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Imagination is Never Locked Down

September 01, 2021


This International Literacy Day, we’re celebrating how books can be a pathway to comfort, escape, and adventure – especially during a global pandemic. We know the last year and a half have been particularly difficult and we want to take a moment to give thanks to the role reading can play in fostering social and emotional well-being. If you’re like us and reading means a lot to you, sign up for our Book Club to get our monthly newsletter about the magic of books.

You’ll learn more about people like Prasamsa, a student in our Literacy Program in Nepal. She finds reading fun, saying books sometimes make her laugh, while other times help her learn about the world around her. She was reading at home every day and decided she had to share her joy - so she started recording her own read-alouds. With the pandemic spreading rapidly, we helped get her recordings broadcast to thousands of households in Nepal, proving that imagination is never locked down.

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Of course, not everyone has equal access to reading. That’s why we at Room to Read have the bold goal of eliminating illiteracy and gender inequality in education. We’re working in 20 countries, finding new, more effective ways to help millions of children as COVID-19 continues to disrupt learning.

Part of that work is creating books – engaging, challenging, rich books. We create titles in local languages, depicting places and people not always reflected in developed-world publishing industries. To date, we’ve created 3,216 unique titles, many of them available on Literacy Cloud, our free online educational platform. With International Literacy Day on September 8, we’ve collected a few of our favorites, all available below in English. These books offer the freedom we’ve been missing, while also validating and affirming the experiences of children who come from many different parts of the world. Let the adventure begin!

Kim Discovers the River (Honduras)

Kim loses his red bracelet on his walk home and in looking for it, finds a beautiful river, filled with diverse creatures, sights, and sounds. Set in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, "Kim Discovers the River" explores what it’s like to live along Honduras’ waterways and invites readers to take a look at the world around them, no matter where they are.


Hair Scare (India)    

This graphic novel addresses the pandemic directly – taking place during lockdown and featuring a boy and his dog who haven’t gotten a haircut in who knows how long. When Amma decides enough is enough, adventure ensues, assuring us that fun, hijinks, and hilarity can all be had in our homes with our own families. Originally published in Hindi, "Hair Scare" is now available in English too.


Tsunami (Indonesia) 

A beautifully illustrated chapter book, "Tsunami" follows one child as he loses his family and friends and gradually moves through the emotions of shock, anger, and grief. Indonesian author Yovita Siswati drew from theories about healing to give the story structure and leave the reader with a sense of hope. Based partly on the Aceh tsunami of 2004, the book addresses real-life tragedy while noting the resilience of survivors – something relevant to us all.


The Adventures of the Three Ducklings (Jordan) 

"The Adventures of the Three Ducklings" has plenty of appeal for all children  – it teaches animal noises, to accept those different from you, and even the importance of building community. But it’s worth noting that this book is made particularly for refugees, with the ducks representing those who lost their homes and have to depend on their friendly neighbors for a place to sleep. When the storm passes, they find their way back to their mother and safety.


A Strange Day (Nepal)  

Brimming with mischief and whimsy, "A Strange Day" tells the story of what happens when a rabbit takes the car! Created by an author and illustrator in Nepal, this delightfully illustrated book uses narrative to introduce some of the first words children learn in Nepali – words like rabbit, car, and river. But readers at any level and in any language can enjoy taking their imagination for a spin with A Strange Day.


The Suitcase (South Africa) 

"The Suitcase" is a beautiful book about a grieving boy with few resources who learns to triumph through dance. That our protagonist Lwazi also has albinism (and Albinos face discrimination in many African communities) goes unmentioned, empowering readers to draw their own lessons and conclusions.


An Unforgettable Adventure (Vietnam) 

Parents and toddlers everywhere know the struggle – it’s nap time but the little one just wants to play. "An Unforgettable Adventure" tells the story of a Vietnamese boy, Ti, who uses his imagination to go sailing – but still eventually falls asleep. This comical, relatable story brings out the sleepy, adventure-ready kid in all of us.


The Elephant Who Had No Friends (Zambia) 

Drawn from a traditional folktale, "The Elephant Who Had No Friends" tells of one lonely elephant and his adventure in finding and making a friend. It teaches the value of friendship and tolerance with simple language and beautiful watercolors. Popular with children across the globe, "The Elephant Who Had No Friends" was put on Zambia’s list of stories to be used in primary schools.


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