The Murri Book Club and the politics of reading for Indigenous Australians


File 20180706 122271 16toi9s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australian book clubs are overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, middle-class and female.
Shutterstock.com

Maggie Nolan, Australian Catholic University

Although the 2018 Closing the Gap report on Indigenous disadvantage highlighted the importance of literacy for Indigenous Australians, progress remains slow. But, while reading is widely considered an unmitigated good and a marker of prestige, it is not a simple issue for some Indigenous Australians.

I have been investigating the politics of reading for Indigenous Australians by visiting the Murri Book Club, an Indigenous book club, in Townsville and discussing the role of books and reading in its members’ lives. As one woman told me:

No one ever read to me as a child. The only reading we ever had was church … reading at Bible studies. We had to get hit with a stick to sit still and stop moving and making noises … And so, to me, reading was restrictive, I suppose, and boring because of that part. It was never fun.

One of the concerns for members of the Murri Book Club is that books and reading are linked to the ongoing history of assimilation that, even now, presumes a divide between Indigenous oral story-telling and non-Indigenous literacy. This is why the members of the club show more ambivalence towards reading than might be expected of a typical book club.

Book clubs have been described by scholar Marilyn Poole as “one of the largest bodies of community participation in the arts in Australia”. Current research suggests that these clubs are overwhelmingly white, middle-class, middle-aged and female. Members of most mainstream book clubs are part of what Wendy Griswold has termed “the reading class”, which is small in size but immense in cultural influence.




Read more:
Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing


Reading and power

Janeese Henaway, the Indigenous Library Resources Officer at the library, started the book club in 2011 and introduced me to the group. Janeese was raised just south of Townsville in a town called Ayr. When Janeese was asked to facilitate a book club, it was suggested to her that they follow the model practised by the Brisbane-based Reconciliation Reading Group that has met monthly in the Queensland State Library for over 15 years.

But Janeese was unsure about how to proceed.

I didn’t know at that point how to run the club in a way that was culturally appropriate … I explained that we did not then want to go to a book club and have heavy discussions on Indigenous issues. The group predominantly wanted a light, entertaining and enjoyable experience. Although we’re Murris, we are also readers.

One woman told me she joined the group because she wanted to set an example for her son. While many book clubs operate within an unspoken discourse of self-improvement, it is rare for book club members to be so explicit.

For this member, reading is a cultural resource that carries significant weight. As she tells it, her son is much more interested in (Indigenous) culture and, for him, reading and culture are “two separate things”. She recalls him asking, “Why I gotta read for? I’m gonna be an Island boy, man, when I grow up. You don’t need to read”. For her son, culture is about story, not about reading.

There is a long history, particularly throughout the assimilation era, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being actively prevented from speaking their languages. Members of the Murri book club are aware that policies of assimilation mean less access to oral stories. The imposition and authority of the written word can be seen to clash with Indigenous practices of oral story-telling. A commitment to reading can make some Indigenous people feel that they must sacrifice other cultural values that have sustained them as individuals, families and communities for millennia.




Read more:
Read, listen, understand: why non-Indigenous Australians should read First Nations writing


Members of the Murri book club experience this sacrifice as a cultural compromise. One member, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Indigenous Liaison Officer at a tertiary institution, suggested the solution is more Indigenous-authored texts that record Indigenous knowledge. But he is also aware that the focus on reading has come at a cost:

But these guys … [the others in the Murri book club] I envy them … Like the oral stories are there [for me], but they’re not in that layer that these guys have. And then because of that book, the authority of the book, when you get them old people to talk, they say, ‘Ah, that’s not true. It’s not in a book.’ Only, every now and then, they say, ‘It doesn’t all have to be in a book.’

In response to this recollection of the authority of books as a source of truth, another member responded: “But keep in mind that you were trained in that way … Print had authority over the spoken word.”

Although she loves reading, this member rarely reads the book club books. She comes along primarily for social reasons — for connecting with community. In spite of her love of books and reading, she is very conscious of the fact that books, and the authority of written language, were key tools in undermining oral traditions in her home of the Torres Strait. Indeed, the Murri book club, as a whole, are more aware than most that reading is connected to power.

The ConversationIn their discussions, the Murri Book Club has taken a communal institution so often associated with white, middle-class culture and remade it as a force for decolonising contemporary cultures of reading. It challenges assumptions not only about book clubs, but also about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. While reading can come with significant cultural baggage for some Indigenous people, it can also be a powerful tool.

Maggie Nolan, Senior lecturer in Humanities, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Audiobooks vs Reading


The link below is to an article (Blog post) that takes a look at the audiobook vs reading debate.

