Monthly Archives: March 2014

BlogShare: E-readers for children in developing countries

E-Readers Mark A New Chapter In The

Developing World

December 02, 2013 4:09 PM

Students at Ntimigom School in Kilgoris, Kenya, show off their e-readers. Worldreader now operates in 27 schools and two libraries in Kenya. (Jon McCormack)

A former Amazon executive who helped Jeff Bezos turn shopping into a digital experience has set out to end illiteracy. David Risher is now the head of Worldreader, a nonprofit organization that brings e-books to kids in developing countries through Kindles and cellphones.

Risher was traveling around the world with his family when he got the idea for Worldreader. They were doing volunteer work at an orphanage in Ecuador when he saw a building with a big padlock on the door. He asked a woman who worked there what was inside, and she said, “It’s the library.”

Deborah, a participant in Worldreader’s iREAD project in Ghana, reads her favorite e-book with her mother. Worldreader has delivered more than 700,000 e-books via its e-reader programs. (Worldreader)

“I asked, ‘Why is it locked up?’ And she said it took too long for books to get there,” says Risher. “[The books] came by boat and by the time they got there, they were uninteresting to the kids. And I said, ‘Well, can we take a look inside? I’d like to see this.’ And she said, ‘I think I’ve lost the key.’ ”

This, Risher thought, can be fixed. If it’s so hard to give kids access to physical books, why not give them e-books and the digital devices they would need to read them? Risher had joined Amazon at its beginning, helping it grow into the dominant online retailer it is today. He felt he could apply some of the lessons he had learned at Amazon to the problem of illiteracy.

“We were really trying to change people’s behavior, but once that started to happen, of course it took off because it was convenient and because the prices were lower,” says Risher. “In a way, we are trying to do something very similar here. … Here’s a culture where reading has never really gotten a chance to take off because the access to books is so limited. So we make it easy for people to get access to books and we try to put books on the e-readers that are appealing to kids and interesting to teachers so that we can, over time, help people shift a little in their behavior and their mindset.”

Working through schools and local governments, Worldreader launched its first program in Ghana and is now in nine African countries. As of last month, Worldreader says, it has put more than 700,000 e-books in the hands of some 12,000 children.

Donations from corporate partners and individuals help pay for the Kindles. E-books are donated by authors and publishers in both Western countries and the countries where the schools are located. Risher says it may seem counterintuitive to use e-readers in schools in poor, developing countries, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

A student at Ntimigom School in Kilgoris, Kenya, uses his e-reader. (Jon McCormack)

“[E-readers] turn out to be remarkably well-adapted to the developing world, in part because they don’t take very much power, they are very portable. It’s almost like having an entire library in your hand and, like all technology, they get less and less expensive over time,” Risher says.

A study of the Worldreaders pilot program in Ghana was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tony Bloome, a senior education technology specialist with USAID, says the initial results were mostly positive.

“We definitely found that it provided more access to materials. That wasn’t surprising at all,” says Bloome. “I think kids’ appreciation and use of technology is somewhat universal in terms of the excitement — so much so [that] the kids would sit on their devices because they were concerned they would be stolen. And that led to one of the challenges we had in terms of breakage.”

Worldreader has responded to the breakage problem with tougher e-readers and training for students and teachers in how to handle them. Even with the breakage problem, though, the USAID study found the program to be cost effective. It also found that kids who had never used a computer before learned to use e-readers quickly and it didn’t take them long to find games and music. But Bloome says that their excitement was contagious.

“Especially with the group that was able to take the e-readers home, basically the young people became rock stars in regards to being able to introduce their parents or other kids in the community to e-readers,” he says. “But really focused on content, which is really exciting. It’s about the provision of reading materials.”

Bloome says USAID is still assessing how the access to books is affecting learning in primary grades. In the meantime, Worldreader is moving on to smaller devices with a program that created an e-reader app for cellphones used in developing countries. Risher says the potential for getting access to books on cellphones is huge.

“It really is the best way to get books into people’s hands where the physical infrastructure isn’t very good, the roads are bad, gas costs too much … but you can beam books through the cellphone network just like you can make a phone call — and that’s really the thing that changes kids’ lives.”

Risher says he knows Worldreader alone won’t solve illiteracy, but he hopes it can be a catalyst for change.

Thanks for reading today’s BlogShare! What do you think about Worldreader?

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PPBF: Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen

Perfect Picture Book Friday is here with the adorable Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

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Title: Guji Guji

Author/Illustrator: Chih-Yuan Chen

Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2004

Fiction

Ages:  4 and up

Themes: humor, animals, family, love, differences and acceptance, nature vs. nurture, adoption

Opening: “An egg was rolling on the ground. It rolled through the trees. It rolled across the meadow. It rolled all the way down the hill. Finally, it rolled into a duck’s nest.

Synopsis:  (Adapted from the New York Times) When fate rolls a crocodile egg into Mother Duck’s nest (she is too busy reading to notice), her three ducklings end up with a strange sibling. The fourth ”duckling” is the biggest of the brood. He’s less an ugly duckling than a clumsy one, however, and as his brothers learn to swim, dive and waddle, he makes the biggest splash of all.

