5 reasons why Room to Read can change the world with picture books
At least 300 million children out there don’t have the opportunity to learn to read and write, let alone further education. Bringing literacy to this group means changing their lives, and the future of the world. Back in 1999, John Wood founded the nonprofit organisation called Room to Read to help children in developing countries acquire literacy. Room to Read’s two cogent programmes to realise this vision include Girls’ Education Program and Literacy Program. The later entails School Libraries, Quality Reading Materials (formerly known as Book Publishing), School Infrastructure, and Reading and Writing Instruction.
I’ve collaborated as a writer in the Quality Reading Materials programme of Room to Read Vietnam since 2013. I can’t tell or write enough about the wonderful things this programme has done, not only to the local children but also to everyone who is involved. Earlier I had an in-depth conversation about this with Phong Le, country director of Room to Read Vietnam. Today I want to present the five reasons why Room to Read’s Quality Reading Materials programme works out so well, with excerpts from Phong Le’s part of the conversation.A creative writing workshop session for Vietnamese writers and illustrators.
1. The books are written by local writers and illustrated by local artists. They bring their knowledge of the native language and visual cues to the game.“By the time we started the book publishing programme, we saw that the translated books available in the market weren’t suitable for our goal – assisting children in learning their native language. So we work with Vietnamese writers and illustrators through creative writing workshops and conferences to build capacity for writing and illustrating children’s books. The writers and illustrators also benefit from that, and it’s long-term. It would be a shame if we didn’t have our own team making stories for the children of our own country.” Students eagerly read a new book published by Room to Read Vietnam.
2. By providing books relevant to the local children’s reading level, Room to Read encourages their interest in reading. The more they read, the more they learn, the more their future changes (Dr. Seuss agreed).“Our programme’s target is early readers. We have to make our books engaging and suitable for children at that age, in order for them to develop an interest in reading. As long as they like the books, their reading skills will improve.” Trang Hoang from Room to Read Vietnam read a book draft to a student.
3. Room to Read’s quality control is top-notch. They field test all their stories before printing to gauge the children’s reaction to the text as well as the illustration.“We have a selection committee (with members from the local book publishing, reading and writing, and library programme) to select the best stories. After that, illustrators will make a rough draft of the books and we take those to do field test. We went to the schools, read the stories to the students and asked for their opinions. Do they like the story? Are there any words hard to read? Do they like the illustration? We also asked the teachers and even the parents of the students. Then we adjusted the books according to those feedback. After delivering the books to the schools, we would research whether the students often read the books.” Students read books during recess.
4. Room to Read surpasses local publishers at delivering beautiful, high-quality books to rural schools’ libraries.“We clearly see that children are always happy to receive books, especially beautiful and interesting books like ours. We put lots of effort and time in them. The local publishers appreciate and support Room to Read’s ideas, for they can’t do the same. From a business perspective, high quality of papers and printing with illustration in every page (like what we do) means that the price of each book would be too expensive for most parents to afford.” A student reads a new book published by Room to Read Vietnam.
5. Cultural relevancy is important, but the most crucial thing is the quality of the story & the illustration.“At the beginning, we prioritized stories telling about Vietnamese customs and culture. Because we wanted the books to be relevant to Vietnamese kids. We still support these themes, but the most important thing is that the stories have to be interesting. For Room to Read, children have to have interest in the stories. We can’t make a boring book about all there is to know about our traditions but no kid wants to read it.”
Curious about the books Room to Read Vietnam has published? Below are all the published titles in 2014. And 9 out of these 10 talented Vietnamese artists are the ones making all those beautiful illustrations for Vietnamese children, and of course, realizing the mission of Room to Read: world change starts with educated children.