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Teen Author Partners With Ethiopian Literacy Expert

Black Headline News 
The New Citizens Press
By TNCP Staff

Literacy is important to 14-year-old Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis.
Literacy is important to 14-year-old Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis. She has created books in multiple African languages about life in Ethiopia. Courtesy photo

Nationwide — Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis, is a 14-year-old young Black author from Seattle, Washington, who has co-authored 8 bilingual books featuring stories about life in Ethiopia. Her books are available in multiple languages including Amharic, Kiswahili, and other African languages. She has accomplished all of this with the help of Jane Kurtz, her writing coach and an award-winning children’s book author who has received an exceptionally high honor from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Leyla, and her mom, Ellenore Angelidis, are the founders of TEOpen Hearts Big Dreams (OHBD), a non-profit organization that creates, publishes and distributes bilingual culturally appropriate early reader children’s books. With the help of Jane as creative director, their focus is to increase literacy and a love for reading in Ethiopia and beyond.

The three of them traveled to Malaysia for the 38th IBBY International Congress which took place September 5-8. While there, Kurtz was presented with the prestigious IBBY-iRead Outstanding Reading Promoter Award, and Open Hearts Big Dreams accepted funding as the nonprofit that Kurtz selected for that portion of the award.

IBBY is a nonprofit organization that represents an international network of people who are committed to bringing books and children together. The award was established by the Shenzhen iRead Foundation (a Chinese literacy organization) and IBBY, and it is given every two years to two global figures who a jury panel has deemed to have “demonstrated a commitment to exploration, innovation, and a sense of respon-sibility and dedication to cultivating a love of reading and competency in children.” The other 2022 winner, Zohreh Ghaeni, is from Iran.

Teen Author

Kurtz is being honored for her volunteer work promoting international literacy initiatives for over two decades. Through her work in Ethiopia, most recently with OHBD, Kurtz has, in the words of award jury president Sylvia Vardell, “planted the seeds of literacy all over Ethiopia,” the country where she spent most of her growing-up years. Vardell highlighted that Jane’s collaborative work with OHBD and others, “addresses the challenges of multiple official languages; lack of books reflecting Ethiopian culture, history, and landscape; obstacles in the translation, publication, and distribution process; and the insufficient professional opportunities for educators and librarians.”

Kurtz is also an award-winning children’s book author and holds a faculty position at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Children’s and YA Literature. She now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Kurtz’s focus with OHBD is Ready Set Go Books, her brainchild and OHBD’s main literacy program. OHBD creates and publishes culturally appropriate bilingual books and distributes them to readers in Ethiopia and around the world. Kurtz heads the OHBD creative team that coordinates writing, illustration, design, and Amharic trans-lation of the books. The rapidly growing list of titles includes over 125 books in eleven languages, with more than 300,000 books distributed in Ethiopia since 2017 and plans to grow that number to one million. These books are printed in Ethiopia to help build local capacity and to make them more affordable. Another 30,000 copies of these books have been distributed globally through print on demand. Sales of these books help fund the overall program.

Open Hearts Big Dreams is a Seattle-based, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that was founded in 2016 and is dedicated to meeting the challenge of increasing literacy, inclusion, innovation readiness, and leadership skills in Ethiopia and beyond. Along with the Ready Set Read Books program, OHBD’s other programs include training and opportunities for Ethiopian youth and educators and a model STEM lab that emphasizes creative problem solving and entrepreneurial leadership skills for Ethiopian youth.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about programs carried out by Open Heart Big Dreams, exploring volunteer opportunities, making a donation, or purchasing books can visit the OHBD website at OpenHeartsBigDreams.org

For more information about OHBD Ready Set Go Books, visit OHBD-RSGBooks.com

For more information about Jane Kurtz, visit JaneKurtz.com

Editor’s Note: Please consider supporting by purchasing books or making a donation.

The New Citizens Press is all about literacy and making sure that we share our love of reading comprehension on a national and global scale.

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