GLAMAMAMA MONDAYS: ANNIE HO, board chair for BRING ME A BOOK HK, talks Star Trek, kids, books and the importance of reading aloud to your children… even after they start reading on their own

Hello readers.. firstly I must apologise for my brief hiatus from the blogosphere. It was by no means, intentional. It’s been a busy summer, of which I will elaborate on a later blog post. It’s Monday and in pure Glamaross tradition, I would like to introduce a fellow writer, bookworm and GLAMAMAMA, Annie Ho. Annie writes “Between the Lines”, a weekly column in the South China Morning Post about children’s books (currently on summer hiatus until September 1), and is board chairperson of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong (www.bringmeabook.org.hk), a non-profit organization devoted to improving children’s literacy through reading aloud to them and providing easy access to the best children’s books for underserved communities across Hong Kong. She sounds fascinating doesn’t she!! So readers, GLAMAMAMA MONDAYS is happy to have guest blogger,  Annie Ho.

There have been a few moments in my life when I suffered imposter syndrome. One was my first time ordering fine Italian cuisine with someone who ate at that restaurant twice a week. Another was attending the first business meeting in my first job in Hong Kong, where all my overseas work experience was of no use to me. And the most recent moment is right here right now, contributing to this blog.

I’m the biggest nerd I know (bookworm, Star Trek fan, owner of modest collection of new country music CDs, and very thick eyeglasses until saved by contact lenses followed by Lasik). Simply put, the only glamorous thing about me is that I’ve managed to surround myself with glamorous friends.

I’ve always said that I’m a better reader than writer, and that view still holds true even though I’ve been writing a weekly column since the beginning of the year. Naturally, a lot of my “material” for the column comes from my work with Bring Me A Book Hong Kong.

One of the tasks I’ve undertaken at BMABHK is attending library installations. Generous donors help BMABHK  provide bookcase libraries to local preschools, primary schools and community centers that need quality books and training that are otherwise unaffordable. What I love about this program is that the donation covers not just the cost of the physical bookshelf and English and Chinese language picture books, but also extensive training for teachers, librarians and social workers with the promise from them that they will go on and train the parents in their community. This ensures that there are lots of grown-ups around to read-aloud to children so that they can enjoy these wonderful books.

The most recent library I installed was at SAHK Shek Wai Kok Pre-School Centre in Tsuen Wan, New Territories. It is one of the few schools in Hong Kong dedicated to special needs children. This bookcase library was donated by glamamama Yvonne Wong and husband Ernie Tsang, who made the donation in the name of their children Zoe & Scott. Our young donors joined us for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and also got a tour of the pre-school. They were especially curious to see the stacking sleeping beds used for nap-time at the school.

My favorite part of these installations is the story-telling. I love shedding my very thin layer of “cool” and acting as silly as I can to draw out my young listeners for a highly interactive story-telling session. All the children who joined us for story-telling at Shek Wai Kok were high-functioning autistics. I expected them to be withdrawn and uncommunicative, but by the third page of the story, they were shouting out answers and coming up to me to point to something they had noticed on the page. We had such a good time that we read a second story together.

I have many friends who read to their kids when the kids were five and under. But only a handful of friends continue to read-aloud to their kids after the kids have started primary school. It’s important to do so, but the key is to select a book that is a little too hard for a child to read on his own; kids’ comprehension levels are much higher than their reading levels, and these advanced books will help build their vocabulary. (It’s hopeless trying to find awesome vocab words and riveting plotlines in those early readers like Oxford Learning Tree.)

Here are some of my suggestions for read-alouds with 6 to 10 year-olds.

If you’re a bit of an Anglophile, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers will stir the imaginations of your children as they imagine themselves living in an old English country manor wondering whether tiny people live under the floorboards. This is the first of a series of stories about the adventures of a family of tiny people. The editions illustrated by Diana Stanley are best.

For those of you aspiring Manhattanites, or true NYC folk,  E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The story starts with Claudia plotting with her brother to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to teach her parents a lesson in “Claudia appreciation”. The two end up living at the museum where they uncover a mysterious statue, which leads them to continuing adventures with the statue’s former owner, Mrs. Frankweiler.

For a taste of Vive la France, Jean-Jacques Sempé’s Raoul Taburin Keeps a Secret has street-level views that are quintessially French and beautifully illustrated by the author. Sempé is a world-famous illustrator best known for his cartoons in The New Yorker and Paris Match, as well as his iconic illustrations for classic children’s book character Nicholas. In this graphic novel, Raoul owns a bicycle shop and knows everything about them, except how to ride one. This inconvenience becomes harder to hide as his reputation for bicycle knowledge grows.

I’ve selected these location and culturally-rich story books because to me, glamour means absorbing the best from the world… so my dear friends Happy reading with your kids!

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