- Abuelas Cuentacuentos: The Storytelling Grandmothers of Argentina
The image of a storytelling grandmother captures that beautiful, intimate moment when an adult opens a book and says to a child, “I’m going to read you a story.” It’s concrete, simple, and magical.Natalia Porta López, Director, Abuelas Cuentacuentos
The IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award, initiated by the International Board of Books for Young People, is sponsored by the Japanese newspaper company, Asahi Shimbun. It is awarded every two years to two groups or projects that make a lasting contribution to reading promotion for children and young people around the world, and each group is awarded $10,000. The 2012 awards, announced on March 19, 2012, at the Bologna Children’s Book Festival, included Abuelas Cuentacuentos, a reading program in Argentina that features storytelling grandmothers who read to children at a variety of sites across the country.
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The Writer’s Dream: Helping Children Live Better Lives
While on a trip to Germany in the 1990s, Mempo Giardinelli, the Argentine writer, journalist, and university professor, learned of a group of older, retired people who visited hospitals to read stories [End Page 101] and poems to the terminally ill. In essence, the group read to the patients as a means to comfort them through stories at the end of their lives. The nobility of the acts he witnessed had an impact on Giardinelli, and reinforced his belief that stories and storytelling should help people at other stages of their lives as well. In 1999, he formed the Mempo Giardinelli Foundation, and established the Abuelas Cuentacuentos (Storytelling Grandmothers) program. While Giardinelli’s vision for his foundation initially began with helping children live better lives through programs that provided food and clothing, he firmly believed that an additional way to accomplish this goal was through reading, what he termed, “spiritual food” (“Story-tellers grandmother’s program”). He wanted to create opportunities for children to exercise their right to read. He conceived of a plan that would “promote the tradition of reading to young children as a practice that held high cultural value,” to offer older adults an opportunity to reclaim their roles in the community, and to preserve the traditional habit of reading to children (“Storytelling Grandmothers Program”). By putting these concepts into action, he was able to make his dream of creating an organization to promote reading come true. The Storytelling Grandmothers program began in 2001, and today it is the foundation’s highest-profile initiative, and has won national and international recognition.
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Giardinelli had a special interest in inspiring a love of reading in the country’s poorest children. He began the program in his home province of Chaco, which according to official figures has some of the highest poverty levels in the country and is the third poorest province in Argentina. More than sixty percent of the population of this province, and nearly seventy-five percent of children under fourteen, live below the poverty line. Porta López, director of the program, explained that, “Many of these children don’t have a bed, a nightstand, books, or a grandmother who can sit next to them at night to read them a story” (Valente). The first group of Storytelling Grandmothers was formed in the city of Resistencia, a city of about 400,000 people in the province of Chaco. It was originally intended as an activity for primary schools, however the popularity and demand for the program spread to high schools, adult education centers, hospitals, orphanages, libraries, dining halls for youths, nursing homes, and prisons. Today, the Resistencia group is one of the largest literacy programs in the country.
The Storytelling Grandmothers: Moments of Beauty
The central concept of the Storytelling Grandmothers program is to reproduce that moment of beauty and intimacy that occurs between grandparents and grandchildren when they read together (“Abuelas Cuentacuentos”). Porta López, program director, explained, “This is [End Page 102] our secret formula: affection, plus high-quality literature, equals children who read. The program is as simple as it is effective. It basically consists of older people, Grandmothers, who...