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Two teachers want to instil a love of reading for pleasure among their students

Mabel Sieh |

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Wendy Ng (centre, left) and Tammy Harris (centre, right) are inspiring their BoB teams to read for fun.
Many Hong Kong students spend so much time with their noses buried in school books that they see reading for leisure as a luxury they can scarcely afford. Tammy Harris and Wendy Ng Hoi-yan have set out to change that.

The two teachers, who work at PLK Ho Yuk Ching (1984) College in Tseung Kwan O, have been urging their students to enter the Hong Kong Battle of the Books (BoB) - just for fun.

BoB, a programme that originated in the US, aims to get local students to read 12 books from different genres. Each May, participants enter a "battle of wits", answering questions about the books they have read.

"My school learned about the event through Young Post three years ago. We thought it was a great learning opportunity," says Harris, who is from the US state of Alaska.

As the mother of a five-year-old, she has come to appreciate the value of reading for its own sake.

But the native English speaker is facing a bit of a challenge at her CMI school. "Compared to EMI schools, our students have less exposure to reading outside the classroom and they are less capable in English," she explains. "They will find the BoB books too thick and difficult, with a lot of new vocabulary."

This year's book list, Harris adds, includes heftier tomes like Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, which runs to more than 500 pages. To make tasks more manageable, the teachers have let each of the six students on a team choose only two books to read.

The teachers themselves have read all 12 titles. "It's setting a good example for the students, who can come to us to discuss the contents of the books they're reading any time," Ng says.

Yuki Ng Yuen-kiu, 15, is one of the students who will enter the battle this May. She has been reading Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach. "It's more difficult than what we read in English class, and I have had to give up watching TV," says the Form Three student.

But she has already developed a taste for reading. "BoB has encouraged me to read novels. Otherwise, I would be too lazy to read anything outside the curriculum," she notes. Her teammate Vivien Lee Van-vai, 14, is immersed in Tall Story by Candy Gourlay, a Filipino author who weaves a story of wonder and magic in her novel. "Reading relaxes my mind and takes away my stress from school," the student says. "When I read, I can switch off."

Kelly Chan Cheuk-yan, 14, has chosen The Melting Pot by Christopher Cheng, a novel written in a diary format. "I like the style of writing; it's different from what I used to read," Kelly explains.

For the students, the main purpose is not to win the battle; it is to learn about the world and also acquire a love of reading.

"The books I've read have taught me respect. I've learned about the views of others and reflected on my own attitudes, too," says Vivien.

Harris is pleased with that. "Under the current school system, students don't have much time to read, think, analyse or reflect," she says. "BoB can provide students the chance to do that."

For more details, visit www.battleofthebooks.hk