Mycelium 2023 #4 : Reading Challenge

Strengthening the undergrowth starts by feeding the soil and helping the spores land in fertile soil. This week I had a glorious experience of being at the finale of the Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge. This is a summer holidays activity where school age children are set a challenge. It was all set to start just after I was elected and I talked with the team leader delivering the program in my earliest days in the new role to see how the program could be taken to the next level.  As a result the number of books to be read to complete the challenge went up to seven books and an additional quest was added in for those who wanted to be extended a little bit more which was to visit all six libraries, and we added in some features about the books to be read such as something about First Nations and something about climate.  

Around 240 young readers signed up for the challenge and seventy were there for the Finale to receive their certificates from me and a free book. 34 of the readers completed the extra piece of visiting all six libraries. One Mum told me they did their “Great Race” in one day calculating distances between libraries, how much time they could spend at each location, and building a whole day out around the locations.  Enthusiastic staff commented on the high amount of engagement with readers coming in, parents sharing their old favourites from childhood and borrowing more books themselves.

When I arrived at the host library site, there were over a 100 children, adults and staff ready to celebrate their efforts. As 2pm arrived the room stilled to silence, there was no big announcement, no bell to say we were starting the room just fell respectfully into silence. Such a contrast to the experience I had on Tuesday night at the Council meeting where before I had started the meeting a person from the Gallery was yelling at me and then the meeting had to be adjourned because of public disturbance and an inability for the public to be quiet enough to hear proceedings. If you’ve been following along you will know there were around 20 police and security involved to clear the Council building. The stories are all in the media so you will find them there. But back to the quiet of the library. I am moved by this action of families and children getting ready to listen and to acknowledge their achievements.  Books and learning are the spores and libraries are central institution to democracy.

As the silence opened up the space, the librarian who led the project welcomed and thanked everyone for coming and introduced me as their Mayor. I got such a warm round of applause – it was very heartening. Then I sat on the stage, microphone in hand and gave them a big smile and started with Ninna Marni (how are you in Kaurna) and all the children replied back Marni Aii (we’re good). I thought I was going to burst with pride and joy  – a generation ago this would not have happened. In fact on that very site, the day I was there when we broke ground for the Seaford Ecumenical Mission to be built which is across the road from the library, we raised an Australian flag and I felt sick from what seemed like yet another act of colonialism on the unceded Kaurna Yerta. But here I was siting down and hearing these words back at me and I swelled with hope and courage to keep going on this path, these young ones taking leadership and showing so simply that they already know this, they are growing up with this knowledge.

After this simple greeting I told them what my favourite book was when I was a young reader (FYI – the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and how books are places to go when we want to laugh, learn something, have our imaginations fed and to be opened up to new and different ideas and have our minds blown in imaginative worlds. I told them how next year their job is to recruit one more person each to the challenge so my arm will ache from having to sign so many certificates. I told them to give themselves a pat of the back for their good work and a big hug to remind them that they love learning through reading.  This is how we grow mycelium for hope, building on what works, what is fertile and what we already have in our midst.

The libraries of Onkaparinga announced on Friday my next adventure with them which is me going to do reading a story at each of the libraries with the toddler groups throughout the year. When I was campaigning to get elected this was an idea I came up with inspired to some extent by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When he was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement he set about only talking to young people under 30 for some years as he felt the future was with them and so that change was always going to come from their efforts. I have taken that lesson and am starting small with the reading challenge and now story-time. I will be looking for more ways to connect with the young one as they step into their everyday leadership.

Out in the bush and forests of local government and across my Council I will be foraging for fruits that can be harvested to help us with our discernment and decision-making. I will be fostering the growth of mycelium down pathways of curiosity, equity and justice, and reminding myself that out of the decay and humus grows goodness.

My mum was a junior primary teacher and had a mantra: “The more you read, the more you grow, the more you grow the more you read, so read, read read.”  In this day and age with so much fake news, algorithms that grow destructive pathways and people find it hard to navigate what is real and what is fantasy, libraries as a source of truth are going to become even more important. They can be trusted spaces and places to help secure democracy. Get along to a library soon, send your love to a librarian you know they are the information guardians and technicians of our past, present and future. Share stories and be a storyteller, build mycelium for good.

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