Reading: Ways to Overcome Illiteracy One Book at a Time


Reading—When it comes to illiteracy, it seems hard to believe that in low-income communities there is one book for every 300 children. In these low-income families and communities, price is the #1 barrier to book ownership. The social ramifications of this reality affect all of us. Studies have shown that children and adults who are illiterate or have low literacy skills have poor educational, employment, and health outlooks. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Every student who doesn’t complete high school costs our society $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity” (Source:



Luckily we have organizations who are working hard to overcome these barriers. Once such organization, First Book, has donated over 80 million books to children in need!

I had a chance to interview Rochee Jeffrey, Social Media Coordinator at First Book about the organization. We spoke about the work they are doing to help overcome illiteracy – one book at a time. Ms. Jeffrey explained how this organization was started by Kyle Zimmer, president and founder of First Book and two of her friends. “Ms. Zimmer began her career as a corporate attorney in Washington D.C., and spent her evenings volunteering as a reading tutor at a soup kitchen. While volunteering she learned that the children she was reading with had no books of their own at home. After some research into the scarcity of books for kids in low-income communities she began to grasp the magnitude of the need. So, she and two friends decided to do something about it and founded First Book in 1992.”



One person, one idea = 80 million books. Pretty awesome in my book! They also work with several corporations such as Disney – who just donated 8 million brand new books this month, Target and Pi Beta Phi Sorority whose philanthropy is literacy. In fact, according to Shawn Eagleburger, Member Services and Programming Director of Phi Beta Phi, in 2012, the Fraternity for Women will celebrate 100 years of literacy services. They joined forces with First Book for a virtual book drive in 2007.  This was so successful, that in 2008, Pi Beta Phi announced a 1 million dollar, 1 million book commitments to be filled by June 2012 – which they are happy to report has already been achieved!  However, their support and efforts to overcome illiteracy continue (Source: Interview with Mr. Eagleburger).



Susan B. Neuman, Ph.D. University of Michigan, Ctr. for Improvement of Early Reading Achievement says it best: “Access to books and educational material is the single biggest barrier to literacy development in the United States and beyond. If we can solve the problem of access, we will be well on the road to realizing educational parity – a goal which as eluded this country for generations” (Source: Indeed! Seeing these organizations working together to overcome this problem that affects all of society is great. If you live or work in low-income communities you can get involved and help by registering with First Book or join a volunteer First Book Advisory Board in your area.

Another organization, is also working hard to encourage the love of reading. Their stories are streamed free of charge on their fun and interactive website and they pledge to donate ten percent of its profits to groups that encourage literacy (Source: Literacy is such an important societal issue! As Ms. Jeffrey of First Book states “Literacy is one of the best predictors of a child’s future success. See how you can get involved and help low-income communities by going here:

Melissa Northway is a mom, writer, and has written a storybook app and book called Penelope the Purple Pirate.  She supports literacy organizations and programs such as   She is donating signed Penelope copies to the first 10 submissions received in the 4 to 8 years of age category for Be-A-Famous-Writer Contest. You can read more about Penelope and Melissa at:

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