) and Krystle Austin, and seeing the new RWA (Reading West Africa) books which are now available for distribution.

Michael has collaborated with talented Burkinabe artist Ezequiel Olvera to produce Ou est ma poule? which is a simple tale about the quest to find a lost chicken, illustrated very expressively in watercolour. Also passing by the FAVL stand were Alison Wallace and Christopher Davis, who put together this wonderful book about the Moringa tree. Their book has been translated into three local languages and will inspire many Burkinabe readers to discover the many and varied uses of the so-called ‘tree of heaven’. Beautiful photographs and a profoundly useful message.

FAVL do great work in promoting books and literacy in Africa. The FAVL blog is always a good read, and they also tweet under the name FAVLafrica.

Kindles for Africa – are they a good idea?

The Camel and Hassan Djiwa

The news that is giving Kindles to children in Ghana must have passed me by last year. At the time it seems there was some debate raging over at the Huffington Post about whether or not this is a good idea.

This year Cricket Magazine has put together a nice-looking Kindle ebook called ‘The Realm of Imagination’, including a short story I once wrote for them called ‘The Camel and Hassan Djiwa’. This will be among the books that Worldreader has acquired and that kids in Ghana and Kenya will be able to download on their Kindles.

So far as I’m concerned, if the ebooks and the gadgets themselves give some kids some pleasure, then that’s great. It’s easy to be snarky about other people’s development efforts, and to witter Why-do-k-when-you-could-do-l-or-m-or-n. That way madness lies.

Anyway, back to Hassan Djiwa…

Hassan Djiwa of Gorom-Gorom was a bad man. He was not all bad – he loved his mother and he hardly ever forgot to feed Haroun, his pet aardvark. But he was mostly bad – he would lie, cheat, steal and make pirate cassettes of copyrighted music.

The Camel and Hassan Djiwa was one of the first stories I ever wrote (in my adult life at least) and has the distinction of being “the weirdest story Cricket magazine have ever published”. Hooray!

weirdest story ever published

I hope Ghana and Kenya enjoy Hassan Djiwa and his amazing Arabic-writing camel. And best wishes to you, too, May your supply of Kindles never dwindle.

On a more analogue note, FAVL (Friends of African Village Libraries) is also doing excellent work in this area. They are working with communities to create and equip physical libraries full of papery books. They have a readable and oft-updated blog, curated by clever Michael Kevane and his busy team. Definitely worth a visit.

Friends of African Village Libraries

Pierre-Claver Ilboudo talked the other day about making books more accessible. Well, here are some people who are doing just that. Friends of African Village Libraries are doing some great work to raise the profile of books and literacy here in Burkina Faso. They take buildings donated by the community and turn them into libraries, stocked so far as possible with books by African authors. It’s a great idea and their stand at FILO this week was by far the most inspiring stand on site. I shall be keeping a close eye on the FAVL blog, which combines West Africa gossip and opinion with a genuine passion for books and libraries. Amongst other things, they have produced a series of delicious-looking Reading West Africa books, which everyone at FILO wants but can’t have.

According to their ‘About’ page, “FAVL operates under the belief that true development can only happen when people are empowered by access to information and the habits of reading and critical thinking.” Too right.