World Read Aloud Day 2021: ‘The Power of Sharing Stories’

In News by Porter Anderson

Reading aloud is ‘a way of making reading visible,’ says Scholastic’s Pam Allyn, founder of the internationalist LitWorld nonprofit today on its World Read Aloud Day.

Image: LitWorld.org

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Pam Allyn: ‘Expanding Our Understanding’
As Scholastic again joins the nonprofit LitWorld today (February 3) in the 12th annual World Read Aloud Day.

Publishing Perspectives readers, of course, are familiar with this program, an internationalist literacy charity founded in 2007 by Pam Allyn, who is now Scholastic’s Senior Literacy Advisor.

The LitWorld program itself has an “activity hub” here with resources for World Read Aloud Day. And Scholastic’s offering, which parallels that of the LitWorld effort, has a download available (PDF) of titles recommended for reading aloud at age groups between 0 and 12 years. Scholastic also has a store set up for the event here.

As you may recall, much of the mission of LitWorld was boosted with the publication of Scholastic’s seventh edition of its biennial Kids and Family Reading Report in January 2019. In that iteration of the report, the publisher went all in on the importance of reading aloud to children, positioning the tradition of parents and other guardians reading aloud to children well into their teens as a fundamentally important element of a youngster’s development and as the best chance to produce adult readers ahead.

The way LitWorld works “to encourage sharing stories, building community, and cultivating a love of reading and writing to help literacy skills grow stronger,” is described as “a model which taps into a strong network of more than 50 diverse partner organizations, in order to train hundreds of mentors who reach thousands of children” in many parts of the world. You can find more about the charity’s way of working and its principles here.

We’re glad to have had a chance to put some questions to the program’s founder, Allyn—who is not only the LitWorld founder but also an author of books including (Scholastic).

Annual Report: Africa, Asia, the Americas

In its 2019 annual report, LitWorld confirms that its operations have reached readers and community leaders in more than 30 nations. In 2019, 15 countries and five states in the United States were the focus of the program’s efforts.

Image: LitWorld 2019 annual report

“We were able to run 265 “LitClubs” in 17 countries,” the staff reports, “reaching a total of 3,320 kids and families worldwide. In addition, we also cultivated new partnerships and supported the growth and expansion of our existing partners.”

Among those new partners are:

  • Urban Light, a Chiang Mai-based youth organization in Thailand that works with boys impacted by sexual trafficking
  • LEAD Africa’s opening of a second academy in Benslimane, Morocco
  • GoYe Therefore Zambia’s expansion into Lusaka

The program ran a budget in 2019 of some US$1.3 million, with 59 percent of its expenditures going to programming and some 46 percent of its revenue coming from donations and corporate funding, the balance of income coming from programming revenue.

Image: Scholastic, World Read Aloud Day

Allyn: ‘A Way of Making Reading Visible’

We start our exchange by asking Allyn to remind our professional world publishing industry readership of the importance of reading aloud, which of course gives the day its name.

Pam Allyn: People will always crave storytelling experiences, especially in these challenging times, when the emotional warmth that the read-aloud brings is so needed and wanted in all of our communities.

Pam Allyn

With the read-aloud, there’s a wonderful opportunity for publishers and people everywhere, really, to celebrate the books that change our lives and invite people into the world of story, so they turn to it again and again, from our most difficult moments when we’re seeking comfort, to the times we want to celebrate.

One of the most profound things we can do to build future super readers is to read aloud.

Through this practice, we’re immersing our young people in the sound of literature, the feel of grammar, the absorption of new vocabulary, and so much more. Perhaps most importantly, we’re also sharing with them the fact that reading is a community experience.

We read to hear what other people think. We read in dialogue with the author, the inner voice in our heads reacting to text and inquiring about it. These are all such powerful things. The read-aloud is a way of making reading visible.

Malcolm Mitchell

A celebration around the read-aloud also presents bountiful opportunities for brand, nonprofit, and author partnerships that help to elevate the need for books and stories.

Scholastic has made a longstanding commitment to sponsor World Read Aloud Day from the very earliest days, and with the literacy nonprofit LitWorld, we’ve been able to help more people around the world experience the power of reading aloud.

This year, we’re super excited to be partnering with [former New England Patriots wide receiver] Malcolm Mitchell. Malcolm is an extraordinary reading role model and is sharing with kids his relationship with books and how difficult it was for him early on, so they too can become readers for their own lives, in spite of any challenges.

We’ve also created a collection of free resources this year to encourage more participation in World Read Aloud Day in the form of a free “virtual kit,” which includes a read-aloud video message from Malcolm, a list of 30 World Read Aloud Day book picks, printable activity sheets and how-to craft projects inspired by beloved children’s books, such as the “reading crown,” coupons for the Scholastic digital store, custom screen backgrounds that educators, students, and families can use for virtual read-alouds, and more.

Families and educators can learn more about it and sign up for the kit here.

Allyn: ‘To Unify and Connect Children’

Publishing Perspectives: We’ll note for our readers here that Malcolm Mitchell’s book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World was published at the end of December by Scholastic, with illustrations by Michael Robertson. What kind of impact have you and LitWorld and Scholastic seen on reading during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic?

PA: In the latest Scholastic Teacher and Principal School Report, educators shared that their top COVID-19-related concern is their students’ social-emotional wellbeing, and nearly all said they agree that literacy is critical to students’ wellness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created barriers to learning and has inhibited the many meaningful connections children would otherwise make through school, home, and their communities.

