By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Literacy Is a Human Right’As Publishing Perspectives‘ industry-professional readers know, one of Scholastic‘s highest-profile international sponsorships each year features its support of the nonprofit organization LitWorld. And today (February 2) is the 13th iteration of LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day.
The LitWorld program itself has an “activity hub” here with resources for World Read Aloud Day. And Scholastic’s offering has a download available (PDF) of titles recommended for reading aloud in age groups between birth and 12 years. Scholastic also has a specialized store of its books set up for the event here, with a deeper curated shop of reading-aloud recommendations from its list here.
More about LitWorld’s border-busting approach to “sharing stories, building community, and cultivating a love of reading and writing to help literacy skills grow stronger” is here.
LitWorld was founded in 2007 by Pam Allyn, the author and social-impact education strategist formerly with Scholastic who also has created literacy education organization LitLife, learning platform Dewey, and LitWorld.
A second edition of Allyn’s Every Child a Super Reader: Seven Strengths for a Lifetime of Independence, Purpose, and Joy with co-author Ernest Morrell (a LitWorld board member) is scheduled to be released by Scholastic in paperback on February 7.
In its 2020 annual report, LitWorld lists its operational field as including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, India, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and the US states Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi, South Dakota, and New York.
In today’s programming, Scholastic reports that programs relative to World Read Aloud Day this year are set in 173 countries, and author Tami Charles’ All Because You Matter is a featured title, with illustrations by Bryan Collier. It’s Collier’s illustrations you see on Scholastic’s dedicated World Read Aloud Day page for this year.
And the energy backing LitWorld’s year-round efforts is supported not only by Scholastic’s sturdy sponsorship of World Read Aloud Day but also by a broad group of partners, 10 of whom are designated as “innovation partners.”
What’s innovative about what they do? In one case, that of the partnership by Museo Rayo in Roldanillo, Colombia, a “traveling library” has been created to reach families living in remote parts of the region–by suitcase.
‘Innovation Partnerships’ and LitWorld’s Reach
With Scholastic’s help, Publishing Perspectives has been able to interview LitWorld executive director Lisa Meadowcroft and director of program innovation Amber Peterson to find out more about how this far-reaching international literacy program’s partnerships work, especially in the sphere of such innovation as portable libraries.
In our interview, conducted by email with LitWorld’s States-based leadership, we begin by asking Meadowcroft and Peterson if “fit-to-purpose” would be a good way to describe the innovation featured in these partnerships.
Lisa Meadowcroft and Amber Peterson: “Fit-to-purpose” is a good way of describing all of LitWorld’s partnerships, and particularly our innovation partnerships. With our innovation partners, we take a holistic approach to community development and work closely with a select group of the on-the-ground implementers of our pedagogy.
Our goal is to examine the impact of our work, to collaboratively shape the resources that we share with our broader network, and to invest in and amplify the thought leadership that comes. Over the years, we’ve learned that true investment in literacy and social emotional development goes far beyond purchasing books or providing curriculum; it’s a community-wide and community-deep initiative, and building the infrastructure to support it must be led by the community itself.
In one partnership, physical space to hold summer literacy programs such as LitCamp or LitFest might be the identified need, while in another it might be transportation—such as the purchase of a motorbike—to access rural communities.
Our innovation partners help us to examine these realities and build social emotional programming and literacy resources that continue to be flexible, adaptable, and responsive.
Publishing Perspectives: We know that the Museo Rayo “suitcase libraries” partnership began in 2014. How have these specialized approaches developed?
Meadowcroft and Peterson: LitWorld’s work has always been partner-focused and partner-driven. Over the last 15 years, we’ve collaborated with more than 50 organizations in more than 30 countries to shape and develop our social, emotional, focused approach to literacy.
The innovation partnership model we’re currently piloting is a natural evolution of the work we’ve always done with our partners. While all of the partners in our network continue to implement and scale LitWorld’s pedagogy and curriculum, our 10 innovation partners help us take a deeper look at what works best and why. One aspect of these partnerships is the implementation of what we call innovation projects.
For example, our partner Museo Rayo in Colombia has mentors go with suitcases of books to ensure that kids in rural areas have access to reading materials. Through that project, we’ll learn more about how to better support the countless other communities in our network and around the world where rural access is a struggle.
