In my work with the library the last few days I’ve had the pleasure of watching the latest theatre performance of the upper North Island Duffy troupe three times in three different country schools. The young performers, all in their twenties, Rob, Antonia and Rowan, display incredible energy, talent and sing beautifully. But, perhaps more importantly, they do a great job of engaging their young audiences in the play they present. Their theme this year is to encourage children to use their local public library—hence my presence at some of the shows. The gist of the current play – Duffy’s Book Bus Adventure – is  this: Mr Barrier sets out to shut down the library service since it makes no money. However, the show’s hero, Duffy, and his mobile librarian friend, Awhina, pull out all the stops to ensure that libraries remain free and available for their community. Ultimately they engage in a debate with Mr Barrier and the school children become part of it, enthusiastically, I might add.

Alan Duff

For anyone who doesn’t know the Duffy story, here’s a brief synopsis. Author Alan Duff, creator of Once Were Warriors, grew up in a mixed Maori/European home. One side of the family was chaotic and dysfunctional and lived in a house without books. The other side was calm, gentle and book-loving. His English grandparents used to read to him, opening his imagination to worlds outside the little one he found himself in. When Alan Duff grew up, he reflected on the reasons behind the huge behavioural differences in the two sides of his family. He concluded that books and education had a lot to do with it. So when he visited Camberley School in Hastings in 1992 and found that the majority of those children came from bookless homes and showed little, if any, interest in reading, he knew he had to do something. Thus was launched the Alan Duff Charitable Foundation Books in Homes programme, being first registered as a Charitable Foundation in 1995 and aimed at children in low decile schools throughout New Zealand. From its humble beginnings the programme has grown hugely, ‘to encompass almost 550 schools, over 100,000 students and 206 sponsors in 2011. By October 1999, more than 1,000,000 books had been distributed. The 2,000,000th book milestone was reached in June 2002. Now that figure has reached well over 7,000,000 and the Duffy Books in Homes programme has inspired offshoot programmes in the Pacific Islands, Australia and the USA.’ (from )

I grew up in a home of book lovers. My mother was a school teacher who quit her work in order to raise my sisters and me. She and my father and my grandparents read to us as children. I have found memories of those times. My mother took me to the public library as a young boy. I recall coming home with armfuls of books, including many biographies of explorers and sporting heroes. My keen love of books was instilled at an early age and I’m determined to continue to encourage young people today to grow their minds through the printed word.

And I take my hat off to the Alan Duff Books in Homes organisation and to the talented young performers who do so much to encourage children in low decile schools to develop the love of books and reading today.


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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See


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