Prior to joining the National Library Board (NLB) as an Associate Librarian, Karthik Ramasamy had an ambitious goal – to build a community of avid readers and writers. He shares with us how he founded the Book Rangers Club, a bilingual English-Tamil book club, and how he made it a success.
The Book Rangers Club was launched in 2015. Two series of eight sessions each are conducted per year, with the first half of each series focusing on English books and the other half on Tamil books. These sessions are generally conducted in Tamil to help young children, who are all Tamil-speaking, feel more comfortable.
At the beginning of the series, children aged 7–10 are introduced and exposed to different genres of literature in both languages. As they progress into the series, they are guided to write book reviews and think critically about the stories they read. A creative writing component at the end of the series allows them to recreate stories by writing new endings to them.
Q: What motivated you to start the Book Rangers Club?
Before I joined NLB in 2014, this was something I had already been thinking about. Even though students in Singapore go through bilingual education, I feel that the younger generation, in particular Generation Z, is not effectively bilingual.
They are very comfortable speaking the main language (English), but not the vernacular (Tamil). They struggle to cope with both languages. I saw a need to help them become comfortable with reading and writing in their vernacular.
Another source of motivation was wanting to build up the Tamil junior literature collection in the libraries. It’s not that we are not buying books, but the Tamil literary landscape–especially the children’s collection–has been shrinking over the years. The publishing rates are so low that we really need to do something about this.
That is why I created the club; first to cultivate reading interest in children, then to nurture them into aspiring authors.
Q: How would you gauge the success of this book club?
This book club runs in collaboration with the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA). One of their objectives is to enhance the literacy skills of participants over the 16-week course. We assessed the participants’ reading and writing skills before and after the programme, and found that most of them improved. The children are now more comfortable reading in their Mother Tongue, and many have picked up a reading habit, judging by the increase in the number of books they borrow.
One success story I like to share is about this boy who hated reading. After attending the first session, he skipped the next two sessions. When his parents brought him back again, he ended up enjoying the sessions very much. He is now voluntarily turning up for all the other sessions and has since formed consistent and healthy reading habits. To me, it’s a good start.
We have also expanded from a club with just 30 children to three clubs across the island with 118 Tamil children currently benefitting from this programme.
Q: How is the Book Rangers Club unique in its approach towards reading?
Children benefit through exchanges with facilitators and peers. As you read and share, you broaden your understanding and perspectives. You also critically analyse the author’s writing and ask yourself questions such as “Am I comfortable with this?” or “Am I convinced by the author’s choice to end the story in this particular manner?” and so on.
Such engagement is an effective way to deepen interest. As you ask questions about what you read, you go down the route of inquisitive-based learning which gets you to think more creatively.
In addition to reading, the club administers a range of pre- and post-reading activities such as crossword puzzles and the making of pop-up books. As children may forget stories after some time, a related object can help them remember. With a pop-up book, they can also share the stories with their family when they go home.
These engagement activities and techniques are being applied across the various book clubs in different languages, but I’m very happy to say that this was the pioneer project.
“As you read and share, you broaden your understanding and perspectives.”
– Karthik Ramasamy, National Library Board
Q: What do you hope to achieve through this book club?
The main objective of this book club is to nurture avid bilingual readers and writers who will hopefully contribute to the growing literary landscape in Singapore.
There’s a reason why I designed this to be an English-Tamil book club. Singapore’s Tamil junior literature collection is currently very conservative and doesn’t have much variety in terms of genre. We have a lot of classic tales, thrillers, animal stories and adventure tales, but only a handful of books from other genres like science fiction.
By exposing them to the English collection, I hope these children will feel inspired to produce and contribute genres that are lacking in Tamil literature.
Q: Any advice for teachers who want to motivate their students to read?
I think teachers can try to take a less result-oriented and more qualitative approach by introducing students to different book genres and not just what is prescribed in the curriculum. Try to weave in pre- and post-reading activities as these are very important in helping students think critically about what they read.
Do this by asking students basic questions to set the context of the story before they start reading. After reading, follow up with questions pertaining to the story. For instance, if a book is about a bus, you can get them to tell a story based on what is happening in the bus as a post-reading activity. Or based on whatever they’ve read, they can add a twist to the ending.
At home, parents could also nurture their kids into readers by speaking the language and reading together with them.
“The main objective of this book club is to nurture avid bilingual readers and writers who will hopefully contribute to the growing literary landscape in Singapore.”
– Karthik, on his goals for the Book Rangers Club