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Children reading at Isiolo Children's Corner web

Children reading at Isiolo Children’s Corner

Isiolo Community Library in Eastern Kenya is one of the latest libraries to be transformed through our Children’s Corners project. Serving a population of 100,000, the library first opened in 2009.

Isiolo Community Library web

Isiolo Community Library

The majority of people in Isiolo live in rural settlements outside the town and over two-thirds of families earn their living through livestock farming. Children are often required to help at home with household chores and looking after livestock, so school attendance can be irregular. Around a third of boys and a quarter of all girls drop out of primary school due to these pressures.

Reading Competition at Isiolo Community Library web

Reading Competition at Isiolo Community Library

Although busy and well-used, before the Children’s Corner was established Isiolo Library wasn’t a particularly welcoming place for children. Now, with a collection of brand new books, training and resources, children are actively welcomed and encouraged as they begin their lifelong journey of reading.

Chief Librarian Rufus Githinji continues to petition Isiolo County Government to provide funding for electricity at the library, but for now the children are happy to make the most of what’s on offer during daylight hours.

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Quentin Blake book donation

This week we were really delighted to receive 10 boxes of wonderful Quentin Blake books fresh from his office. For so many children in Africa, a picture book is a rare and amazing thing, so Quentin Blake’s vibrant, colourful illustrations will be a source of real joy.

The books are destined to go out on the shipments we have planned for the rest of 2014 – to Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Cameroon, Eritrea and South Sudan.  We’re sure young readers across the region will enjoy reading some of the most famous books ever written.


Quentin Blake’s distinctive pen drawings of the five children fortunate enough to find a golden ticket in one of Willy Wonka’s chocolate bars are familiar to many (it’s the book’s 50th anniversary this year), as are his pictures for the BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda and many more by Roald Dahl. Quentin Blake is particularly famous for his collaborations with Roald Dahl, but he has also illustrated his own story books and worked with other prominent children’s authors including Michael Morpurgo and, more recently, David Walliams. Above you can see just some of the titles that we have received and that will be packed up and shipped to libraries in Africa in the coming months.

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You did it!

The last 10 days of August were an extraordinary time here at Book Aid International HQ in London. And they ended with us winning a £5,000 grant for our Open Doors Children’s Library Services appeal with a lot of help from our friends!

On 18 August, Better World Books selected us as contestants for a £5,000 grant that could be won through online voting and, as we love a challenge, we set about asking for your support.

Children's Corner in UgandaHappily for us, our partners in Africa and supporters far and wide also spread the word with enormous gusto! Here’s what Haile Sellassie Kebede from our partner Ethiopian Knowledge and Technology Trasfer  Society had to say:

“Book Aid International has been a true friend of millions of African children by promoting readership among children and youth and providing book and training to community and public libraries. Let’s show our support and appreciation to BAI by giving our vote and spreading the news!”

The other literacy projects we were up against were all really fantastic and competition was fierce.  Voting got off to slightly a slow start but as the days went by we were amazed and so touched by the enormous outpouring of support from partners in Africa and supporters all over the World. Facebook was on fire and twitter trembled with the thunder of support for Book Aid International, and after a photo-finish at the midnight deadline on 28 August we were utterly delighted to find ourselves with the most votes (over 4,500!).

Teachers are trained to work with children on the tabletsThank you so much to everyone who voted or persuaded their friends to vote – thanks to you we have won a grant that will help transform a public library so that it can offer local children inspiring library services, including wonderful books and fantastically trained librarians!

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A new start for Kigarama Primary School

The Kasiisi Project is an American NGO with whom Book Aid International has been working in Uganda since 2009. In that time, we have sent almost 4,000 books for use in the school libraries they help to set up.

Over the last few months, thanks to your support, we were able to help the Kasiisi Project to stock the shelves of a new library at Kigarama Primary School.

Previously the space was a bare room that couldn’t be used by teachers or pupils. Thanks to Kasiisi’s work and books from Book Aid International, it is now providing a very welcome service for local children as a lending library. The library provides books that engage, inform and stimulate young imaginations, opening windows onto the wider world.

Kigarama children sharing dictionaries during a vocabulary lesson the day before the library opening

Kigarama children sharing dictionaries during a vocabulary lesson the day before the library opening

The new library and wonderful new books are having a real impact on the children, and on a school that previously did not own any books. We received a lovely message from Barbara at Kasiisi who said:

“Intellect, motivation, the desire to learn and know are universal – opportunity is not. Book Aid International is helping to provide opportunity. I’m glad to partner with you.”

We’re due to send Kasiisi Project another 1,500 books this year – it will be lovely to hear who ends up reading them!

On the way to school we met this little girl carrying African Tales – a donation from Barefoot Books

On the way to school we met this little girl carrying African Tales – a donation from Barefoot Books

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Doris Lessing library to go to Zimbabwe

Updated 26 August 2014

Over 3,000 books from the personal collection of Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author, are being donated to the Harare City Library in Zimbabwe and Book Aid International has been asked to help effect the donation. During her life, Lessing was a strong supporter of Book Aid International, so we are particularly glad to be able to help carry out her wishes.

A member of Doris Lessing’s family wishes to clarify how the donation came about:

“The donation is being made by various beneficiaries under the Will.  In making the donation, the estate and the beneficiaries have responded to a request from the Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust, one of the agencies Doris Lessing worked with in Zimbabwe, that books not needed for a special collection at the University of East Anglia be brought to Zimbabwe in honour of her memory and legacy in the country.  In light of consultations conducted in Zimbabwe, agreement has been reached that the recently refurbished Harare City Library would be an appropriate home for the collection not only because Doris Lessing lived for some years in Harare, but because she cared deeply about the country and facilitating access to books in Zimbabwe.”

Doris Lessing lived in Zimbabwe (which was then Southern Rhodesia) for 25 years, from 1924 to 1949. She returned in 1956, but was declared a prohibited migrant after speaking out about the regime. She was allowed back to into the country in 1982 and after 1988 she visited Zimbabwe and nurtured two initiatives by the Africa Book Development Organisation and the Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust to provide opportunities for reading and learning through libraries. Lessing referred to the people of Zimbabwe “the most passionate readers anywhere in the World”.

Gardner Thompson from Book Aid International with Vanessa Bloor, Felicity Highet & Lettice Franklin from HarperCollins

Our team, led by Gardner Thompson and volunteers from Lessing’s publisher HarperCollins, spent a day this week carefully sorting and packing up Lessing’s library in her former home in London. Vanessa Bloor from HarperCollins was fascinated by the variety and breadth of Lessing’s library – “A collection to aspire to!” Felicity Highet was inspired to help Book Aid International as she was reading one of Lessing’s books, The Golden Notebook, when the call went out for volunteers. Lettice Franklin works for Doris Lessing’s editor, and helped to make arrangements for Lessing’s memorial service, so she wanted to be there to help make these last arrangements for the author.

Book shelves under the stairs…

… and in the hallway


The view from Lessing’s writing room that features in her work

We found books not just in every room of Lessing’s home, but on shelves in every space where shelves could be fitted, in hallways, under stairs – there were books everywhere. Lessing’s collection consists of a wonderful variety of reference books, non-fiction and fiction, poetry, biographies and history books.

Every year, Book Aid International sends over 50,000 books to Zimbabwe; we have been working in this country since 1959. Libraries in Zimbabwe often have no budget for new books so in many libraries Book Aid International books comprise up to 80 per cent of their collection, including in public libraries, university and school libraries.

The plan is that the arrival of Doris Lessing’s collection will be celebrated at a literacy festival, with Lessing’s family, friends and Zimbabwean writers.


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