This month, four children’s book publishers – Scholastic, Penguin, Abrams, and Little, Brown – have donated a combined total of more than 120,000 books to the Asia Foundation’s Storytime in Asia campaign, a month-long venture that is supplying English-language picture books to two million children in 17 countries in developing Asia. The initiative culminates the week of September 3, with events leading up to International Literacy Day on September 8.
Storytime in Asia grew out of the foundation’s year-round Books for Asia program, which since 1954 has supplied books and educational materials to primary and secondary schools, universities, NGOs, social service groups, and government ministries throughout Asia. Today, the program donates one million books each year. The organization launched the Storytime campaign, says Melody Zavala, director of Books for Asia, to bring particular attention to children’s books. “So few children in developing Asia have beautiful books to help them learn how to read,” she says. “Countries are producing curricula for schools, but Storytime in Asia addresses the real lack of and real demand for picture books.”
Out of the four U.S. publishers who donated to the campaign, she says, two – Abrams and Little, Brown – were already involved in Books for Asia. Penguin is a first-time direct donor, as is Scholastic, which supplied the lead donation of 100,000 books. “It takes about two months to pull together a donation of this size,” says Carol Sakoian, v-p of Scholastic International, “with reviewing and identifying culturally appropriate titles, and shipping from Scholastic’s distribution center in Missouri.”
Like other publishers, Scholastic receives many requests for donations, so the company is selective about its support. “We have a formal donation process that includes examining partner organizations and selecting those that best serve their target communities,” Sakoian explains. “Scholastic has a growing presence throughout Asia, where we’ve witnessed the need for quality books being available for all kids. We’re impressed with Books for Asia’s ability to get books to the kids who need them the most.”
Most of those books, Zavala says, will be donated to primary schools, and to social services groups that teach children outside the public school system. “We check in and see what their needs are,” she says, and “coordinate with our staff to make sure the books are reaching the right people.” The Asia Foundation, she adds, is already in discussions to repeat the Storytime in Asia campaign next year.
“The students are so eager and ambitious,” she says. “The best part of the job is getting out there and getting to hang out with these kids.”