Amazon helps to spread the love of reading
Company in push to aid poor children’s literacy with donations of book device in provinces
As a child growing up in a poor rural area in Jiangsu province, Chinese writer Xu Zechen had nothing to read but a magazine targeted at mature readers and a semimonthly on politics, both subscribed by his grandfather.
About 30 years later, however, children in many poor areas of China still have no access to books that could change their lives.
Wang Ziru, a sixth-grade student from a boarding school in Guyuan County of Zhangjiakou, is currently reading a local Chinese cartoon series Crazy Guibao! on a Kindle Paperwhite. It is the first time the 13-year-old has read using a Kindle.
In 2022 the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei province is going to host the Winter Olympic Games, but Wang’s 6,000-year-old hometown of Guyuan is among the most poverty-ridden counties in China, where a lot of children were left behind after their parents went to the big cities to find work.
While children in China’s urban areas are reading an increasing number and range of imported books, Wang and her classmates rarely see anything other than textbooks, a situation leading to a widening rural-urban education gap.
That is why Amazon China, working with China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, started the “Book Path” program in 2015, deciding to donate Kindle devices and e-books
I will never forget the excitement in children’s eyes when they saw their words on a Kindle.” Elaine Chang, vice-president of Amazon Global and president of Amazon China
to the primary and middle schools in the country’s poorest areas.
Last year, the program helped 5,000 children in 10 primary and middle schools in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Henan, Hebei and Gansu provinces to read on a Kindle. Each Kindle was loaded with 500 classic books from home and abroad.
Wang’s school is among the first that received the donation in January and February. The girl, a big fan of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, says she is happy to read more fairy tales and novels than she ever saw before.
“I find it very convenient to carry it and to turn the pages. There are so many books in such a thin device, so there’s no need to carry the heavy printed books, one by one,” she said.
But at Wang’s school, the students between the third and ninth-grades share less than 20 Kindle devices, which limited the reading time for a class to only one day. The next day the Kindle is passed on to another class.
“So the same class will have to wait a long time to borrow the devices another day,” said Xu Lina, a teacher at the boarding school.
Action has been taken to solve the problem. This year, joined by other partners such as video-streaming sites Youku and iQiyi, the Book Path program has expanded the number of donated Kindle devices to 50 units for each of the 22 newly supported schools in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Another 9,000 children will benefit from the program.
“Besides classics such as poems from the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, this year we chose some popular children’s literature currently read by kids in the cities, such as Cao Wenxuan’s books,” said Elaine Chang, vice-president of Amazon Global and president of Amazon China, at the launch ceremony of the Book Path program earlier this year.
In April, Cao won the world’s top children literature accolade, the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
There are also some English essays and stories that children can read every day, Chang said.
Apart from the donations, the Book Path program encourages children from the targeted schools to write. The best contributions will be picked to be in books that can be read on Kindle. Last year, proceeds from the sales of the books went to charity.
In May, Chang visited one of the schools they support in Henan province.
“I will never forget the excitement in children’s eyes when they saw their words on a Kindle,” she said.
This year the proceeds from the book sales will be given to the children writers.
“Maybe the children will receive their first payment from writing in their lives. Perhaps it will kindle their passion for reading and writing,” Chang said.