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Mrs. Helle Meri Opening Address on the Seminar ''Joy of Reading'' on March 23, 2000

Welcome, dear friends of children's literature from Estonia and Finland!

I am glad to open a seminar called ''Joy of Reading''.

The first scene of August Kitzberg's ''Werewolf'' is one of the most moving scenes in Estonian drama. This story of old times starts with a little girl trying to spell, to make out the words in a book, until she finally reads ''Five chapters of our Christian Faith''. And at once Mann wants to know more, to understand. What does this mean, what is this?

In this wish to understand we can see the miracle that we call the joy of reading.

The miracle is simple. The paper bears signs that become sounds in the reader's head. First, for a small child, the sounds are audible, later they become silent. The sounds become words, thoughts, images, landscapes, and above all questions. All this happens in the reader's head. Besides the author who put the words on paper, there is another author - the reader. When a child reads the words ''the forest whispers'', he can make the forest whisper in his imagination. It is a different forest for every child, and for every child it whispers differently.

And this is how the joy of reading is born.

It is one of the most beautiful forms of the joy of creation.

And it is centred around words.

Today we have to ask ourselves whether this main characteristic of a human being, the ability to recreate the world in words, will also be there in the future?

A modern child, living in the environment of television that frees him of the need to recreate the whispering forest in his imagination. And second: the child of today and tomorrow lives more and more in the world of computers. The virtual world of the computers sometimes tends to swallow human beings.

These are the vital questions of our time. I have seen my daughter's fascination with computers, and I know that in her life, books have a lesser share than they once had in mine.

Is this seminar actually a crisis meeting?

I think not.

First, computers mediate text, which means words. And as long as the words are alive inside us, also we will live in the world of words, in the world where humans have lived so far.

Television that liberates a human being from the need to recreate the world through words, may be an even graver danger. And yet I believe that also this worry could be overcome, with the help of television itself. Television, just like family, can and must familiarise children with books, the word of the books that can only become alive when we can plant into a human being the habit to read. What can a family, a school, a publisher, a library, a bookshop do to make reading a must; to act like a mother who is guiding her child's first steps?

Let me, with these words, open the seminar ''Joy of Reading'', and the exhibition of Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin that helps us to understand what a beautiful children's book looks like.

I wish everybody a successful seminar.


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