In 2014, a study on reading habits and attitudes in Ukraine found that almost half of the population (42%) had not read books more than 100 pages in length over 12 months, and close to 12% had not read at all. Ukraine’s reading statistics are not unique and match a general world trend.
Reading lies at the foundation of all academic competencies. Research studies show that reading for pleasure and a positive reading attitude are correlated with benefits such as empathy, self-confidence, and an understanding of other cultures. Strong reading skills are also associated with increased levels in writing, grammar, and vocabulary.
When it comes to developing a love of reading in children, parental involvement is crucial in instilling a reading culture in the home. Reading aloud is the most effective method to achieve this. According to the same 2014 study, only about 50% of parents reporting reading to their child and/or grandchild daily or several times a week, and a quarter confessed that they read to their child less than once a week.
Parents admitted they did not fully realise the importance of reading in childhood development and even acknowledged their own inability to convince their children of the importance and joy of reading.
These study results sounded an alarm for libraries in Ukraine, highlighting the importance of long-standing reading promotion programmes and leading to new reading engagement initiatives for children and teenagers.
One such project is the Fairytale Tram [“Казковий трамвайчик” in Ukrainian] a reading programme for children aged 3 to 10 years old, developed by the National Library of Ukraine for Children in partnership with the Department of Transport Infrastructure of the Kyiv City State Administration and the utility company "Kyivpastrans".
Three times a year, at the Kontraktova Square metro station tram stop in the historical centre of Kyiv, librarians from the National Library of Ukraine for Children invite young readers to spend their holidays on a specially designed tram for children’s events. On average 600 children per year visit the tram during week-long holiday breaks.
The Fairytale Tram offers puppet shows, workshops, book premieres, quizzes, poetry reading competitions, make-up shows, toys as well as interactive English reading and language activities. While children are engaged in the programme, parents are invited to get acquainted with the library’s new book arrivals, event programmes, and to ask librarians advice on issues related to children’s reading habits.
Each event is organised around books and reading to increase children’s interest and to make reading more appealing. A librarian shared how technology and reading can co-exist in a child’s life: “Our goal is not to distract children from gadgets and technologies, but to teach them to love books and reading. Our library has many beautiful and interesting books and we bring them to the tram. Books by Ukrainian and foreign authors, 3D books, picture books, fairy tales, gamebooks, and many others.”
In 5 years, the Fairytale Tram has become a popular place for family leisure and has awakened its participants’ desire to read. Many children who have visited the Fairytale Tram during their school break have gone on to become regular library users, bringing about 25 new readers to the National Library of Ukraine for Children each year. Parents are happy with the programme’s impact – since families have started coming to the tram, children are more likely to be seen with books, which carries over into reading at home.