On April 2, the world celebrates International Children’s Book Day, a forty-four year tradition established by the International Board on Books for Young People on the birthday of esteemed children’s book author, Hans Christian Andersen. International Children’s Book Day is designed to inspire a love of reading among children and adults. At Room to Read, we celebrate reading every day, as we work to provide the materials, environment and skills for children in some of the more marginalized regions of the world so that they can discover the joy of books.
The theme of International Children’s Book Day for 2011 is “The Book Remembers,” which means that books are reflections of the time in which they are written. Thus, they are invaluable sources of history, as well as being entertaining and inspiring. Room to Read’s Local Language Publishing program holds culture and tradition as critical elements of the books we publish. We want to be sure the children reading these books can identify with the setting, the characters, the habits and speech –- for in seeing themselves and their surroundings, they are better able to understand and learn.
Last week, the two global office members of our Local Language Publishing team, Wilfredo (Wili) Pasqual and Sarah Stewart, had just returned from a 60-day, seven-country trip through south and southeast Asia. Though they were still fighting off jetlag and wading through unread email, they couldn’t wait to share some of unforgettable moments and colorful stories they brought back from their recent journey. The fast-paced tour was planned in an effort to survey the Local Language Publishing program -– its strengths and opportunities for growth. Along the way, Wili and Sarah met with individuals from all the various groups involved with putting local language children’s books into the hands of young and budding readers. Their notebooks and Flip cameras were filled with conversations with authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, ministers of education, publishers, and, of course, some of the children enjoying the colorful and inspiring books filling the shelves of their libraries and schools and filling their imaginations.
One of these children was Kimlay, from a village near Siem Reap in Cambodia. Two years ago, Kimlay struggled to keep up with her school work. Because her reading skills were poor, she was very embarrassed whenever asked to read aloud in class. The librarian at her school saw a dramatic shift in Kimlay’s performance once a Room to Read library was established. With the encouragement of her grandmother and aunt, both of whom had attended school themselves, Kimlay became a voracious reader, checking out up to 10 books each day and staying up late to finish every book so that she could check out 10 more the following day. Kimlay is now ranked third in her class and continues to bring home a stack of books each night, many of which she reads to her young cousin.
What Wili and Sarah found as they traveled via plane, bus, tuk-tuk and footpath, is that, the value of children’s books is universal. The words and the pictures touch the soul and imagination of young minds eager to discover and understand their world.
On International Children’s Book Day, we honor the authors and illustrators who create these portals to places undiscovered. We honor the librarians and teachers who make these tools available to young readers. And we honor the children who happily and enthusiastically pore over the colorful pages as they journey to magical places.
Read more about our Local Language Publishing program.