National Reading Month: Breaching the borders of our mind

National Reading month, celebrated in March in honour of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, aims to promote a love for reading and to develop communication and learning.

Durban author, artist and anthropologist, Ashling McCarthy, can identify with children who struggle to see the joy that reading offers. She recalls how learning to read was a personal challenge for her. “If you had asked me, as an eight year old, to consider how important reading would be to me in the future, I would have said, ‘not important, at all!’ I found learning to read quite traumatic as it took me longer to ‘get it’ than my siblings, which made me feel stupid.”

She explains that there were two, clear instances that changed her relationship with reading. “I found a book with my name on it. A book set in Ireland, with the lead character named Ashling. To turn the pages and see my name in black and white was thrilling. The second moment was when a book made me feel emotions for a make-believe person. I sobbed my way through that book and empathised with the main character throughout. Her loneliness was my loneliness.”

Ashling believes that when the youth realise the power of reading, from increasing imagination and boosting memory to living vicariously through others they may gain a sympathetic, even empathetic, understanding of their behaviour in various situations.

As a founder of a non-profit in rural Zululand, Ashling has a true understanding of the real challenges faced by children who have little to no access to books aside from school textbooks. “Their ability to dive into new education programmes is hampered by their poor reading abilities and they struggle to use their imagination to solve problems with innovative solutions. If they haven’t seen it, it doesn’t exist. We experience first-hand that those children who visit the library regularly, progress the fastest.”

“Books are a portal to another world. New ways of thinking, living and being are presented to us. The borders of our mind are suddenly breached, and possibility flows in.”

Ashling’s first book ‘Down at Jika Jika Tavern’, explores the role that belief and culture have on wildlife crime.

To book a free, 1 hour talk (aimed at grade 10 – 12 learners) email

During her talk, Ashling discusses the power of using creative writing to explore social challenges and also provides tips and advice for aspiring writers.

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