Recently, I had the privilege of working with teacher educators, class teachers and children on a development aid project on literacy in Zambia, Africa. In one classroom I visited there were sixty little boys sitting at weather-beaten desks and the teacher was attempting to teach literacy from a single class reader-the one and only available book in the classroom. As literacy educators we know the importance of connecting the right book, to the right child, at the right time. However, access to texts, and more importantly equality of opportunity in access to texts, is a real issue in developing countries (and indeed among marginalised communities worldwide).
The World Internet Usage Statistics (www.internetworldstats.com) indicate that almost 35% of the world population are now online and that growth in access to the Internet in developing countries is advancing at a rapid rate. So perhaps access to books on the Internet may prove a feasible path to fostering literacy, and nurturing a lifelong love of books and reading, among children, both in developing countries and in marginalised communities worldwide. In this blog post I will review a number of organisations who are attempting to do just that.
Book abundance is the vision and mission of Unite for Literacy (www.uniteforliteracy.com). Mark Condon began creating libraries of inexpensive, culturally appropriate and linguistically rich picture books for children in marginalised communities in the 1990s. This initiative has grown into a “Wondrously Infinite Global Library” as noted on the Unite for Literacy Website. The site provides access to a growing number of electronic picture books that honour and celebrate the culture and home languages of a diverse range of children. These picture books can be read aloud in English but also, crucially, in a range of about 12 other languages such as, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, French, Russian and Vietnamese. Examples of the range of texts are shown in the screen saver from the Unite for Literacy website below
“The path to a literate life is a story that must pass through the heart.” Mark Condon
We Give books (http://www.wegivebooks.org) is a website created by the Penguin Group and Pearson Foundation Group which provides Internet access to a range of fiction and informational text books suitable for children up to the age of 10. These electronic texts can be read across a range of digital platforms and electronic devices. The site provides access to a range of award winning and recently published texts. For every book read from the digital library We Give Books donate books (almost two and a half million to date!) to charities and worthwhile causes in communities around the world.
When I was growing up swapping books among friends was one of our favourite pastimes. Little Free Library (http://littlefreelibrary.org) is based on the similar concept of ‘bring a book, take a book’.
This movement started in the US but is now slowly growing across the globe ( as shown in the map below) and may provide community-generated access to books. For examples of the creativity of people in creating mobile Little Free Library book stores visit Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/ltlfreelibrary/.
Finally, you will find a more extensive list of sites providing free electronic texts for children at http://www.techsupportalert.com/free-books-children
Note: Post updated 1-30-2017, video removed that was no longer available.