Worldreader, the charitable organization that delivers e-books to disadvantaged communities in Africa, the Middle East, India, and South America, has released several e-books focused on educating people about the threat of the new coronavirus. "There are 1.37 billion students out of school, according to UNESCO, and kids all over the world are going to be under massive, massive stress — as are parents — so what we have done is really step up our game dramatically," said David Risher, president of Worldreader. "We are offering Q&A's about the coronavirus, along with information from the CDC, through our apps." Its overall initiative in response to Covid-19 is called Keep Children Reading.
Risher said that the organization had hundreds of queries for the term coronavirus on its apps, and so commissioned a picture book for children called Hello, My Name is Coronavirus which explains the threat of the pandemic to children, and another called Bunty and Bubbly, which is about the importance of washing hands. It is also adding new material that is focused on entertainment, rather than education, in order to provide distraction and fun during this period of crisis.
Worldreader has focused in recent years on providing reading materials to Syrian refugees in Jordan and to underprivileged readers in India. "These communities have limited resources and are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic, so it is with them that what we are doing can have a massive, massive impact," Risher said
BookSmart, Worldreader's app for school-aged children, has been especially popular and is attracting over 130,000 monthly users. "Parents who are quarantined at home with children are finding a wide range of material for them to read, either together as a family or on their own," said Risher. The app offers curated lists for readers, encompassing 75 to 100 titles, which are tailored for specific regions, languages and age groups.
In all, the organization currently offers a library of some 12,750 titles across all regions, the majority of which is donated by publishers or developed in conjunction with Worldreader. A variety of charities focused on the welfare of children, including CARE and Save the Children, incorporate Worldreader's materials and apps into their reading programs.
In the near term, Risher said the focus of the organization is on getting the rights to new material to help families make it through the other side of the crisis, as well as enhancing the catalog with material about the coronavirus. "Right now it is a supply side issue for us," said Risher. "We are working with many publishers around the world and asking them to be even more generous with their content. We are asking publishers small to big for help. Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, this is your moment and it is time to step up!"
Worldreader is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The organization began by distributing Kindles to a number of communities in Africa, going so far as to set up solar-powered reading stations, but has developed significantly since then. Over the course of its existence, Worldreader has attracted 13.4 million readers in 47 countries; there are books in 52 languages in the Worldreader library from a total of 426 different publishers.
When it comes to further fighting coronavirus, Risher said several government institutions, including the ministry of education in Ghana, have looked to Worldreader for support in disseminating accurate information about the pandemic. "We have had a significant impact already and people are asking us how we can do more," said Risher. "We know we can do more. We have to. Right now, reading can be a wonderful balm for both children and parents alike."
In the right circumstances, it might even save some lives too.