Children for Health is now working in partnership with the Hanging Libraries Initiative, making children’s books accessible and available to communities in the remotest and poorest parts of the world. A comprehensive library of digital books, which includes Children for Health’s Stories for Health in local languages and Hanging Library books in English can be downloaded, printed and stored in simple cloth hangers. The Hanging Library books have an A4 printing format, many with pen and ink illustrations and only coloured covers to make it cheap and easy to print with home or office printers. They are free to be translated into local languages.
The library consists of a cloth containing pockets for each book, usually two copies, which can be hung up in a classroom and taken down and put away at night. Typically a hanging library may consist of 32 pockets, or two cloths with 16 pockets each. It is designed to allow you to create your own, using easily accessible items such as a length of wood or bamboo rod and cloth.
Many of the books have been specially written with a health theme. Others are based on myths and legends or are information books. All can be downloaded from our site and are copyright-free. The books are graded and colour coded; blue first stage, green second stage, yellow third stage, red fourth stage. The stages are shown on the back of each book. At the end of each story there are follow up questions and activities.
There are many ways to set up and organise this simple project. It does not need a lot of money. Remember the aim is to get children reading fluently. All other areas of learning will benefit. If they read fluently, they will understand the textbooks better they will understand the questions on the exam paper and be able to answer better. Your school results will be better. Set up a working group of teachers or governors and work out what you need and how to get it. You could ask parents to donate cloth, or money for one book or approach local businesses, churches or Rotary clubs to sponsor a whole project.
If you are already a group sponsoring or working with a poorer school consider funding and helping set up a hanging library.
The original Hanging Library Project was set up in 2007 in a few schools in Uganda by Hugh Hawes (co-founder of Child-to-Child) and Sam Muwonge, who were colleagues in the Uganda Schools Inspectorate in Kampala in the 1960s.
Hugh and Sam knew that reading is the key to learning and is the most important skill taught in primary school. Children in Uganda (as in many other countries) need to read English fluently because their examinations are in English but in schools there is often a shortage of books to read other than textbooks.
There is a strong tradition of oral storytelling but there are few story books. Sam and Hugh were keen to build on the love of stories and build a convention of reading for pleasure which is so vital for fluency.
Feedback from Uganda:
The hangers are permanently on the walls of the classes (4, 5 and 6; age range 14 to 20) in which the hanging library is being used. There is a daily reading period in the classrooms. The children borrow and read the books under the supervision of the teacher, who is responsible for handling the borrowing and return of the books and is present to answer questions to help with comprehension and difficult vocabulary. Books can also be read outside library times in the children’s free time. The comprehension questions are used as discussion points between children reading the same books.
The hangers are located within a dedicated library room. There is a paid librarian in this school who is responsible for lending out and getting back the hanging library books as well as other books in the library. Library time is scheduled during the week. Children can read during prep time from 7 to 9 pm. The library is open to all the children in the school. The librarian encourages children to answer the questions at the back of the books. She marks the children’s answers and gives them feedback. The suggested follow-up activities are not yet being used.
There is a dedicated project coordinator. The hangers and books are kept locked away in a store room to avoid theft. Two children are appointed library monitors for classes 5 and 6 and they get the hangers and books out and the record the lending and return of the books (with their own system) during dedicated library time twice a week. The books can also be borrowed and read in the children’s free time at school after 3 pm but are not taken home. While the scheme was set up to be used in the top two classes, the older children are encouraged to read with the younger ones during their free time.
When the project started in this school the children used the comprehension questions in a formal way and wrote down the answers. More recently the children have used the questions as discussion points among themselves and sometimes the suggestions for activities are followed up where it fits with what else is being done in class.