Enter three conniving crocodiles with plans for the odd ”duck.” Since crocodiles eat ducks, they explain, it is Guji Guji’s duty to deliver his family to them. Our hero wanders off to hatch a plan. ”I am not a bad crocodile,” he thinks. ”Of course, I’m not exactly a duck either.”

The next day, when Mother Duck and her family go to practice diving, three bad crocodiles are waiting under the bridge, jaws agape. Guji Guji is ready for them. Instead of ”fat, delicious ducks,” the crocodiles get a very unappetizing surprise: ”three big, hard rocks” from the top of the bridge.

Resources and ideas: Teaching plan from Kane Miller; Lesson plan from StorylineOnline; Reading comprehension questions from TeachersPayTeachers

What I thought: Chih-Yuan Chen is an author and illustrator from Taiwan and has won the Hsin Yi Picture Book Award three times. I can see why! I love the style of the art, and I love the fact that Guji Guji makes the most of the fact that he is different from his duck siblings. Instead of feeling bad about himself, he shows those crocodiles the difference between right and wrong. Chen said, “It is my hope that children from all over the world can learn to accept different people and things, and see the world with broader views and minds.”

See also: Reading and discussion by Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon of NPR

And here is a video reading from StorylineOnline:

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

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The Fantastic World of John Lithgow

John Lithgow is an inspirational fountain of creativity. Most of us kidlit people know about his children’s books in addition to his fame as an actor, but the real extent of his work is almost unbelievable. He has won multiple Tonys, Emmys, Drama Desk awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, The American Comedy Award, and has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He graduated from Harvard, studied in London on a Fulbright Grant, and was awarded the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal. When he was honored with an honorary Doctorate from Harvard, he also gave the commencement address, concluding with the dedication of a children’s book, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, to the graduating class. The book is intended to get small children interested in higher education.

What to make of a man who is a runaway train of talent and storytelling? His work for children includes nine best-selling picture books (some including CDs): 

The Remarkable Farkle McBride (2000), illustrated by C.F.Payne

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Marsupial Sue (2001), illustrated by Jack E. Davis

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Micawber (2002), illustrated by C.F. Payne

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I’m A Manatee (2003), illustrated by Ard Hoyt

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Carnival of the Animals (2004), illustrated by Boris Kulikov

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Marsupial Sue Presents: The Runaway Pancake (2005), illustrated by Jack E. Davis

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Mahalia Mouse Goes to College (2007), illustrated by Igor Oleynikov

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I Got Two Dogs (2008), illustrated by Robert Neubecker

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Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (2013), illustrated by Leeza Hernandez

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He has also created a few Lithgow Palooza activity books for parents and children; a series of Lithgow Palooza Readers, non-fiction co-authored leveled readers (I think there are 18 of them) featuring his characters Farkle and Marsupial Sue, about animals and the arts; and The Poets’ Corner, 50 classic poems presented for young people.

Lithgow has performed concerts for children with many American orchestras, appearing in his own shows, singing his own songs, and narrating his original text for Carnival of the Animals as well as Prokofiev’s classic Peter and the Wolf. He has also released three of his own children’s albums. All of this work has won him two Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Awards and four Grammy nominations.

Carnival of the Animals is a special piece. We flute players are often afraid of it, since the Aviary movement is one of the hardest things we will ever have to play. But as I watched Lithgow perform his original story (youtube video), which features a boy who is locked in the Natural History Museum at night and sees the creatures come to life, I wondered if he had been inspired by the 1993 children’s book The Night at the Museum, which in 2006 was adapted into the hugely successful film starring Ben Stiller.

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Then I reread Ogden Nash’s delightful Carnival of the Animals poems from 1949 (honestly, who else would rhyme boomerangs with kangaroomeringues?), and discovered the same reference to a museum come to life in the Fossils poem:

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodontic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
“Cheer up, sad world,” he said, and winked—
“It’s kind of fun to be extinct.”

 On his Amazon author page, Lithgow talks about creating works for children: “Writing a children’s book was not something that I pursued. It pursued me. It started when I was asked to write a narration for a symphony for kids. I realized that it had the text for a book. From that text “The Remarkable Farkle McBride” was born. And once the first book was successful, others followed.

. . . .

“I credit my parents for fostering my love of literature and books. I have fond memories of my father reading chapters aloud from great thick books like “The Jungle Book” and “A Teller of Tales”.

“I have carried on my father’s tradition by reading aloud to my own kids when they were little. I have also started a few traditions of my own, like singing to them and playing really mediocre guitar, building castles with them out of refrigerator boxes and treasure hunts across museums. Once I even created a very elaborate paper chase across the entire campus of UCLA for my daughter Phoebe’s 16th Birthday. Some of these games were inspiration for all of the Lithgow Palooza books and books with kits that have been published by both Simon and Schuster and Running Press.”

What do you think? Are you a John Lithgow fan? Does children’s literature pursue you, too?

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