Academic journal article Childhood Education

Community-Based Book Reading Programs for Parents Young Children Japan

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Community-Based Book Reading Programs for Parents Young Children Japan

Article excerpt

Community-based volunteer programs to support children's book reading have existed in Japan for the past 70 years or so. Recently, because of the national emphasis on providing child-rearing support for families with young children, more programs are being offered to encourage parent-child shared book reading starting when children are very young. These activities have been both volunteer in nature and government-supported. This article describes three programs in Japan: a strictly volunteer program, kodomo bunko; bookreading sessions included in government-supported programs; and a project from England, Bookstart, that is both volunteer and local government-supported. All of the activities in the nation have increased attention on young children's book reading.

Aoyamadai Bunko

Aoyamadai Bunko, located in Suita City, a suburb of Osaka, offers twice-a-month book-reading sessions for families with infants. The session takes place in a meeting room of a community center (see Table 1). Around 10 a.m., pairs of mothers and babies begin arriving. In a calm, friendly atmosphere, some of the mothers engage in casual conversations while others browse the shelves full of children's books. Some play with their babies as they crawl on the floor. After greeting each mother, the coordinator of the volunteer programs, Mrs. Iida, asks, "Shall we start?" The mothers, with their children in their arms, gather around the storyteller, Mrs. Masaki, who has several picture books in her bag.


The session begins by reading together a poem about the season and singing warabe uta (a Japanese traditional children's song), which involves much touching and cuddling between mother and child. A song about a baby chick follows that encourages mothers to gently wrap their hands around their baby's hands and then open them to find the "chick."

Mrs. Masaki pulls out Inai Inai Baa (Peek-a-Boo) (Matsutani, 1967), which she reads during every session. A mother whispers to her child, "Oh, that book we always read." In the book, a cat, a bear, and a fox appear on each page and uncover their faces, saying "Baa" (Boo); in response, a 5-month-old baby grins and moves her body. As Mrs. Masaki turns the page, the baby gazes at the book as if she is expecting another "Baa."

During the session, Mrs. Masaki also informally shares her professional knowledge about children's picture books and how to read to children. Another picture book is introduced and recommended for parents to enjoy. Before the session is over, mothers receive a list of picture books, as well as copies of the poem and the warabe uta that were read and sung that day. Mothers are free to stay after the session to browse through the children's books. Some also have conversations regarding childrearing with volunteers who have experiences in parenting.

Although this Aoyamadai Bunko is in a community center, it was started in the home of Mrs. Tomoko Masaki, who was a homemaker, in 1973. When her picture book collection outgrew her home, she personally rented space in the community center. When she decided to go to England in the 1990s to earn her doctorate researching the history of popular Victorian picture books, she solicited the help of Mrs. Taeko Iida, another homemaker in the community who loved books. Masaki, now with a Ph.D., still serves as a community volunteer. She, Mrs. Iida, and other volunteers meet every Wednesday to provide after-school reading programs for children. They also offer twice-a-month book sessions for infants and toddlers with their mothers. The Aoyamadai Bunko demonstrates Tomoko Masaki's lifelong love of reading.

Kodomo Bunko: Community-Based Volunteer Program for Children

The session described above is only one example of myriad community-based book reading sessions offered for parents and young children in Japan. It is also an example of a kodomo bunko (children's library), which has been playing a crucial role in developing a culture of reading books among school-age children and preschoolers. …

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