May 5, 2020
In the South Asian country of Nepal, six-year-old Anubhav holds up a colorful drawing of the characters in his favorite books. His mother holds a smartphone in front of him, capturing Anubhav’s words and drawings on video to share on the YouTube channel he created to inspire other children across Nepal to engage in and enjoy books.
Anubhav’s love of reading was inspired by books like The Hairy Khyaa and Fireflies, available in his local language of Nepali on The Asia Foundation’s (TAF) Let’s Read digital library. As a winner of our Begin With Books prize, TAF will continue to expand the number of books available in local languages, including sign language, in Nepal, Laos and Papua New Guinea, reaching more children like Anubhav with quality, accessible books that instill an interest in and passion for reading.
“I see the same curiosity and wonderment in children’s eyes when they’re engrossed in an amazing storybook that I remember having as a child and that I see in my own children,” says Kyle Barker, Associate Director of The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program at TAF. “This opportunity for curiosity, wonderment, and learning through storybooks should be the standard for all children, regardless of the language they speak or the community they’re from.”
In Laos and Nepal, only five percent of children have more than three books in their homes; children in minority language communities have fewer to no books at all. Books that are available tend to be translated versions from the west, which means the characters and settings typically are not reflective of the cultures and customs familiar to children of these regions.
TAF’s Begin With Books prize award will fund the adaptation or creation of 380 early grade children’s books in six minority languages of Lao, Nepal and PNG: Lao, Tamang, Nepali Sign Language, Enga, Hiri Motu, and Tok Pisin. The initiative will bring together local authors, illustrators, designers, language experts and volunteer translators to create or adapt the content.
Once completed, the books will be published under Creative Commons license and uploaded to the Global Digital Library, a web-based platform that offers free, high-quality early learning resources in more than 40 languages. TAF will also upload the titles to their Let’s Read digital library.
“It is unrealistic for the traditional publishing model to reach children in every language community in Asia, but a digital initiative like Let’s Read is well equipped to address this need,” says Morgan Belveal, a program specialist for the Let’s Read initiative. “This approach to book publishing will rapidly build a large enough collection of early grade readers that will keep children engaged while also publishing the kinds of books that children can develop a deep connection to because they see themselves in the characters and settings of the stories.”
In addition to creating a cadre of skilled authors, illustrators, editors, translators, and reading ambassadors, TAF’s Begin With Books prize will help build a thriving and self-sustaining book publishing network that supports generations of children in Asia and around the globe.
TAF will also join ACR GCD’s new Sign Language Storybook Cohort (SLSC), consisting of other Begin With Books prize winners and ACR GCD awardees and their partners from Disabled Persons Organizations to determine standards for sign language storybook production in underserved languages. The cohort will help inform the development of a toolkit for creating sign language storybooks, with the hope of changing publishing models among book producers to incorporate accessible features.
“By coming together, we can set an example and open the doors for publishers and NGOs around the world to automatically include the Deaf and hard of hearing community in their publishing workflows,” Barker said, adding that the SLSC will build on TAF’s previous efforts to expand the use of inclusive design through initiatives like Fully Abled Nation in the Philippines and Program Peduli in Indonesia.
And like Anubhav’s admiration of books like The Hairy Khyaa and Fireflies in his local language, TAF’s hope is to create stories that will be carried in the hearts and minds of children throughout their lives as literacy opens up more learning opportunities for them.
“The books that are created through this award could become the favorite storybook of children in Nepal, Laos, and Papua New Guinea,” Barker says. “We hope that the fun experience of reading newfound favorite books will inspire those children to read more, continue learning in school, and then contribute their knowledge for positive change in their communities.”