Reading pleasure, cultural and knowledge transfer

On the importance of the Swiss Youth Literature, SJW

by Renate Dünki

Reading is much more than a technique. While reading, the reader immerses in someone else’s mind and imagination and links them with his own. The impartation of this demanding ability is primarily the task of the school. The best way to do that is reading together. From a classroom reading matter that corresponds to the world of children and conveys values, usually vivid conversations develop. Reading together allows the children to focus on the content, to express themselves freely on the topic and to involve the thoughts of the classmates. This active reading, thinking, empathizing and participating leads to independent thinking and promotes in dialogue the personality of each individual. Therefore, as teacher it is very important to me to awaken and anchor the interest in reading with students. The result of a dedicated classroom reading was, for example, that two ten-year-old boys spontaneously expressed their desire to become a “writer”. Reading pleasure arises from such experiences, in lively exchange with an adult and with peers. I myself was always accompanied by the enjoyment of reading. It led to my first profession as a bookseller and lateron to the decision to give weight to teaching as a teacher.
Reading experience in this sense requires texts that are linguistically and substantively stimulating. Reading material that provides access to reading which takes children into the larger community of the class and gives them guidance, is not easy to find today. In search of suitable classroom reading, I soon came across the well-known series of Swiss “SJW magazines”. Especially older issues of the series convinced me by the quality of their human concerns. It is not for nothing that they have long enjoyed great appreciation among the Swiss population. Its cause has tradition:
The Swiss Youth Literature, SJW was founded in 1931 by various institutions, including the Swiss Teachers Association, supporting with a loan. Reform educational and culture-promoting concerns found their expression in the founding. Educationally valuable content should be taught from the very beginning.1 Since 1957, the SJW has been a non-profit charitable foundation. The SJW booklets were developed as a low-cost, high-quality offer for children and adolescents in the four national languages German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic. Many famous Swiss authors are represented with one or several contributions: Gottfried Keller, Meinrad Inglin, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Franz Hohler and many more. The booklets are also a forum for Swiss illustrators.

“Fascinating even the most vulnerable for reading and learning has been the hallmark of the Swiss elementary school since Pestalozzi; all pupils should be supported on the basis of mental and social education and solid knowledge should be taught to all. With this concern, the SJW was founded. It developed good reading offers appropriate for the lower, middle and upper grades.”

In my search, I came across excellent child-friendly booklets, narrated by Olga Meyer, Elisabeth Lenhardt and others – teachers who wrote sensitive stories for their primary school students in order to give them something for life. The author of a story for the lower grades writes: “As a teacher, I try to make the pupils enjoy reading. There are enough children’s books. Why did I start writing myself? At the moment I am dealing with children who have difficulties at school. They, too, are enthusiastic about reading, if the language is simple and the narrative exciting. Unfortunately, in many children’s books both do not apply. That’s how I started to write stories for my own students – and sometimes about my pupils as well.”2 Fascinating even the most vulnerable for reading and learning has been the hallmark of the Swiss elementary school since Pestalozzi; all pupils should be supported on the basis of mental and social education and solid knowledge should be taught to all. With this concern, the SJW was founded. It developed good reading offers appropriate for the lower, middle and upper grades.
In the series of these booklets, there were in addition to the first reading offer many years of the literary area in which finely drawn representations of the of children`s experiences can be found. Such descriptions are incorporated in the booklets  of Max Zulliger3, Elisabeth Heck4 and others. The topic of mutual help was addressed at all levels. An example of the lower level is “Claudia” by Max Bolliger (issue 1154). This story describes the inner development of a boy who is ashamed of his mentally handicapped sister, but, with the help of a friend and the understanding of his mother he finds a new relationship with the Sister. Time and again, exemplary biographies of people in the service of humanity (Florence Nightingale, Henry Dunant, Albert Schweitzer …) were drawn up for the middle and high school, showing how people could decide to support each other, thus effectuating a lot.
Other topics of the SJW issues were history; play and entertainment; sports; travel and adventure; technology and traffic; from nature; and science … In these journals the respect for the performance of people was also expressed. Some of the notebooks seem a bit strange in language today, not all would be understood by every child today. However, as far as the content is concerned they are constructive.
Reviving such positive content would be valuable in today’s time. Such topics give perspectives and convey hope. There are still enough examples of aid and humanitarian activity today. Its worth it to convey them to children and young people (for example: Youth Red Cross – Helping without asking, Youth Fire Brigade …) If the described valuable booklets of the SJW, which also form a bridge between the national languages, serve as a basis for reading in class, they could limit the impact of some shortcomings in  today’s lessons. Reading joy develops in common reading through the inner sympathy in dialogue with the others. As in previous years, teachers today could start writing down stories from everyday school life that promote friendship, mutual helping and cohesion.     •

1    See. the detailed classification and appreciation of the SJW in the article by Urs Knoblauch, “Teaching valuable content”. In Current Concern No. 1/2 of January 3, 2008; see also the current exhibition in the cantonal library of Grisons: «SJW - Reading pleasure since 1932»
2     Heck, Elisabeth. The weakest wins, SJW 1305
3,     For example: Zulliger, Max. Barri, No. 1247 or Bolliger, Max. Stummel, the Hasenkind, No. 2464
4     Heck, Elisabeth. The weakest wins, SJW 1305

(Translation Current Concerns)

Beispiele von Themen aus dem Schweizerischen Jugendschriftenwerk

Ältere Titel:

Heft 225: Vierfüssige Lebensretter (Tiergeschichten, ab 8 Jahren)
Heft 884: Dino Larese. Im Dienste der Menschlichkeit (Biographien, ab 13 Jahren)
Heft 1244: Carl Stemmler. Tiere verständigen sich auch ohne Worte (Aus der Natur, ab 11 Jahren) – vom Autor gibt es noch andere ausgezeichnete Hefte
Heft 1305: Elisabeth Heck. Der Schwächste siegt (Gegenseitiges Helfen, Unterstufe)
Heft 1439: Elisabeth Lenhardt. Albert Schweitzer (Biographien, ab 9 Jahren)

Neuere Titel:

Heft 2321: Philipp Häuselmann. Höhlen in der Schweiz. Geheimnisvolle Welten unter der Erde (Sachheft, ab 10 Jahren)
Heft 2464: Max Bolliger. Stummel, das Hasenkind (Neuauflage, Literarisches, ab 9 Jahren)
Heft 2519: Bernhard Matthias. Weltklasse Gotthard  (Sachheft, ab 10 Jahren)

Adresse zum Bezug von Heften (auch aus dem Archiv):
SJW Schweizerisches Jugendschriftenwerk, Uetlibergstr. 20, 8045 Zürich.
Gerade die älteren Hefte, auf die ich mich hier in erster Linie beziehe, werden häufig noch im Internet angeboten.