‘Let children tell stories of their own’
John Dougherty is an Irish poet, singer and songwriter whose humorous books delight children everywhere. John was born in Larne, Northern Ireland, and grew up there during the height of The Troubles. After graduating from the Queen's University of Belfast, he spent some time working in a children's home and then a hostel for young men, among other jobs, before training in England to be a teacher.
After 11 years of teaching in London, he became a full-time writer following the publication of his first book. He still spends a lot of time in schools, but now as an author talking about writing and inspiring the children to read.
His first book, Zeus on the Loose, was shortlisted for the prestigious Branford Boase Award, and his latest Zeus story, Zeus Sorts It Out, was chosen by The Times (UK) as one of the best children's books of 2011.
John was recently in Kashmir, invited for the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival held at Delhi Public School, Srinagar. “I hope it won't be long before I'm back in Kashmir,” he says about his Kashmir experience, “I think I've fallen in love with the place.”
In an interview with Majid Maqbool, he talks about the role of literature in the lives of children, especially in conflict regions like Kashmir, and how parents can inculcate a love for reading and writing among children.
How did the Kashmir visit happen? What are your impressions about this place and working with school kids in Kashmir?
Last November I took part in the Bookaroo festival in Delhi, and had a wonderful time; I guess the Bookaroo team must have been pleased with my sessions because they invited me to join them in Kashmir this year. I have to say, it's been a tremendous experience. It's so beautiful! The people are so friendly, and the scenery is breathtaking. I'm sure some visitors may find the heightened security a little discomfiting, but it reminds me very much of my upbringing in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
How was your experience of engaging with school children in Kashmir?
The children were just lovely: very enthusiastic, very polite, and...well, really, just like children everywhere.
Any anecdote, observation you would like to share about how kids responded to your stories and songs?
I think there were a few times when some of the children found my accent a little difficult to follow - and I do have a tendency to speak quite quickly when I'm getting excited about something! - but on the whole they were very generous with their laughter and applause.
What is the role of children’s literature especially in a place like Kashmir where conflict over the years has affected children the most?
I believe that in a child's life stories and playing are equally important - some people have a tendency to dismiss both as trivial, but in fact they are ways of making sense of the world. There was a case some years back in Scotland where a man with a gun entered a school and began firing at random, killing several people. In the days afterwards, teachers noticed many more children than usual playing "gun" games. They needed to do this to help themselves work through the trauma. In the same way, stories can help us to work through issues at arm's length. Wherever you are, children need this, but perhaps particularly in more troubled areas. And there's also an important place for good old-fashioned escapism!
How important is writing stories and creating literature for children in Kashmir where conflict shapes the lives of children?
I think it's hugely important - and it's also very important that children are given the opportunity to make up and tell stories of their own.
You come from Ireland where memories of armed conflict are fresh. Any similarities you observed while staying in Kashmir? How do violence, militarization, presence of bunkers, checkpoints etc affect children in a conflict zone?
There are definite similarities. I'd forgotten how boring it is to sit in a queue of traffic at a military checkpoint! I think that the main issue with growing up in a militarised or conflict zone is that violence and its trappings can become normalised. I remember my own surprise as a teenager, the first time I saw a police station which was not surrounded with barbed wire and high walls.
How has conflict shaped the lives of children in Ireland? How do children come to cope with conflict and violence? What needs to be done in Kashmir to allow children to grow up in a peaceful and secure environment?
It is quite possible, I think, to bring children up in peace and security in a place like Northern Ireland or Kashmir, just as much as anywhere else. The Troubles were really fairly localised, and although the heightened security caused some delays and problems, in most areas of Northern Ireland the conflict touched our lives but did not define it - our families, our friends and our schools were by far the main influences. I'm sure it's the same in most of Kashmir. And, of course, most major cities in even the most peaceful, prosperous countries have areas into which it's not safe to go at night.
That said, of course, what would be best for the children would be for the conflict to come to an end; but every society has its criminal element.
How do we inculcate a love for reading and writing among children?
Firstly, read to them. Children love to be read to, and if the habit is started early, they will go on enjoying it - my eldest is 11 and still loves me to read to him. As they grow, let them choose what you read to them and let them read what they want to read. Few things will put a child off reading quicker than being told to put down a book they're enjoying and read something else because it's "better". We often feel that our children should be reading "good" literature, but if they're allowed to read whatever they want, and to make mistakes in their choice of reading without our criticizing them for it, they'll begin to discover for themselves that some books are better than others. The more they read for enjoyment - whatever we may think of their reading choices - the more confident and discerning they'll become in their reading.
Don't try to push them on in their reading. Sometimes when we get home from work we're too tired to read something "challenging", and your children are no different. Make sure they see you reading for pleasure - be it books, magazines, newspapers. If they see that you value reading for its own sake, they will too.
If they read enough, they'll get to a point where they want to write. When they do, read their work with interest and tell them what you like about it - that way, they'll feel that writing's something they're good at.
Above all, remember that reading and writing are fun, and if they're fun for your child, your child will want to read and write!
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 9 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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