Delhi conference on healing through reading

New Delhi: Few things can beat the joy of good story. Be it in bomb ravaged twin cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the flooded plains of Pakistan or earthquake struck Haiti, experts have shown that the healing power of reading can calm traumatized minds, especially of children.

Now, experts from all over the world are bringing together a storehouse of books and stories to participate in an international conference on "Book therapy", which is exploring the therapeutic role of books on children who have been mentally and emotionally traumatized due to natural calamities, man made disasters and psycho social traumas both at schools and at home.

The 3-day event titled "Reading is Healing" that began here today has been brought together by Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children (AWIC) and Indian section of International Board on Books for Young People (Ind.BBY).

"Conflicts around the world affect children the most, whether man-made or natural. These children have special needs. So it became imperative to design programmes in accordance with their needs," says Ira Saxena, child psychologist and convener of the conference.

"Since books divert attention, they help children come out of the depression and since characters in these books work out their problems, children try to do the same after reading them. Realisation that stories provide a healing touch to mentally and emotionally hurt kids motivated AWIC to start the book therapy project," she says.

Experts from across the globe are scheduled to present details of successful projects.

Manaru Hitagachu founder of the Hirishima Peace Memorial museum in Japan who has done pioneering work on children affected by the Hiroshima nuclear attack says book therapy has proved an asset in Japan.

"We have worked with several NGOs to help children come out of the shock of gruesome attack that struck the twin cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now the irony is that US is seeking our help to design programmes for children affected in 9/11," says Hitagachu.

He refers to "Sadako – And the Thousand Paper cranes" a book that talks about the effects of the attack and ways to cope with it.

An exhibition of posters, photos and books based on the Holocaust in Japan is also put up at the conference by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that would also screen CD films.

US-based public educationist Ellis Vance who researched "Book Therapy" during his 45 year old career says books have saved umpteen lives across the globe and helped others to live and not just exist. "I just know from my experience of working across the worlds about the power that books have and their effect they can bring to children. I have worked with children from Palestine, those affected by earthquakes in Haiti and floods in Pakistan and the results have been inspiring," he says.

Paru Anand associated with several foundations working in Jammu and Kashmir seconds Vanc`s argument, saying she has seen children embracing life through the magic of books.

"I remember working in Kupwara. When I first met them (children), they were not able to express, they were scared. But then we made them to read special books. The results were great. These children suddenly came out of their shells and started describing their own stories," says Anand.

Prominent books like Ruskin Bond`s "The Blue Umbrella", "Advaita -the Writer" by Ken Spillman "Man eater of Malgudi" by R K Narayana to lesser known but creative works like "The lucky one-Grandpa`s music", "Bite of the Mango", "Mother is Mother" and "Just a Train Ride Away," are among the 300 books from all over the world that are exhibited at the event.

Two other exhibitions- "Outstanding books for young people with disabilities" from Norway and "Reading is healing- Books from different countries" would be displayed at the event.

Cultural programme by children with special needs would also go on for the duration of the conference.

The book "Lighthouse in the storm" a collection of 24 stories to help soothe the inner turmoil of children by AWIC would be released at the conference.

The AWIC Book Therapy project includes workshops, training of teachers, writers, lecturers and facilitators and identification and use of books suitable for therapy.

It established libraries in areas struck by disasters such as the tsunami, the earthquake in Gujarat, floods, riots and killings. The Reading to Recovery project of IBBY sponsored book promotion programmes in crisis situation around the world.