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Young readers programme starts

Every primary school student in South Wairarapa will get a book voucher as part of Featherston Booktown’s Young Readers Programme.

The initiative, now in its second year, will run from Wednesday, May 10 to Friday, May 12 – the three days before the main Booktown Festival.

It will involve 29 events at 20 schools and venues, and aims to reach 1500 kids.

The events will include tips on how to become an author, poetry and playwrighting workshops, talks with illustrators, digital writers and more – all free of charge.

The book voucher scheme, funded by Friends of Featherston Booktown, will distribute 2500 book vouchers to every primary school pupil in the district so they can choose a book from any of the Booktown vendors.

Buses will run on Monday, May 15, from Pirinoa and Kahutara Schools, providing rural pupils with the opportunity to come into town and choose a book.

Speaking at the recent programme launch, Booktown chairperson Peter Biggs said the aim is to foster a love of reading in young people.

“People who read improve by all measures of wellbeing, and here at Featherston Booktown, we like to consider ourselves hustlers for a better world,” he said.

Biggs happily quoted well-known United States abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglas who once said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”.

New Zealand’s youth literacy rate has declined in recent years, and a 2020 report by UNICEF found that only 64.6 per cent of New Zealand 15-year-olds had basic reading proficiency.

Biggs said there is no doubt literacy rates are declining, and noted that putting writers in front of school kids is a very effective way to engage them in reading.

“There will be a range of writers presenting as part of the programme, and the feedback we had last year was that those events were really good for student engagement,” he said.

South Wairarapa District deputy mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter said the programme is not just about books; it’s about investing in the future.

“For some, this will be their first book, and for some, it might start a lifetime of collecting,” she said.

“Reading opens up a whole world of understanding and ideas.”

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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