Four students from St John’s Preparatory School in Johannesburg have won first place at the World Literary Competition, an international youth event that promotes book reading and literary knowledge.
The World Literary Competition, known informally as the Kids’ Lit Quiz, is an annual literature test for pupils between the ages of 10 and 13. The focus of the competition is to encourage a love of books and literature from a young age. Qualifying national rounds are held around the world and regional finalists are invited to compete at an international event. This year the event was held in Canada at the beginning of July.
St John’s winning team comprised Grade 7 and 8 students Khelan Desai, Hongjae Noh, Sahaj Mooji and Joshua Bruwer. The team beat off tough competition from school teams in the USA and UK.
A series of 100 questions are asked during the competition, focused primarily on children’s literature, young adult fiction and classic literature, which categories also include historical fiction, classic fairy tales, poetry and comic book literature. The St John’s team answered 40 of the 100 questions correctly to win the title.
While the win was a surprise for the four boys, following the competition a school representative said they had worked hard for the contest, based on their shared love of books and languages.
“The fact that these boys have reached this incredibly high standard,” said Jacqui Deeks, “in a world where [there are] rumblings about reading taking a back seat to technology, and where boys are traditionally seen as more disinterested in reading than girls, is a refreshing and welcome repudiation of these perceptions.”
Team coach Nicky Sulter, St John’s head librarian, said the boys worked hard to get their victory: “[They have] been incredibly enthusiastic about preparing for this event and have really enjoyed all the reading that has gone into this victory.”
Sulter highlighted how vital it was to encourage boys with an interest in books and talent for literature. “[Interest in the] annual event keeps our boys reading all year, whether or not they make it into the school’s teams.”
St John’s headmaster Patrick Lees congratulated the team, saying the four represented the long-held tradition of literary appreciation at the school. “Reading at St John’s is probably the most important aspect of the boys’ education. Right from Grade 0, [students] adopt an adapted version of the Dr Seuss saying, ‘Read, read, read, the more you read, the more you know, the more you know, the more you grow.'”
Deeks reiterated the headmaster’s sentiments: “[St John’s students] know this off by heart. Reading gives a child so much; it assists self-improvement, understanding and communication, and develops imagination and creativity. It improves verbal ability, focus and concentration, and memory, and it is relaxing and entertaining. Everyone should read and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked for life.”
After the win, team captain Noh spoke about how the boys’ passion for books, particularly in the traditional printed form, inspired their success: “The physical appearance, the paper, the ink, the smell of the book. I had a teacher … who said every book you read was a life you’d lived; I really took that to heart.”
The team was sponsored by Exclusive Books. CEO Benjamin Trisk said it was competitions such as this that really cultivated a culture of reading in more South African schoolchildren. “We are proud that [the] boys have excelled … with [this kind of] passion. South African children have shown that they do still love books.”
National co-ordinator of the South African qualifying competition Marj Brown outlined the successes South African schools had had in the competition: “Since 2004, a South African team has won three finals.
“It is an exciting and motivating event that really brings reading to life for thousands of young people and broadens their scope of reading … [The competition allows] participants [to be] able to meet with ‘kindred spirits’ from other countries and cultures, joined by their shared love of reading … [It] contributes positively to understanding and tolerance among people from a young age.”
The team received gold medals, a cash prize and, more importantly, book prizes for their personal book collections.
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