All Children Reading Grand Challenge awards Begin With Books prize to four innovators creating books in underserved languages

Winners will also join ACR GCD Sign Language Storybook Cohort to follow standards for sign language book production.

All Children Reading Grand Challenge awards Begin With Books prize to four innovators creating books in underserved languages

Children in some of the lowest resource regions of the world will have access to quality books in languages they use and understand, including sign languages, thanks to the creative efforts of four winning innovators of All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development and the Global Book Alliance’s Begin With Books prize

eKitabu, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID), SIL LEAD and The Asia Foundation each were awarded $200,000 or more to create cost-effective packages of high-quality accessible children’s books in languages children use and understand. Over two years, the prize winners collectively will create thousands of leveled books in seven underserved spoken languages and nine sign languages, serving regions of the world where children have little or no books for kindergarten or preschool. 

“Millions of children around the world have little to no access to any books in a language they use and understand, thereby limiting their basic human right to literacy and education,” said Kerin Ord, global sector education lead for World Vision International. “The creation of these engaging, accessible books for children in some of the lowest-resourced regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific will empower and support them on their journey to literacy and future success in school, health, employment and society.” 

Prize winners will create the accessible e-books in stages over the next two years. Completed titles will be uploaded to the Global Digital Library (GDL), a web-based platform that offers free, high-quality early learning resources in more than 40 languages. Many of the books will be adapted from other open source content already available on the GDL and other platforms, while new books created will be open source to allow for adaptation into other languages or contexts. 

In addition to book creation, the prize winners will join ACR GCD’s new Sign Language Storybook Cohort (SLSC) consisting of other ACR GCD awardees and their partners from local Disabled Persons Organizations to determine standards for sign language storybook production in underserved languages. 

“Serving the literacy and education needs of children with disabilities in low-resource contexts is core to the mission and heart of the All Children Reading Grand Challenge,” said Shelly Malecki, program manager for the All Children Reading Grand Challenge and Begin With Books prize lead. “Through the SLSC, we’ll develop standards for the creation of sign language books for the Global Digital Library and a toolkit for creating sign language storybooks that we hope will change business models among book producers to incorporate accessibility features at the onset of book development.” 

The Begin With Books Prize awardees are: 


eKitabu will scale work begun in Kenya and Rwanda through ACR GCD’s Book Boost and Sign On For Literacy prizes to implement the Open Books Malawi initiative. The project will deliver a total of 270 books—220 in Tumbuka and 50 in Malawian Sign Language—to the GDL, which already houses more than 120 accessible African EPUBs digitized by eKitabu. 

“With the support of ACR GCD, we are scaling our capacity to deliver high quality, accessible  books in Africa, while at the same time reducing the cost per book delivered to the GDL,” said Matt Utterback, co-founder of eKitabu.

Rochester Institute of Technology National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID)

RIT/NTID will create 200 leveled sign language books in six sign languages (Filipino, Indonesian, Somali, PNG, Fiji and Samoan), for a total of 1,200 books. Seventy percent of the books will come from existing free and open source libraries. Working with local disabled persons organizations (DPOs), 30 percent of the new stories created will be about the deaf experience or include deaf characters. RIT/NTID and partnering countries also plan to adapt or create 40 books with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content. 

RIT/NTID’s Begin With Books prize project will scale the effective work of its World Around You platform—created with funding from ACR GCD’s Sign On For Literacy prize—to five additional contexts. The WAY platform enables communities to create books and learning content in local and national sign languages to be shared via an open content digital library of folktales. The 200 books created will also be packaged and uploaded to the GDL. 

“Children’s stories are often not accessible for the large majority of deaf children due to the lack of signing models who are native in their local sign languages,” said Christopher Kurz, professor at RIT/NTID. “This international collaborative project aims to address this by providing accessible books in multiple signed languages. Shared stories in which the main characters who happen to be deaf help make the world become more inclusive and connected.”


SIL LEAD will develop 200 quality, accessible books in the Soninke and Sénoufo languages of Mali, for a total of 400 books. The nonprofit also will add Malian Sign Language to 20 selected titles. The project will focus mostly on adapting books from the GDL, Bloom Library and Storyweaver platforms, with plans to develop roughly 25 new books per language. All titles will be adapted or created using SIL’s Bloom software, funded through ACR GCD’s Enabling Writers prize, to capitalize on the software’s decodable, leveled, accessible and sign language tools. 

“Most young children in Mali who grow up speaking Soninke and Sénoufo have never seen or read a children’s book in their local language,” said Paul Frank, executive director of SIL LEAD. “According to USAID, there are approximately 30 children’s books for the 2 million speakers of these two languages in Mali. We look forward to creating more books for these children and expanding the growing list of languages offered by the GDL.”

The Asia Foundation (TAF)

TAF will work with communities in Laos, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea to develop 380 children’s books in six local languages to be published under Creative Commons license on the GDL and the Let’s Read digital library. Over two years, TAF’s Let’s Read initiative will bring together local authors, illustrators, designers, language experts and volunteer translators to create and adapt early grade books for children in Lao (100 adapted and 20 new books), Tamang (100 adapted and 20 new books), Nepali Sign Language (50 adapted books), Enga (30 adapted books), Hiri Motu (30 adapted books) and Tok Pisin (30 adapted books). 

“The Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read initiative has demonstrated its ability to publish and adapt high quality children’s books in 28 local languages for young readers in pre-primary, kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2,” said Morgan Belveal, program specialist for The Asia Foundation. “This track record means that Let’s Read will apply tried and tested best practices to solve the Begin With Books challenge.”

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