Q & A with Anne-Sophie Hermann
Bringing books to children in Papua New Guinea through Buk Bilong Pikinini
28 July 2015
Founder of the organisation Buk Bilong Pikinini, Anne-Sophie Herman, will be at the National Library on Friday 31 July to discuss her passion for improving the literacy of young Papua New Guineans. Below, Anne-Sophie Herman gives us a little sneek peek into her love of libraries and reading.
Tell us about Buk Bilong Pikinini and your involvement
Buk bilong Pikinini was established in 2007 with a mission to help increase literacy rates in Papua New Guinea (PNG) by setting up children's libraries in community based localities. In 2015 there is now 17 children's libraries across PNG.
I moved to Papua New Guinea in 2006 with my fourteen-month old daughter Yasmin, and husband Chris Moraitis, the then Australian High Commissioner to PNG. Following my arrival in Port Moresby, I quickly became aware of the very low literacy rates and the lack of facilities, such as libraries, for children. Within a few months, the first library was established at the Port Moresby General Hospital in a ward for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Do you write anything yourself?
No, I do not write myself. However, I have recently started to produce culturally appropriate books for Buk bilong Pikinini. I now have a much better understanding of the complexities of putting a good book together—it is not as easy as it looks!
What are you reading right now?
I have a rotation system for my reading. I take turns reading a book in English, Danish and French. Right now I am reading The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler from 1939. It is probably Ambler's best known detective novel—it is a real classic.
What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting house?
In our household the love of books is clearly visible. We keep having to have bookcases built to store all the books we buy! And the fact that we all read in several languages also means that there are more temptations. Generally I will choose a good novel, a cook book or a gardening book.
What is your favourite children’s book?
There are many great children’s books around the world—I grew up greatly enjoying Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow.
Do you have a favourite Australian children’s book?
Yes, in Australia I have greatly enjoyed reading Alison Lester’s books to my daughter Are we there yet? and Ernie Dances to the Digeredoo. I'd say these are my favourites.
What about children's authors in Papua New Guinea?
Papua New Guinea has an oral story telling tradition which spans back 40,000 years but there are currently very few books published for children. Buk bilong Pikinini is trying to change this by working with PNG authors and illustrators to get some local stories published. We are just about to publish a story about a friendship between a caterpillar and a grasshopper written by a very young Papua New Guinean and illustrated by a very experienced artist. I can’t wait to see it in the hands of the children coming to our libraries. It is so important to be able to relate to the stories you read.
What do you love about libraries?
Having access to libraries should be a human right!
When I grew up in Denmark, I used to go to the public library every week and would borrow as many books as I could load on to my bike in addition to what I took home from our school library. When I arrived in PNG and saw that there are no longer functioning public libraries, I instantly knew I had to try to do something about this. To me libraries are a special place which allow you to travel the world while sitting in a quiet corner, but in PNG public libraries are another story.
Where once PNG had a widespread network of local public libraries, there are currently only about a handful left in the whole country and most of their materials date from the 1970s. If the libraries were more widespread and up to date they would provide an amazing service to the communities and also would enable people to have access to basic information which is crucial and sometimes life saving.
About Anne-Sophie Herman
Anne-Sophie returned to Australia in 2009 and continues her involvement with Buk bilong Pikinini, regularly returning to PNG. She established its Australian office at the Papua New Guinea High Commission, in Canberra. Under Anne-Sophie’s guidance, Buk bilong Pikinini has established 17 children’s libraries across PNG.