Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The International Children's Literacy Corps (ICLC) is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 that has as its mission to increase literacy among pre-school children in the developing world, starting with sub-Saharan Africa.

In the developed world most of us take reading for granted. We read the paper over breakfast, reports at work, books in school, magazines on the train, and a story before bedtime. We rarely lack for the written word. When we do, there is always the library. In much of the developing world, however, things are quite different. Globally, almost one billion people cannot read. Many others can, but have nothing to read.

The traditional approach to endemic illiteracy in the developing world has been on the supply side, with efforts going to shipping books and housing them in newly-built libraries. The ICLC, too, initially took this approach. Its costliness, however, led us to come at the problem in a new way, one that seeks to influence not just the supply but also the demand for reading materials. Called "Reading for Life," ICLC’s initiative takes advantage of existing institutions, resources, and infrastructures to develop and distribute age-appropriate, locally relevant, and fun reading materials on a mass scale to future young readers and their families, and does so with negligible costs. This distribution works in tandem with a role model-driven public service campaign that disseminates the crucial message that reading is a family activity and that those who can read must read with those who can not. We are implementing our pilot program in Senegal.

Why sub-Saharan Africa?

According to recent UNESCO estimates, of the top 20 nations with the lowest literacy rates, 10 are in sub-Saharan Africa. There, more than half the population over 15 years of age is illiterate. And women are particularly hard hit: more than 70% are illiterate (close to 90% of women in Niger can not read). But the desperate situation in Sub-Saharan Africa does have a few bright spots, places with a legacy of education, and the use of French and English as important secondary and sometimes primary languages. It is in these areas that the ICLC is focusing its first efforts. In Senegal, where we are starting the Reading for Life initiative, only about one half of the population can read.

Why Reading?

Illiteracy is just one of an array of social, medical, and economic of problems plaguing sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS, famine, civil and clan warfare, and chronic economic underdevelopment vie for attention in a region that generally receives very little. In this context, the issue of literacy is often overlooked due to its relatively "benign" nature. The ICLC addresses the fact that illiteracy is not benign at all ? it is directly linked to under education, overpopulation, and economic stagnation. While there is no single solution to these interconnected problems, there is one common denominator to any such effort: to improve education and access to knowledge at all levels of society, especially the lowest. Literacy is the fundamental lynchpin in this effort.

Why Children?

Short life expectancies are a tragic reality in the region (fifty-three in Senegal and forty-five in Burkina Faso, as opposed to seventy-nine in France). This makes it imperative that children ? ideally, of pre-school age -- be the focus of literacy efforts. By focusing on young children and preparing them for school, our goal is to pre-empt dropouts and stimulate a life-long love of reading. In turn this will help to develop a deeper reading culture, to narrow the literacy gap between boys and girls, and to build generations of readers who will enrich their communities even as reading enriches their own lives.

How: Reading for Life

The program is simple: to harness three pre-existing resources and use them together to power a fun, effective, and low-cost family-based attack on illiteracy from the bottom up. The pre-schools and primary schools will be among the distribution vehicles for locally created, richly illustrated, quality reading material aimed at young children ages two through six. At the same time, outdoor billboard and radio will be used as media calling on all those who can read to read aloud to others, early and often. Existing readers (parents, older siblings, uncles, aunts) will be the catalyst to match demand with supply in the home, and ensure that everyone gets a story before bedtime.

This new approach is revolutionary in its simplicity. As it makes use of existing infrastructure, it is relatively cheap, involves few long-term agreements and mandates local participation and action in all aspects of the initiative. Equally important, it will complement (rather than duplicate) other development efforts aimed at children, families, and education. Reading for Life will sow the seeds of a sustainable reading culture and prepare children for school by helping them develop a comfortable and confident relationship with the written word.

The Role of the ICLC:

The ICLC has three significant roles: the first is to raise funds to enable the implementation of Reading for Life, the second to implement the program at the local level together with its partner in Senegal, and the third to evaluate and improve upon the program for subsequent execution in other sub-Saharan nations. As the center point of alliance among authors, illustrators, educators, corporate partners and other NGOs, the ICLC will exercise editorial supervision over content to ensure a robust and exciting pipeline of appropriate materials. We will develop innovative delivery methods, explore channels of distribution.

Your help will make this happen. Please contribute by sending a check payable to The International Children's Literacy Corps and mail it to:

The International Children's Literacy Corps

6 Jason Lane

Mamaroneck, NY 10543

The ICLC is recognized by the IRS as a non-profit organization (501c3) and all donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

For more information or to find out how you can support us, please contact us at: or by mail at the above address, or by phone at: 914-834-2615