Windows and Mirrors
Raising A Reader Brings Joyful, Beautiful, Diverse Books to Families
Encouraging parents to be their child’s first teacher happens best with great books along for the journey. But what does that look like in the time of COVID with geographic, social, and political divides? For Raising A Reader, a 21-year-old organization working to build strong shared reading routines within families nationally, it starts with inclusion.
A Closer Read on Literacy Equity
Raising A Reader is committed to providing high-quality diverse and inclusive books to children and families, especially in rural communities where access may be more limited. “Our roots are in educational equity work and closing the gap to resources,” Raising A Reader President and CEO Michelle Torgerson says. “As an organization, we believe that the race equity diversity and inclusion work is more than hiring a person and calling it a day. This work spans every department and team member.”
As an organization, we believe that the race equity diversity and inclusion work is more than hiring a person and calling it a day. This work spans every department and team member.
“We believe books should serve as mirrors and windows for all children,” Torgerson says. “A window to the world outside of our homes, but a mirror to see ourselves in the book and the story. In order for children to escape into a story, they need to see both themselves and worlds beyond their own in the stories they read.”
Raising A Reader’s 3,500 book collection of “joyous, beautiful books” was audited to ensure representation and equity in authors, illustrators and characters, as well as vendors who supply materials. During the summer of 2021, the team worked in partnership with tribal leaders across California to identify books and materials representative of their communities, telling stories that reflect their history and way of life. Through the Tribal Childcare Association of California, over 700 families in tribal communities across the State are served.
Torgerson says, “Our bilingual books have been very popular in rural communities. We have heard that our mono-English speaking families in outstate California appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to Spanish and that the bilingual materials unite families in the community.
Reading Across the Aisle
Encouraging parents to be their child’s first teacher happens best with great books along for the journey. Raising A Reader centers programming on the family, creating book kits and materials that holistically address social emotional wellbeing for children and families.
In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Raising A Reader served 285 affiliates, spread across 36 states. In 2020, the organization reached just under 150,000 people.
“RAR is working with many different partners to wrap access to books and stories into existing services that meet basic needs,” Torgerson says. By providing easier access to books at food pantries, in laundry mats, social service waiting rooms, and many other spaces, Raising A Reader is increasing access to stories for families to read together across the US.
“We’re in the red states and the blue states, we’re in small rural communities, densely populated metropolis areas as well as suburbs,” Torgerson says. “I believe our organization is one of the most inclusive program models out there that’s scalable. And I believe wholeheartedly that all of our parents want what’s best for their kids, regardless of where they live, regardless of political ideology, or anything else.”
I believe our organization is one of the most inclusive program models out there that’s scalable. And I believe wholeheartedly that all of our parents want what’s best for their kids, regardless of where they live, regardless of political ideology, or anything else.
Looking ahead to the end of 2021, Raising A Reader is in the process of developing all content for families in a minimum of two languages; its book collection has been available in 13 different languages. In addition, the team is managing a pilot pediatric partnership for racial equity to roll out curriculum that enhances pediatricians in talking to parents about race equity and belonging with their kids, launching in 2022 in Bay Area medical centers. Continued investment in rural areas to close the digital divide is also planned.
In addition, RAR will be building partnerships with community organizations, including schools, childcare centers, libraries and others in an effort to provide families with access to award-winning books. RAR will do this by enhancing the Classic Red Book Bag model with complementary materials to educate and support children and families around the issue of race, equity and identity. “We prioritize sharing beautiful books that portray all children, honoring diverse backgrounds, languages, abilities and including stories by and about people of all diverse backgrounds,” Torgerson says.
“We know what we’re doing through Raising A Reading is working,” Torgerson says. “Early literacy development is an essential building block to a child’s future learning and the routines families build by reading together support brain development and strengthen resilience.”
Bezos Family Foundation is proud to help Raising A Reader’s capacity to carry out a new strategic plan to expand their reach by 40% and serve 200,000 children annually. Learn more at raisingareader.org.