The pioneer story held my imagination captive during childhood. Caddie Woodlawn, Little House on the Prairie, and later Willa Cather’s novels. It was on my eighth birthday that I received the full series of Laura Ingalls Wilder books, each crispy, fresh-smelling book more enticing than the last. I was fortunate as a child to be provided such gifts. I was blessed to have parents who promoted reading and the accessibility of a library.
It was American author and literacy educator Pam Allyn who began in 2007 to advocate for literacy as not just a privilege for some but a human right for all. It was with this belief that she set about establishing the non-profit organization, LitWorld, which led to the formation of World Read Aloud Day, celebrated on February 1, 2018. (1)
Photo by Annie Spratt
Much like Felicia McKenzie’s founding of Brighter Tanzania Foundation, Allyn’s path began with a visit to an impoverished community in Africa which inspired her to act to improve the lives of kids. Specifically, in Kiberia, an area of extreme poverty in Nairobi, Kenya, she witnessed the intense desire of children to read, write and share stories. She also observed the obstacles that kept them from doing so. (1)
Photo by Steve Shreve
Through Allyn’s advocacy, World Read Aloud Day began in 2010. Organizers strive to bring awareness to the importance of reading aloud to all children. The need is real, the literacy statistics startling. Worldwide, 750 million adults (2/3 of these women) lack basic reading and writing skills. Reading aloud every day to children puts them almost a year ahead of children who lack this effort. As Allyn once said, “Stories are more than a gentle escape. They are a life raft.” (1)
LitWorld provides resources and activity ideas to teachers, parents and other adults participating. It promotes author read alouds while visiting classrooms or via video chats. Most importantly, LitWorld is a microphone through which the mission of advocating worldwide literacy is spread.
The mission is indeed global. Scholastic Books is one of LitWorld’s sponsors. It hosts read aloud events in Australia, Africa, Asia, Canada, India, Latin America, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. (2)
The message has been heard loud and clear in South Africa. In 2017, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which assessed students in grade 4 of South Africa’s schools, released some dismal results. The study found that 78% of the students were illiterate. (5)
Though the results were alarming, the government had already recognized the need for literacy intervention. In 2012, a national campaign began called Nal’ibali which means “Here’s the story” in isiXhosa. The campaign identifies the link between reading for pleasure and improved outcomes for kids. (3)
Because the campaign attempts to create a reading culture, South Africans readily embraced Read Aloud Day. In fact, a different story is chosen for South African children each year and the country seeks to outdo its participation rate in reading this story from the preceding year. In 2018, South Africans read “The Final Minute” by local author Zkiswa Wanner. Nal’ibali provided downloadable copies of the story, available in 11 official languages. On Read Aloud Day, Wanner read the book in isiZulu to 1000 school children in an open-air venue. In total, over 1,000,000 South African children heard the story read that day. (4)
Back in the U.S., the importance of reading aloud to our children continues to gain attention. A Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic Books noted an increase in this beneficial habit between the years 2014 and 2016. The national study surveyed kids, ages 6 to 17 and their parents. The study found that the percentage of parents who read to their children before three months of age increased from 30% to 40% during this time period. Parents who read to their children 5 to 7 times per week increased from 55% to 62% for children between the ages of 3 and 5. (2)
Whether Laura Ingalls, Harry Potter or Dr. Seuss, a book allows a young mind to travel, transform and grow. A caring adult who reads it can take a child on an even longer journey.