Paola Sellitto, an Italian expat who currently lives in Shenzhen with her husband and two children, is the co-founder of Dragon Club, a reading club in Shekou. Sellitto has been interested in Chinese culture since she was very young, and she chose to major in Chinese culture, history and art in an Italian college, obtaining a degree in Chinese language and literature. Later, she moved to Shenzhen where she found another passion — books. This June, she opened a reading club in Shekou to instill a love of books among children.
Video and photos by Lin Jianping except otherwise stated 视频、摄影：林建平
It is often said that those who follow their heart and pursue their passion can make a big difference in their life. Paola Sellitto, an Italian expat living in Shenzhen, is one of those who chose to live this way.
Paola Sellitto rearranges books in front of a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at Dragon Club, a reading club she co-founded in June, in Shekou.
Sellitto, who has been interested in Chinese culture, chose to study Chinese culture, history and art in college in her home country. This interest saw her relocating to Shenzhen in 2006 soon after she graduated and obtained her degree in Chinese language and literature.
At First, she worked at a trade company and soon started a family. She left her job to dedicate herself to her family. It was during this period that she developed a great passion for books.
Paola Sellitto works on her laptop at Dragon Club. Paola Sellitto
When talking about books, “I don’t mean reading by myself, but how to guide children to love reading,” Sellitto told reporters on a beautiful November afternoon, when the sun finally appeared after rainy days, where the vegetation at the courtyard of Dragon Club, a reading club she co-founded in Shekou in June, shimmered in soft green hues.
The entrance of Dragon Club.
A quote from George RR Martin reads: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” The quote is one example from countless authors that celebrates the value of books and reading, and Sellitto hopes children could benefit a lot from reading.
Finding new passion
Like many other parents in Shenzhen, Sellitto tried to help organize school activities once her kids started schooling.
“When we organized book fairs, we saw children really enjoyed going around the table … touching the books, opening them and checking inside,” she said. “We set up our activities with a storytelling time and crafts related to the books. We found that children were very engaged and really showed interest in books and reading.”
Children check books at a book fair. Courtesy of the interviewee
Sellitto is keenly aware of the many benefits of early reading, which have been proven by numerous scientific studies. She also has seen the benefits first-hand in daily life, so she decided to open the reading club to instill a love of books in younger readers.
Paola Sellitto interacts with children during a reading event. Courtesy of the interviewee
"[We hope] to give the kids the opportunity not only to read the book, but also see different types of books, to [physically] feel the book itself, to smell the book, and to understand why one book is different from another one,” she said.
Children read at Dragon Club. Courtesy of the interviewee
Promoting paper reading
Aside from providing bookshelves filled with a wide range of genres meant for all age groups, Sellitto and her reading club organize various activities, one of which is called “Little Readers.” The program now involves over 200 children and would sometimes invite young readers to present their favorite books in front of an audience or a camera.
A young reader, who identified himself as Ben, shares about a book in a video for the "Little Readers" program. Courtesy of the interviewee 小读者Ben分享读书感悟。受访者提供
“What I like most about the activities we organize is that we get the children to focus. They can stay quiet and concentrate on something while still having fun,” Sellitto said. “It’s not as if we are turning it into a class. It’s more like a way to keep them entertained, [while at the same time] learning something, but more indirectly.”
Paola Sellitto interacts with participants during a reading event. Courtesy of the interviewee
As a longtime supporter of reading printed books, Sellitto tries in her own way to dissuade children from reading on screens. One of the exquisite handwritten signs she decorated, which hangs in the club reads: “Books are just TV for smart people!”
A sign hanging by the door that reads: “Books are just TV for smart people!”
“For young children, I would really support them to feel the book. This way, they have a different approach to literature itself,” Sellitto said, adding that “In addition, if children read from a phone or electronic device, they can get other distractions like a message notification or they know that in an iPad there is a game they can play.”
Paola Sellitto reads a book in front of a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at Dragon Club.
Sellitto, a mother of two, tries to set an example. “I prefer to read a paper book instead of reading from my phone or tablet, because they never know what I’m really doing on my phone,” she said. “They might think I’m playing or typing messages or watching stuff on social media. You know it’s a different message or example to the children [by reading a printed book or from screens].”
A father accompanies a child reading a book at Dragon Club. Courtesy of the interviewee
Enjoying life in Shenzhen
Sellitto recognizes that Shenzhen has a good public reading environment, and that November is Shenzhen Reading Month, which she thinks is a wonderful initiative. “I really support these kinds of activities. It’s good to let people know they can read books and learn from them,” she said.
She said that there are similar annual events in her home country of Italy that feature many books fairs and activities to lure more people to read books.
Paola Sellitto interacts with young readers at Dragon Club. Courtesy of the interviewee
When Sellitto was asked to compare Shenzhen to a book category on the premise that each city has a prominent character, she immediately thought of something from a children’s book.
“What Shenzhen reminds me of is more than a book itself. It’s a feature of a book,” Sellitto said. “I can compare Shenzhen to Mary Poppins’ magic carpetbag, because everything can come out of this bag — technology, innovation, opportunity …”
“在我看来，深圳远不止是一本书，这座城市让我想起一本童书中所描述的一件宝贝。”她说，“我愿意把深圳比作魔法保姆玛丽•波平斯（Mary Poppins，澳大利亚女作家P. L. Travers所著儿童故事书中的人物）的神奇手提袋，从里面你可以拿出任何你想要的东西：科技、创新、机会……”
She said she herself benefited from what the city offers.
A photo frame displayed at Dragon Club shows Paola Sellitto and her partner Marcia Yang posing for a photo during a book fair. Courtesy of the interviewee
龙阅俱乐部书架上摆放的一张照片上，Paola Sellitto和合伙人Marcia Yang在一次书展中合照。受访者提供
“I enjoy a lot of the city since I’ve been living here for such a long time,” Sellitto said and added, “It has given me the opportunity to meet new people and gain a lot of experience.”
Sellitto mentioned that she and her family once moved to Taiwan but returned two years later because they missed the city. “We missed the people and the lifestyle here, and I also like the environment for my kids,” she said. “So, we are in love with the city.”