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Book News: U.N.-Backed Report Finds 'Shocking' Levels of Youth Illiteracy

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

An education report commissioned by UNESCO found "shocking levels of youth illiteracy" around the world. At least 250 million of the 650 million primary school age children globally aren't learning basic skills in reading and math, the report finds.

It also concludes: "Youth illiteracy is more widespread than previously believed: around 175 million young people in low and lower middle income countries — equivalent to around one-quarter of the youth population — cannot read all or part of a sentence." Sixty-one percent of those are young women, the report adds.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa had many of the worst literacy levels. The study's authors write: "In the United Republic of Tanzania, only 3.5 percent of all grade 6 pupils had sole use of a reading textbook. Poor physical infrastructure is another problem for students in many poor countries. Children are often squeezed into overcrowded classrooms, with those in early grades particularly disadvantaged. In Malawi, there are 130 children per class in grade 1, on average, compared with 64 in the last grade. In Chad, just one in four schools has a toilet, and only one in three of those toilets is reserved for girls' use."

In response to their findings, the authors call for increased funding for education, as well as better training and more support for teachers.

Eleanor & Park author Rainbow Rowell has a deal for two graphic novels with the Macmillan imprint First Second Books. The first of the two books — both of which are still untitled — will be illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. "This project is a dream come true for me — three dreams come true: to get to write a graphic novel, to work with First Second, to collaborate with Faith," Rowell told Entertainment Weekly. "[H]er work just clicked with me, especially Friends With Boys. Her style is so expressive—dense with feeling and meaning. She tells you so much in every panel, even when she isn't telling you anything."

Gary Shteyngart tells The New York Times what he likes to read: "I like stories where people suffer a lot. If there's no suffering, I kind of tune out. After reading Karl Ove Knausgaard's memoir, 'My Struggle,' I was shocked to discover that people suffer in Norway as well. Good for them! Skal!"

Susan Sontag's biographer, Benjamin Moser, writes about reading her email. "To read someone's e-mail is to see her thinking and talking in real time. If most e-mails are not interesting ('The car will pick you up at 7:30 if that's ok xxx'), others reveal unexpected qualities that are delightful to discover. (Who would have suspected, for example, that Sontag sent e-mails with the subject heading 'Whassup?') One sees Sontag, who had so many friends, elated to be in such easy touch with them ('I'm catching the e-mail fever!'); one sees the insatiably lonely writer reaching out to people she hardly knew and inviting them to pay a call."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.

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