Celebrating Jane Kurtz’ IBBY Reading Promoter Award and her volunteer efforts with OHBD – Blog Post One How OHBD Ready Set Go Books Started

We are delighted to kick off a series of posts celebrating our volunteer Creative Lead Jane Kurtz whose work with us (and others) was recognized by IBBY with a Reading Promoter Award.  In a couple weeks, Jane will be accepting the award in Malaysia.  Leyla and I are thrilled to be joining her.  There is so much that goes into this work. We wanted to share more from behind the scenes drawing from Jane’s interview for her award and sharing insights from the start of this effort in 2016 to where we are today.

On 21st March 2022, during the IBBY press conference at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, it was announced that Jane Kurtz was one of the winners of the 2022 IBBY-iRead Outstanding Reading Promoter Award. Jane was born in the United States and moved to Ethiopia with her parents when she was two years old. Although she returned to the U.S. for college and has lived there since then, her heart remained in Ethiopia. Besides being an established children’s book author and teacher, she is also dedicated to promoting children’s reading and trying to tackle the most fundamental reading problems in Ethiopia, where she learned to read.

In 2016, Jane initiated another project called Ready Set Go Books. This project works on solving the problem of a lack of high-quality reading materials in Ethiopia. This time, she partnered with Ellenore Angelidis and her nonprofit Open Hearts Big Dreams, and took on the role of head of the creative team.”

I remember well meeting up with Jane late in 2016 in Denver, my home town, and discussing both the prototype Ready Set Go books as well as our new NGO Open Hearts Big Dreams.  I saw the potential for Jane and I to collaborate creatively and recognized that this project, which has now grown into a program, should be the main literacy efforts for OHBD.  I could use what I had learned about self-publishing my own first children’s book as well as leading an Amazon team that was responsible for reviewing content submitted.  I wanted these books to find a global audience as well as support literacy in Ethiopia.  And after years of fundraising, I also wanted to design a project that had the capacity to sustain itself over time.  We hoped book sales would do that here.

There were so many things we didn’t know at that time. But Jane and I share a stubborn optimism and willingness to do the work.  We had so many early issues to think through and solve – printing, design, translation, production.  We also needed to set goals.  We made them bold.  We wanted our program to positively impact the literacy rate of Ethiopia.  And we decided to do so we needed to create at least 200 unique titles in at least the top three Ethiopian languages for a total of 600 books.

These were daunting goals as we had a handful of protype books at the time and translation was challenging beyond the first language.  As a first big step toward achieving those bold goals and sustainability, we moved to a self-publishing effort which meant a redesign of the books to meet those requirements.  That took much of 2017 which was a year of experimenting and learning.

I remember uploading the first books on Amazon in late 2017 myself just about a year after that first conversation. It was a thrill and also terrifying because now our beloved first books were out in the world, a world which is not always kind.  Fortunately, we brought on more talented and experiences team members to manage and grow this important part of this program.  You can see all our titles and languages on our new OHBD RSG books website.

“So far, Ready Set Go Books has produced more than [130] colorful, easy-to-read and culturally appropriate bilingual books (each one in English and one other language). Importantly, these books are created in collaboration with local authors, illustrators and translators.

Through OHBD Ready Set Go Books, Jane hopes that ultimately more people, will be inspired and join the work of raising good and passionate readers.

As the Jury President Sylvia Vardell said in the IBBY press conference, “Jane’s work with literacy addresses the challenges of multiple official languages; lack of books reflecting Ethiopian culture, history, and landscape; obstacles in the translation, publication, and distribution process. . .. With her vision and collaboration with others, she has planted the seeds of literacy all over Ethiopia.””

We are so excited to receive this recognition from IBBY of the challenges that we are working to address through this program.  We are so grateful for Jane and all the amazing supporters who are helping us overcome them each day to make progress to give the opportunity to love to read to more children and to share the culture, stories, and languages of Ethiopia around the global.