Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a problem. I have always been thirsty for knowledge and liked to learn, but my reading was slow and tiring. I always read, but I would take a really long time to complete a book. But about 15 years ago my life changed. The advent of the iPod along with the proliferation of digital audiobooks made it easy and convenient to listen to audiobooks. I started listening during my commute to work, while cleaning, cooking and shopping; I went from a person who reads a book a month, to someone who “reads” one to two books per week. It felt great.
I work as a school psychologist. Most days, I assess kids who are smart, talented and curious, but for whom reading is an obstacle to their success. I sit in meetings with these struggling students, along with their teachers, guidance counselors and principals; everyone, in their turn, admonishes the students: “You need to read in your free time,” “Read for x minutes a day” or “Read for pleasure.” I know how they read, and in many cases, although the reading needs to reach a functional level, it will never be pleasurable. I know that there is another way to enjoy books and wanted these kids to gain access to the world of books through audiobooks. I would refer parents to the library for the blind, but the legally mandated process was slow, cumbersome and expensive; the process got stuck and the idea abandoned. There was a need for a way to give kids instant access to audiobooks in order to show them how great they are.
The first step was to recruit my tech savvy, super-efficient friend, Moshe Saltzman. We decided that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the perfect book to demonstrate the power and joy of a great book. We approached Roald Dahl’s family and asked how much it would cost to buy the rights to the book in order to distribute it, free of charge, to all students in Special Education and learning disabled students in Israel. They were excited to participate, and gave a price that was a fraction of what we thought it would cost. We then needed to get the rights to the translation from the Israeli publishing house Kinnert Zmorah Bitan. We were sure that they would try to gouge us, however they shocked us by donating the translation rights. We wanted our books accessible to Arab speaking students as well, so we reached out to Almanarah, the association for Arab persons with disabilities and created a partnership where in, they will produce the books in Arabic that we create in Hebrew. And so Israel Audiobook Project was born.
We expanded our volunteer staff to include a Special Education supervisor, a teacher and a marketing writer and established ourselves as a chesed project of Amutat Darchai Noam. We have benefited from the resources and talents of countless people both locally and from around the country. Last year our project was adopted by teachers all over Israel and thousands of kids experienced their first audiobook.
We now have six books available on our site: www.israelaudiobook.org. We have classics, new titles, as well as a favorite of Charedi readers. More are on the way, and we are striving to copy the PJ Library model and provide a book per month to Special Education and reading disabled students throughout the year.
We need your help for the project to reach its potential. Around 200,000 kids are eligible for our free audiobooks, but only a tiny fraction know about our project. Please help us spread the word! If you know anyone with reading disabilities, please have their parents or teachers contact us to get the password for our books.
Rashi Kuhr is a school psychologist and Director of Israel Audiobook Project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 052-263-8606. Visit the Israel Audiobook Project website: www.Israelaudiobookproject.org.