This week Dai Varela interviews Ana Cordeiro, the coordinator of Cabo Verde´s National Reading Plan. Read on to find out more about the challenges of implementing this ambitious plan to promote books in the Cabo Verdean archipelago, how these books are going to reach readers, and how translated books fit in the Plan.
Dai Varela (DV): Ana, you were invited to coordinate Cabo Verde´s National Reading Plan. Could you introduce the project to us?
Ana Cordeiro (AC): The National Reading Plan came about in 2019. We began by asking ourselves the question: What is our starting point for books and reading in Cabo Verde? We knew there was a lack of research into literacy in Cabo Verde, so we took the government’s 2017 National Reading Plan and started from there. This plan had several objectives: improving literacy levels, making books available for use, and promoting books and authors. Yet this Reading Plan was no different from plans that had been developed in other geographical areas, and we knew we had to consider our own situation and focus on our own weak points.
We identified our main priority for the first ten years as working with school-age children; our school network and the body of teachers is one of Cabo Verde’s strengths. We were able to identify specific focal points: school libraries; teachers´ training; a website for the National Reading Plan which could be used for training purposes; assessment tools connected to the universities and colleges; and a network of partnerships. Cabo Verde is a poor country that needs to use its available resources efficiently.
DV: How did you put such a plan into practice, knowing that children in Cabo Verde are not particularly encouraged to read?
AC: A cooperation agreement was recently signed with Portugal, and funds were allocated to support teaching and the National Reading Plan. Besides our international partnerships, local partnerships are also really important; some smaller projects do not need a lot of money.
One of the projects we presented was “Balaio de Shofia”. It works with schools that are very far away from libraries, and with schools that will never have libraries because of the declining number of students. The “Balaio de Shofia” are cloth traveling bags containing full sets of books for the classroom. We began with 200 bags of books, with each bag costing about 60 000 escudos (approximately 544 euros).
DV: What are the biggest challenges in putting the National Reading Plan into practice in an archipelago like Cabo Verde?
AC: We want to involve thousands of compulsory-schooling students, so winning over teachers to this project is the major challenge. It involves setting the machinery of education in motion; but these engines usually take a long time to start, and education is a slow-to-start engine. But, if we are able to get the engine started, I am confident the National Reading Plan will bear fruit. Obviously, it will not do so right away as we need to carry out literacy studies and analyze the outcomes. It is of paramount importance to carry out research during the first year, so we can compare the results in five and ten years’ time and check if we are doing things right.
DV: Does the National Reading Plan have a predetermined catalog?
AC: The National Reading Plan´s book list is still in its proposal stages. It is by no means a closed list because the idea is for it to be expanded on a regular basis. Many of the initially recommended books have sold out. One of our objectives is to promote Cabo Verdean authors as well as books written in Cabo Verde. If we overlook these books and authors, and buy in a set of imported books, Cabo Verdean publishing and creation will be hamstrung. By concentrating on home-grown books, we are sending a message to Cabo Verdean writers and editors that using the National Reading Plan´s seal on the cover of re-published books will satisfy the educational community´s interest, as well as that of parents and libraries in buying the books.
DV: How are the new National Reading Plan´s books selected?
AC: A board makes the selection from the new books published in Cabo Verde, as far as is practical. In the 16+ group for example, we have few books because very little has been written in Cabo Verde for this age group. Because of that, foreign writers may be incorporated into the list, without damaging Cabo Verdean creators.
If we look at books for children up to five years old, we have four books by Cabo Verdean authors. There is a warning here: we will have to bring books from abroad. The National Reading Plan´s list has been a wake-up call to domestic writers to make them realize how weak our domestic creation is. This is a way to encourage them. Let me also take this opportunity to say that this work on domestic creation is a result of the research carried out by Dai Varela.
DV: Does the National Reading Plan mean to establish an accepted standard of reference books in Cabo Verde?
AC: The National Reading Plan does not intend to establish a college-like canon, or a literary-criticism canon. We care about bringing readers into contact with books and we need books we think will help us achieve that goal. We need books that help the reader to develop empathy, and books that readers simply can’t put down.
DV: Does the proposal only include books written in Portuguese? How about books written in Cabo Verdean mother tongue?
AC: The list consists of books written in Portuguese because our aim is to further reading and literacy in the Portuguese language. I think books in the Cabo Verdean language will be introduced in the curricula next school year, and of course there will be titles for that purpose. Once Cabo Verdean language becomes a language of instruction, it is logical that the list will include titles in that language too.
DV: Is there room for translated books in the National Reading Plan?
AC: Absolutely! One of the books suggested by the Ministry of Education is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. This book should be read in schools nowadays when the World is at war.
DV: With the National Reading Plan, how will readers have access to books? Has a budget been allocated for this purpose?
AC: There may be a budget for publishing or re-publishing some of the books, but not be for all books. Our network must be operational, and editors will have to invest in it. I am myself an editor, and some of our books are on the National Reading Plan´s list. We are therefore responsible for re-publishing books that have sold out. When the book has the National Reading Plan´s seal on the cover, we have greater assurances that this reprint will have a greater economic potential to be viable.
DV: Thank you very much for your readiness to talk to us, and for telling our World Kid Lit readers more about the National Reading Plan in Cabo Verde.
Article translated by Vicente Ricalo, edited by Claire Storey
Ana Cordeiro is an experienced editor and her life in Cabo Verde has been greatly devoted to books, libraries, promoting literature and encouraging good reading habits in schools. She co-founded the first post-independence publishing house, and she oversaw the Centro Cultural Português (Portuguese Cultural Center), based in Mindelo on the island of São Vicente, for twenty-five years.
Dai Varela is an author from Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente, Cabo Verde. He published his first children’s book in 2013 and Dai received an Honorable Mention in the Trofa Lusophony Competition, an initiative supported by Camões, I.P. designed to promote children’s literature from Portuguese-speaking countries. That same year, he received public recognition by the Ministry of Culture for “valuable work for the dissemination of Cabo Verdean culture”. Read more about his work on his website.