April 30, 2018
At Room to Read, we’re all about filling gaps in global education. Our latest project? Working with RTI and USAID’s Tusoma Pamoja project in Tanzania and Zanzibar to create more non-fiction books for kids.
Most of what we read every day is non-fiction. Informational texts become increasingly important as children progress through school, and yet children in early grades have very few options for appropriate non-fiction books. When we surveyed the countries we work in throughout Asia and Africa, less than 20 percent of available titles were children's non-fiction books. The options for students in grades one through three were even less at just 7 percent.
The Global Reading Network notes reading informational, child-friendly books:
1. Prepares students for later grades
The bulk of books read in the higher grades are informational texts that focus on a particular subject. The earlier students are introduced to this writing style and tone, the easier they’ll transition to higher grades.
2. Expands a child's vocabulary
Vocabulary knowledge is key to comprehending text and academic success. Non-fiction children's literature naturally integrates complicated vocabulary words in ways that make it easy for students to learn new words.
3. Aids second language learners
With realistic pictures and locally contextualized content, students learning to read in a second language can connect familiar images with words from the new language.
4. Offers solutions to real-world problems
Many students in Tanzania and other countries we work in struggle daily with hunger, child labor, or staying in school. Non-fiction books provide children with information, new perspectives, and life skills that can be used to address challenges in their lives.
5. Teaches children more about the world they live in
For nearly two decades, Room to Read has published culturally-relevant books that specifically include characters, settings, and lifestyle details children see regularly. But non-fiction books allow children to further expand their horizons beyond the familiar.
Finally, not all children find their way to reading through fiction. Children's non-fiction books can motivate reluctant readers by capitalizing on their curiosity and interest in the world around them.
To address this need, Room to Read partnered with RTI, Tanzania’s Ministry of Education, and Zanzibar’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training to create 32 non-fiction children’s books that will be distributed in public primary schools in the Mtwara region of mainland Tanzania and in the Zanzibar islands.
During the project, Room to Read’s literacy team trained government staff from mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar on how to write non-fiction storybooks. They also trained local designers and illustrators on how to make non-fiction more visually enticing.
The Zanzibar government requested more culturally specific and island-created materials, as most often they receive books developed with a mainland focus. All Tusome Pamoja project books have both mainland and Zanzibar editions.
Most importantly, the project emphasized the importance of collaboration during creation. Writers, illustrators, photographers, and designers all worked together, bringing their unique talents to the same table. Together, they created informative, visually-interesting books about local culture, foods, and animals to name a few. The workshop also taught teachers how to pair non-fiction books with their current curriculum. Room to Read successfully advocated for and informed government-led professional development for teachers to effectively use non-fiction books in the classroom to support children's learning. Non-fiction supports both curriculum in specific content areas (math, science, etc.) and teaching literacy.
The results were overwhelming positive. Not only did the project catapult both Ministries’ interest in children’s books, but also offered an incredible professional development opportunity for local writers, illustrators, photographers and designers who can continue contributing to Tanzania’s publishing industry.
We’re eager to distribute these new books to children throughout the Mtwara region and Zanzibar.
Learn about exciting education projects emerging in countries around the world.