In another example, our partner Art of a Child in Uganda, is implementing a microfinance chicken coop project so that LitMoms can raise chicks and sell eggs and meat to the community. We’ve learned over and over again that supporting children’s literacy and social emotional development means supporting adult literacy, autonomy, and empowerment. Through this project, we’ll learn more about the impact economic empowerment, especially for mothers, can have in creating structures for youth development and support in a community.
Publishing Perspectives: Being in at least 15 countries in total gives you a high view of needs and responses. Where do you feel LitWorld is seeing some of its greatest success?
Meadowcroft and Peterson: LitWorld truly believes that every child, every community, and every story matters. While we usually direct our resources toward vulnerable communities and populations, our programs and curriculum are designed for everyone.
“Our biggest measure of success is community-wide investment not only in literacy, but also in building designated safe spaces for self-expression and examination.”Lisa Meadowcroft and Amber Peterson, LitWorld
Our biggest measure of success is community-wide investment not only in literacy, but also in building designated safe spaces for self-expression and examination. World Read Aloud Day is a poignant example of what worldwide investment might look like.
The seed of the idea for World Read Aloud Day was planted when a little boy suggested to our founder, Pam Allyn, that we have a birthday celebration for the read aloud—and today, in partnership with Scholastic, tens of millions of people in more than 150 countries celebrate each year.
Whether it’s a World Read Aloud Day march of thousands of people through the streets of Manila, a tiny LitClub in Pakistan’s Punjab province where a young girl feels safe to share her story for the first time, or a classroom in South Dakota, in the United States, celebrating a joyful summer LitCamp, every moment and every investment matters.
Publishing Perspectives: By contrast, is there a region or a market in which you’d like to do more, but so far things haven’t really gelled?
Meadowcroft and Peterson: LitWorld established the innovation partnership model because we saw again and again that for real progress in literacy and social emotional learning, basic needs—like food security—also need to be addressed simultaneously.
This isn’t work that we can do alone, and as we grow as an organization, so too does our ability to think creatively and synergistically about infrastructure solutions. While we don’t narrow ourselves to one specific target market for implementing our programming, we continue to think about what partnership really means in an international context and how to amplify the amazing work being done every day by our partners on the ground so that we can learn from and replicate it.
Publishing Perspectives: In light of the recent uproar over Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning Maus—and of LitWorld’s inclusion of “equity of access” among its tenets—do you have something you’d like to say about the recent trend toward (attempted) book banning from the political right?
Meadowcroft and Peterson: At LitWorld, we often talk about the power of stories to be mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Stories are powerful because they allow us to examine our own selves, to explore the world, and open us up to new experiences and perspectives.
“An unfortunate reality in children’s publishing, especially here in the United States, is the oversaturation of a very limited set of ideals, experiences, and perspectives.”Lisa Meadowcroft and Amber Peterson, LitWorld
An unfortunate reality in children’s publishing, especially here in the United States, is the oversaturation of a very limited set of ideals, experiences, and perspectives. Our insistence on “equity of access” extends to providing a platform for the stories we don’t usually hear, helping to amplify the realities of people across the world so that they too have access to the promise of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors that literacy provides.
So much of how we interact with and are impacted by stories depends on how we process those experiences against our own and those of our own communities. The more we understand the world, the better able we are to contextualize and think critically about what we read.
Publishing Perspectives: Lastly, what’s the biggest challenge LitWorld faces in its work?
Meadowcroft and Peterson: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to illiteracy or a foolproof way to provide safe spaces for all kids everywhere across the world.
“At LitWorld, we believe that literacy is a human right. “Lisa Meadowcroft and Amber Peterson, LitWorld
Among the biggest challenges we work against are systemic poverty in so many communities we serve—9.2 percent of the global population per the most updated figures—as well as high levels of illiteracy, affecting 773 million people according to UNESCO, and most particularly, girls.
In so many communities, the infrastructure to support building literacy-safe spaces simply isn’t there. At LitWorld, we believe that literacy is a human right. We are working to combat injustice by ensuring that every child has the ability and knows that she has the right to tell her story and be whatever story she chooses.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.