When I think about all of the challenges that families, educators, and students have had to endure over the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I see World Read Aloud Day as a moment to remember the simple joy of sharing a story, while highlighting the social-emotional benefits of the experience, which are so important to address.

We’ve also seen how profoundly powerful the read-aloud has become as a tool to unify and connect children in isolation. Principals and teachers, grandparents and friends, are reading to children across social media channels, creating a sense of nearness in the distance. Sales of children’s books are way up overall.

One thing about this very hard time is that it shows us how comforting reading is, how having a book to laugh over or to relate to is a way of being less alone.

Allyn: ‘As the Pages of a Story Turn’

PP: Logic might suggest that the confinements of COVID-19 in so many parts of the world would be good for the cause of reading aloud—more parents at home with children. Is this right or have you seen other trends that counteract that assumption?

PA: The beauty of the read-aloud is that it’s flexible. Even in a pandemic, the read-aloud is one thing that can happen no matter what, so people are flocking to it.

I’m seeing it happening at home among families; with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents calling from far away; and even with full classes of students over video-conferencing platforms. There are so many powerful benefits to making the read-aloud a regular habit—both academic and social-emotional.

Read-alouds help kids build the skills to learn how to comprehend text and make their own predictions about what will happen next throughout the course of a story. With plentiful access to read-alouds, kids are also bolstering what I define as seven social-emotional strengths needed to grow and flourish, which include belonging, curiosity, kindness, friendship, confidence, courage, and hope.

We also know that families enjoy read-aloud time for the bonding it brings. Research from the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report shows that more than 80 percent of both kids and parents love or like read-aloud time because they consider it a special time together.

In the challenging moments we’ve had to confront over the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the read-aloud is thriving as a source of comfort and an opportunity to continue learning that I see families everywhere leaning on. Also, the read-aloud offers a safe way to have conversations about what’s on our children’s minds. So parents at home with children can take that time to ask, as the pages of a story turn, how a child is feeling or how the child relates to a character.

These are deeply important moments, and parents say they’re finding more of those through the power of stories. I urge parents who are struggling with the challenges of the pandemic to share their family stories orally, or to have their children invent stories, or tell their own childhood stories as dinner is prepared or before bedtime. Story should be seen as an exceptional tool to comfort, inspire, and connect.

Allyn: ‘Relief and Respite’

PP: In the United States, the new Biden administration has made much about the questions around in-person school operations and the coronavirus. At the point students are able to work in physical educational settings again, do you anticipate a drop in reading aloud at home?

PA: There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely hard on families and educators. From implementing new virtual learning methods to balancing hybrid schedules, there’s so much that everyone has had to balance and adapt to. However, whether students are attending in-person school or learning at home, the read-aloud continues to be a critical resource.

World Read Aloud Day 2021 artwork

An amazing thing about the read-aloud is that is can be enjoyed anywhere and with anyone—and we’ve seen that first-hand this year with classes happening via video conferencing, read-aloud videos posted to social media, and families sharing special connections with one another digitally.

Reading aloud has been a cherished tradition both in homes and in classrooms for centuries, and it’s one of those things that I truly don’t believe will ever disappear. Both at home and in school, stories help us learn about the world, help us work through complicated emotions, and reflect on our own lives, while expanding our understanding of experiences different than our own.

It’s an absolute certainty that caregivers and educators are exhausted by now, but I do hope that the solace of a quiet read-aloud, or laughing together over pictures in a book, can still bring a measure of relief and respite. When children return to school, there will be a lot of adjusting to do, and even fear in returning. Reading aloud is a continuous way to keep the lines of communication open with a child.

Allyn: ‘Let’s Expand Our Idea of What Literacy Means’

PP: We also think that the digital acceleration of the pandemic may have contributed to more acceptance of digital content for youngsters in homes. Is there a reason that parents shouldn’t share an iPad or another tablet or even a phone with kids for reading aloud?

PA: My sincere belief is that if kids are reading and enjoying the text, the content and format can be great for kids in different ways. From comic books to recipes and  furniture instruction manuals, read-alouds can take many forms and extend beyond our traditional ideas of what they should or shouldn’t be.

“A literacy journey with a child is always best when they have some ownership in it too, and when everyone can be changed by it.”Pam Allyn, LitWorld and Scholastic

Literacy is such a freeing and important part of our daily lives, that when it comes down to it, I think the meaning is in the shared experience, whether that’s laughing over a funny comic together, baking a loaf of sourdough bread, or assembling a kitchen table.

Let’s expand our idea of what “literacy” means. The oral telling of a family story is also literacy, and reading on or from a screen can also be lively and interesting.

Research from the Kids and Family Report shows that even though kids continue to agree they’ll always want books printed on paper—by 69 percent of responses—there’s value in using technology to support a child’s growth as a reader.

Seventy-one percent say they agree that technology has made it easier for them to find books they’d like to read, and 70 percent of kids who have listened to an audiobook say they agree that it has encouraged them to read more.

I’ll say, however, that children in schools also report to me that they do love the simple sharing of an actual book, poring over the pages and pictures together.

I’m very interested in what kids gravitate to. The key is they need to be given options so they can make choices and express their preferences. If families are busy and on the go, and they share a phone with their child to listen to a read-aloud from an app, that’s so good and so wonderful. But if it helps families to sit down and open an old beloved book, or write and draw some pictures together to tell a story to each other, then that’s what they can do, and feel great about it.

A literacy journey with a child is always best when they have some ownership in it too, and when everyone can be changed by it.

A Video Message for World Read Aloud Day

LitWorld executive director Dorothy Lee talks about World Read Aloud Day 2021 in this video.


More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.