Photo courtesy E. Bryant
Read Across America is a week-long celebration of reading that is meant to foster and develop reading skills in children and teens. Started by the National Education Association (NEA) in 1998, one of the main goals of Read Across America is to include books that students can see themselves reflected in. According to nea.com, in 2020 the organization rebranded with a mission to focus on books that tell stories that include children of color and different identities.
Linda Estrada, chair of NEA’s Read Across America Advisory Committee, explains why diversity is so important in children’s books.
“Through books, they get a better understanding of all of the different diverse cultures in America today,” Estrada said. “My hope is that they will learn that although they may be different, they also share many similarities.”
Teacher Cadets have been reading aloud in elementary schools such as Pine Street Elementary School, Jesse Boyd Elementary School and Drayton Mills.
Mattie Fulmer (12) helps in a Pine Street classroom weekly and tries to choose books that feature children of diverse backgrounds. Fulmer’s favorite part about reading for her classroom is getting to interact with the children and watch them understand the book and ask questions about it.
“I think it is important to teach and read diverse stories to young children because it allows them to not only hear stories like their own and feel valued, but also to learn and be informed about those of different lifestyles and cultures,” Fulmer said.
Reading has proven to enhance memory, reduce stress and improve concentration skills. These are just a few of the reasons why the NEA wants to expand reading for all by increasing diversity shown in stories.
Librarian Susan Myers discusses the benefits of reading and how important it is for school and community libraries to provide resources for all types of readers.
“Reading boosts school performance, increases vocabulary, helps one develop empathy for other people, raises self-esteem, and strengthens the brain,” Meyers said. “I know some people have had a bad experience with reading…find a book that has a topic, idea, or situation you are interested in.”
While elementary school libraries across the country focus on Read Across America, high schools focus on Banned Books Week (Sept. 19-25, 2021), National Library Week (Apr. 4-10, 2021) and TeenTober (formerly Teen Read Week).