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5.000 young readers choose the winning author in a literary contest, conforming one of the biggest juries in the world. A local project for reading promotion and literary education with a methodology based in active citizenship

Mandarache is a local project for reading promotion that takes place in Cartagena (Spain), with a methodology based in social participation and active citizenship. The project is shaped as an international literary award in Spanish, whose jury is formed by thousands of students and young readers between 15 and 30 years old. That’s the point: the prize is awarded by the readers, thousands of youngsters that read the three books candidates in each category, meet the authors and then, finally, vote their favourite one through the official website. You may say that this is “a literary democracy”: the Mandarache Prize, with one of the biggest literary juries of the world.
Born in 2004, Mandarache is organized by the Youth Department of the Cartagena City Hall and ten years later, in 2014, the project won the National Award for Reading Promotion, awarded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain. In all these twelve years more than sixty writers have visited Cartagena and joined the project as candidate authors. In Mandarache there aren't books specialized for young people, but the exponents of the most interesting authors of narrative on these days. 
The key point in the organization of the project is the named “Promoter Group”. This group, joined by between twenty and thirty people, has the leading role; they make every decision and they also choose the participating books every year. It is a heterogeneous group conformed by professionals from different areas of the book field or education: high-school teachers (most of them), librarians (from public and private libraries), school and university librarians, booksellers, book-clubs organizers, Youth technicians and also parents of students. All of them are voluntary citizens that became engaged with the aims of the project and decided to volunteer and take part in the decisions-making processes and leading the project. 

The mechanism of the project is as follows: at the beginning of every scholar year, youngsters apply to the jury of Mandarache organizing themselves in groups of 6 people each. Then the City Hall gives them the candidate books for free so they can begin to read. During the scholar year the writers visit Cartagena in order to celebrate several meetings with the readers and the students and to present their books. After these visits in April comes the voting week. The participants vote through the website and the formula is quite easy: one reader, one vote; everyone votes the book that he or she liked the most. After announcing the results, the winning authors come back to the city to the award ceremony. 

The numbers of the project are truly successful. In its last edition (the eleventh): more than 5.000 young readers, 19 high-schools, 3 universities, 60 teachers, 7 libraries, 2 multicultural centres for minors, 1 school for adults, 1 seniors university, 4 literary workshops, 1 invited high-school from other town, 10 book-clubs, 1 online book-club and, therefore, 30 young volunteers helping in the organization of the activities. Almost 36.000 participants registered since the birth of the project in 2004.
Mandarache was created with the main goal of promoting books and reading habits among young population. However, there is a deeper objective because, in our opinion, promoting cultural practices facilitates the development of the individuals and, particularly, the habit of reading books improves the capacity of people to participate actively in social and public life. According to this, we consider reading books as a cultural practice and therefore a practice of active citizenship. In this sense, our aims are not only cultural but actually social: firstly, to improve the use of language, which is the main tool for the exercise of citizenship; also to promote complex thinking; in summary, to improve the capacity of observing reality and the abilities of relation with others in order to generate a critical and active answer to social issues. We hold the belief that the quality of a democratic system depends on the abilities of the citizens for informing themselves, evaluating properly ideas and postures and justifying own decisions. 
Alberto Soler Soto
Mandarache Project Coordinator

Written by Eurodesk Qualified Multiplier, Cartagena City Council