For more visit:
https://www.offthebeatenshelf.com/blog/ableist-authors

Five tips to help you make the most of reading to your children



File 20180327 188610 ir8rv1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Reading aloud to children can encourage a love of reading.
Shutterstock

Margaret Kristin Merga, Curtin University; Paul Gardner, Curtin University; Saiyidi Mat Roni, Edith Cowan University, and Susan F Ledger, Murdoch University

Reading to your child is one of the most successful ways of instilling a love of reading in them. But in our recent study, more than one-quarter of primary-school-aged respondents claimed they were never read to at home.

Children typically enjoy being read to, and see educational, social and emotional benefits to the practice. But families are busy, and finding time to read aloud can be eaten up by the demands of everyday life.

Not all parents have been read to themselves as children, so may not have experienced a model they can then follow with their own children. And many adult Australians may be struggling readers themselves.

With this in mind, here are five suggestions that can help make the experience of reading to your children fun, relaxing and educational.

1. Give it all your attention

For many people, the best time to read with their children is at night, once the children are in bed. But if you find your child too cranky and disengaged at this time (or if you are feeling tired yourself), you might want to try reading to them earlier in the day.




Read more:
Three easy ways to get your kids to read better and enjoy it


Whatever the time, it’s important to give the book and your children all of your attention. Phones and other devices with enabled notifications should be switched off. Everyone should be comfortable, and children should associate time spent being read to with enjoyment.

Reading time should be free of distractions.
Shutterstock

Where possible, we strongly suggest reading to your child becomes part of the daily routine. The more often children are read to, the more substantial the benefits. Reading to children is both an opportunity to model how the written word sounds and a chance for family bonding.

2. Engage with the story

Children don’t typically enjoy having the story stopped every few seconds for comprehension checking, so we suggest you keep interruptions to a minimum.

But recapping is useful when picking up a book again after a break. If parents let their children provide this recap (“So, where are we up to?”) this also enables informal comprehension checking. Opportunities for prediction are also beneficial (“Wow… what do you think might happen next!”).

Sharing your response to a book and encouraging children’s responses stimulates critical thinking. These techniques and others can enhance learning and comprehension, but they shouldn’t upset the fluidity of the reading experience or turn it into a test.

We should read aloud to children for as long as possible .
Shutterstock

You can share the task of the reading itself with your children if they want to. This is beneficial for a range of reading skills, such as reading comprehension, word recognition and vocabulary building.

3. There’s no age limit

You can start reading to your child from early infancy to support their developing language abilities, so it’s never too early to start. The skills infants and young children develop through shared reading experiences can set them up for literacy achievement in their subsequent schooling years.




Read more:
Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


Reading to your children remains important beyond the early years, too, with continuing benefits for literacy development and cognitive skills.

We should read to young people for as long as possible. There is no age where the benefits of being read to completely expire.

Very recent research in the UK found struggling adolescent readers can make remarkable gains on their reading comprehension when books are read to them at school. This is perhaps due to the opportunity for students to enjoy books that are too hard for them to read themselves.

4. Pick a book you both enjoy

We suggest you select a book that interests both you and your child. Reading together is a great opportunity to share your passions while broadening your children’s horizons through making diverse book choices.

Children often struggle with picking a book to read.
from shutterstock.com

Don’t be afraid to start reading chapter books to your children while they are still very young. The age to begin this will vary depending on your child’s attention span, but it’s often possible to begin this with pre-schoolers.

As long as the story isn’t too complex, children love to be taken on an enjoyable journey into books that are too hard for them to read independently. This can also help to extend child’s vocabulary, among other benefits.




Read more:
How building your child’s spoken word bank can boost their capacity to read


It’s a good idea to take your children to the library and model how you choose interesting books for shared reading. Research shows many primary and high school children are easily overwhelmed by choice when they attempt to pick what books to read independently, so helping them with this is a valuable skill.

5. Don’t worry about your style

Not all of us are destined to be award-winning voice actors, and that’s OK. It’s great to use expression and adopt different voices for the characters in a book, but not everyone will feel able to do this.

At multiple points in our research, we’ve come across people who have praised the reading efforts of parents who weren’t confident readers, but who prevailed nonetheless. For example, in our recent paper a respondent described being read to by her mother who struggled with dyslexia. This mother, and many other parents, have inspired a love of reading in their children through their persistence.

Children love being taken into the virtual reality of a story.
from shutterstock.com

The ConversationBeing taken into the virtual reality of story is a memorable, pleasurable experience that stays with us forever. Reading aloud provides parents with a valuable opportunity to slow down, relax and share the wonderful world of books with their children.

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Curtin University; Paul Gardner, Senior Lecturer: Literacy Education, Curtin University; Saiyidi Mat Roni, Lecturer, Edith Cowan University, and Susan F Ledger, Associate Dean Engagement, Murdoch University School of Education, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.