The program, launched in January 2014, gives out 8 books in Arabic a year to 97,000 children ages 3–5 across Israel.
“Mommy, read to me! Daddy, read to me!” is a cry being heard with every greater frequency in homes throughout Israel, as a result of Maktabat al-Fanoos, the nationwide book program for preschoolers that is distributing its 2 millionth book.
The program, launched in January 2014, gives out 8 books a year to 97,000 children ages 3-5 in K and pre-K classrooms – 100% of children in government preschools who get the books for free and children in semi-private schools who get the books at cost. The program is operated by the Ministry of Education, in partnership with Keren Grinspoon Israel, founder of the Hebrew book program Sifriyat Pijama, and Price Philanthropies, which funds Bidayat early childhood centers.
A box arrives about once a month by courier – with a copy of the same book for each child and two copies for the classroom library. The teacher reads the book several times, initiates conversations with the children about the books and carries out book-related activities such as art projects or plays, and then each child takes a personal copy home, a gift to the family library.
By the time a child reaches first grade, he or she has a personal library of 24 Maktabat al-Fanoos books. For many children these are the only, or almost only, books in their home.
The books in the program include original works in Arabic from authors such as Safah Amir, Fadel Ali and the late Jihad Iraqi, as well as translations from foreign works. Program evaluation has shown that more than 90% of teachers and parents like the books and consider them high-quality.
Each book comes with suggestions in the back for book-related conversation and activity in the home and the teacher receives an electronic e-mail each month with suggestions for activities in the classroom. In addition, trainers get advanced workshops to help them guide the teacher on how best to introduce the books in class and work with parents.
According to evaluations conducted by the program, more than 90% of teachers said they read more books in class as a result of the program and 72% said they conducted more conversations about the content of the books. Many teachers commented that book-related discussion and activities helped them get to know their pupils much better. Teachers also reported that the library corner of the classroom was frequented more often than in the past, with children often perusing books on their own.