Writers Changing Lives: A Chat With Sylvia Vardell

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As our Director of Digital Publishing Elizabeth Wood pointed out, something’s caught our eye recently: Authors are so excited about Worldreader, they’re telling their friends about us.

That’s how we met Sylvia Vardell, an author and professor at Texas Woman’s University School of Library & Information Studies. Her colleague, poet Janet Wong, made the introduction (Read Janet’s post here).

Sylvia and Janet collaborated on Poetry Tag Time, an electronic-only poetry anthology for children featuring new poems from 30 contemporary poets. They donated the book, which launched April 1, to our e-reader program.

When asked why she wanted to get involved with Worldreader, she told us about her experience as a Fulbright Scholar at Zimbabwe University and in local schools shortly after the country’s independence.

“There was such an appetite for education, and parents were so eager to get their kids into classrooms. Supplies were limited…but you really got down to the basics – the love of learning, the love of teaching, and sharing stories.” she said. “This e-book venture is a way to get more books into more hands.”

Also, given the well-established oral storytelling tradition common in the developing world and the notion that poetry “is meant to be shared out loud,” there seemed to be a natural fit between Poetry Tag Time and Worldreader, she added.

We then talked about her love of poetry and the books that turned her into an avid reader. Here’s what she had to say.

“It’s hard to pick just one [book], but I would have to pinpoint it to a collection of fairytales and poems that were written in German. That was my family’s first language. My mom read to me almost every night fairytales from this Märchen collection. I remember going through it and picking out a poem from that book, which I knew was special to her. I memorized that poem, in German, and read it to her for her birthday. I can still recite that poem from memory because it’s so powerful for me.” [Sylvia blogged about this memory here.]

Soon thereafter came Make Way For Ducklings, a picture book by Robert McCloskey.

“I read it over and over again. Oh, I loved that book. I still love that book. I’ve learned all about it since then too. I learned that he brought ducks into the apartment he shared with a fellow artist, and how they lived with the ducks while he was writing the book. I just love everything about it.”

And how could she forget the young adult Nancy Drew mystery series?

“Nancy Drew was my entrée into grown-up reading, if you will. I thought, ‘Here is a young woman doing things and solving crimes.’ I read one book after the other. Now, I know as an academic, that researchers have found that that kind of reading develops automatic, quick, proficient, and fluent reading. Maybe it’s not the best quality literature, but it does develop an appetite for reading.”

That’s exactly what Worldreader wants to encourage – a voracious appetite for reading.

Thanks for sharing your story, Sylvia!

For updates about Sylvia, Janet, and Poetry Tag Time, visit their blog.

To learn how Worldreader is bringing books to all in the developing world using e-readers, visit us at Worldreader.org.

Sylvia and Janet have generously donated this book to the Worldreader program.