Last week, after many months of planning, field research and interviews, international experts, stakeholders and staff were brought together for Room to Read’s first-ever Early Grade Reader Forum. Over two days, the group discussed, debated and aimed to find consensus in two areas: defining high-quality children’s books for beginning readers and identifying the critical factors that enable these high-quality books to be developed in the countries where Room to Read works.
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The room was abuzz with old acquaintances reuniting, new colleagues meeting for the first time and a general excitement as the start of Room to Read’s Early Grade Reader Forum kicked off last week in downtown San Francisco. The excitement was justified, as this was the very first time this particular group of people had ever been brought together in the same room, in the same city, in the same country or even the same continent.
Included among the 45 participants were international early literacy experts, local language publishers and literacy researchers, who came from 10 different countries to join Room to Read stakeholders and staff for a two-day summit to discuss high-quality children’s books for beginning readers in developing countries.
The seed idea for the meeting was planted last year; Room to Read had just concluded an assessment of the availability of books at varying reading levels in the local marketplace in several of our countries. What we found was discouraging, and it became quite clear that there was a tremendous void in the development and production of books in Asia and Africa for children who are just learning how to read.
So when Room to Read Advisory Board Member, Dr. Luis Crouch, challenged the organization to put together best practices around developing high-quality children’s books for beginning readers, in true Room to Read style, our Local Language Publishing, Reading Room and Literacy program teams came together and the result was Room to Read’s first-ever Early Grade Reader Forum.
Ms. Oud Saysena came all the way from Vientiane, Laos hoping to gain a better understanding of guidelines for creating high-quality beginning reader books in her home country. She owns one of the very first private publishing companies in Laos, which just received government approval to operate last year. She also owns and operates Happy Moon Children’s Bookstore, and admits that in Laos, there is “no expertise or understanding of how to write books for beginning readers. There are no standards or local experts who can give advice or comment on what is good and the best quality for early readers.”
Local language publishers, including Ms. Saysena, participated in interactive panel discussions and breakout groups to brainstorm best practices, and many will be returning to their countries with clear steps to help them develop high quality beginning reader books—whether it’s creating a mentoring system to build the capacity of their writers and illustrators or looking at opportunities to co-publish titles with fellow publishing houses. It’s a promising start.
At the conclusion of the forum there was consensus on some of the issues, but also more questions to spur continued debate and creative solutions. Ultimately, as one expert reflected, “This forum created a sense of everyone wanting to pitch in and create a really authentic community. We’re coming from a deep place in our hearts and something in our personal histories to make it better for the children.”
Learn more about our Local Language Publishing program.