Paola Sellitto rearranges books in front of a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at Dragon Club, a reading club she co-founded in June, in Shekou. Lin Jianping
IT is often said that those who follow their heart and pursue their passion can make a big difference in their life. Paola Sellitto, an Italian expat living in Shenzhen, is one of those who chose to live this way.
Sellitto, who has been interested in Chinese culture, chose to study Chinese culture, history and art in college in her home country. This interest saw her relocating to Shenzhen in 2006 soon after she graduated and obtained her degree in Chinese language and literature.
At first, she worked at a trade company and soon started a family. She left her job to dedicate herself to her family, and it was during this period that she developed a great passion for books.
When talking about books, “I don’t mean reading by myself, but how to guide children to love reading,” Sellitto told reporters on a beautiful November afternoon, when the sun finally appeared after rainy days, where the vegetation at the courtyard of Dragon Club, a reading club she co-founded in Shekou in June, shimmered in soft green hues.
A quote from George RR Martin reads: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” The quote is one example from countless authors that celebrates the value of books and reading, and Sellitto hopes children could benefit a lot from reading.
Like many other parents in Shenzhen, Sellitto tried to help organize school activities once her kids started schooling.
“When we organized book fairs, we saw children really enjoyed going around the table … touching the books, opening them and checking inside,” she said. “We set up our activities with a storytelling time and crafts related to the books. We found that children were very engaged and really showed interest in books and reading.”
Sellitto is keenly aware of the many benefits of early reading, which have been proven by numerous scientific studies. She also has seen the benefits first-hand in daily life, so she decided to open the reading club to instill a love of books in younger readers.
“[We hope] to give the kids the opportunity not only to read the book, but also see different types of books, to [physically] feel the book itself, to smell the book, and to understand why one book is different from another one,” she said.
Aside from providing bookshelves filled with a wide range of genres meant for all age groups, Sellitto and her reading club organize various activities, one of which is called “Little Readers.” The program now involves over 200 children and would sometimes invite young readers to present their favorite books in front of an audience or a camera.
“What I like most about the activities we organize is that we get the children to focus. They can stay quiet and concentrate on something while still having fun,” Sellitto said. “It’s not as if we are turning it into a class. It’s more like a way to keep them entertained, [while at the same time] learning something, but more indirectly.”
As a longtime supporter of reading printed books, Sellitto tries in her own way to dissuade children from reading on screens. One of the exquisite handwritten signs she decorated, which hangs in the club, reads: “Books are just TV for smart people!”
Sellitto, a mother of two, tries to set an example. “I prefer reading a paper book instead of reading from my phone or tablet, because they never know what I’m really doing on my phone,” she said. “They might think I’m playing or typing messages or watching stuff on social media. You know it’s a different message or example to the children [by reading a printed book or from screens].”
Sellitto recognizes that Shenzhen has a good public reading environment, and that November is Shenzhen Reading Month, which she thinks is a wonderful initiative. “I really support these kinds of activities. It’s good to let people know they can read books and learn from them,” she said.
She said that there are similar annual events in Italy, her home country, that feature many book fairs and activities to lure more people to read books.
She said she herself benefited from what Shenzhen offers.
“It has given me the opportunity to meet new people and gain a lot of experience,” Sellitto said.