This post first appeared as the ‘Next Generation’ column in AsiaLIFE Cambodia October 2008 pp72-73. Photo by Andrew Nette did not appear in the published article.
It’s never too early to encourage your toddler to curl up on the couch with a good book. Phnom Penh’s places to read, listen to stories and buy books let your child explore the pleasure of reading as a social or solo pursuit, as Angela Savage explains.
The children sit on the floor listening to the man read a story. He moves like the animal characters in the book, draws pictures on the whiteboard, allows his voice to rise and fall. His face is animated, his enthusiasm infectious. The children are captivated.
The man is Mr Som Theang, better known as Tin, Director of Open Book, the NGO with a mission to promote the pleasure of reading.
Up to 80 children visit Open Book each day, spending hours at a time poring over the books that line the walls of this welcoming reading room on Street 240.
‘We aim to create a happy place open to all,’ says founder Catherine Cousins. ‘Hopefully, as the children grow up, they will associate having books around them with feelings of happiness.’
While the primary audience is local, Open Book encourages people of all nationalities to come together.
Open Book caters to readers in an impressive range of languages; English, French, Khmer and Japanese are the most common. They also stock books in Korean, Chinese, Russian and Spanish to name a few. Books are colour-coded by language and displayed on bookshelves Tin himself has made.
The reading room is a perfect refuge on rainy afternoon. Volunteers, mostly high school and university students keen to practice their English or French, are on hand to read stories to your children, or you are welcome to read to them yourself.
As well as books, there are puzzles, blocks and educational games to keep the kids occupied while you browse Open Book’s small library. Lifetime membership is USD$15.
Open Book’s reading room is open 7 days a week, 10am-5pm.
Several venues host regular storytelling, presenting an opportunity to meet other (mostly expat) families and get exposed to quality children’s books you can buy locally, online and/or ask friends to bring when they visit.
Open Book has story telling in Khmer followed by drawing every Thursday at 4pm. Storytelling at Monument Books is the first Wednesday of every month, 3.30pm sharp until 4.30pm. Although it is pitched at 3 to 5 year olds, younger children welcome. There is also drawing and colouring, too. Storytelling for 6 to 9 year olds is the third Saturday of the month, 10.30 to 11.30am. All these sessions are free.
The Living Room café will resume its weekend storytelling sessions in October. Check their notice board or the Yahoo group ‘Cambodia Parent Network’ for details. US$3 covers materials for craft activities and a child’s healthy snack plate. You need to register in advance.
Friends Flea Market, on the last Saturday of every month, has a range of kids’ activities including storytelling, followed by drawing classes and/or music. See posters or announcements on the Cambodia Parent Network for details. Again admission is free.
The Médiathèque at the French Cultural Centre has storytelling for young and old one Saturday each month at 10am in French or Khmer. It also has a good selection of children’s books and a comfortable reading area.
NGOs such as Room to Read, White Elephant/Domrei Sor, Wildlife Conservation, etc produce books in Khmer plus English or French, with a focus on folk tales and stories set in Cambodia. Most range in price from 4,000 riel to $6. These can be purchased at Open Book (ask to see the selection), the Friends ‘n’ Stuff shop, Carnets D’Asie, larger stationery stores, and the markets. Great if your kids are bilingual or aspiring to be, and a fun way to learn about Cambodian culture.
Monument Books’ Kids Corner sells children’s books at US prices. Carnets d’Asie has new children’s books in French.D’s Books has a children’s section at the back where it’s possible to pick up the odd second-hand gem for $1 to $3.
Upstairs at Pencil Supermarket on St 214 are inexpensive picture books in Khmer and English printed in India. Also Indian-made colouring-in books and quirky posters such as the ‘Visual World Dresses Chart’ featuring couples in national costume.
The Russian Market also has a good range of inexpensive sticker- and colouring-in books to while away rainy season afternoons.
Tip: When leaving Phnom Penh, please consider donating your pre-loved books to Open Book or Friends. Your toddler can help put things in ‘Keep’ or ‘Give Away’ piles. Those of us left behind will be grateful.
#41 Eo, St 240. Open 7 days, 10am-5pm (except during the Water Festival).
Tel: 012 876 623. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carnet D’Asie and Médiathèque
French Cultural Centre, #218, St 184. Email: email@example.com
111 Norodom Bvd, Tel: 023 217 617
#9, St 306, Tel: 023 726 139
Friends / Friends Flea Market
Friends ‘n’ Stuff, #215, St 13. Flea Market is next door, last Saturday of every month, 9am-4pm
#15, Street 214
Since publishing this article, I’ve also discovered the treasure trove of cheap and quirky books upstairs at IBC on Sihanouk Boulevard, next door to Lucky Supermarket.