“These are your kids on books”: Literacy poster goes viral

I adore this poster from the innovative Denver, Colorado literacy organization Burning Through Pages. It has captured the imagination of people around the world, causing so much interest that the volunteer page on their website crashed–proof positive that books are not dead.

Poster designed by Mike Anderick for Burning Through Pages literacy campaign.

Burning Through Pages has one goal, as stated on its website:

“To inspire a love of reading in today’s youth by recommending, donating, and discussing books.”

The non-profit organization encourages reading and writing by inviting local youth to pick a book from their book list (for free!), read it, and discuss it with volunteers at book clubs in their community. And we’re not talking e-books. We’re talking good old-fashioned paper:

“We buy books, give them away, and take the time to talk about them.”

Co-founder Evin Moore told The Huffington Post that he started the organization last year with all of his retirement savings, and it is entirely funded through donations.

Their book selection is strictly focussed on modern books, rather than classics, as an alternative to what is offered in classrooms. I could quibble with this part of the program, but I won’t. They aren’t disparaging the classics, they are rightly offering up modern books to a new generation of readers:

“In a time of overwhelming technology and mindless entertainment, we want to get books into the hands of young adults based on what they love and are passionate about, in the hope that they will become active readers and find sanctuary in the limitless stories and ideas found in literature.”

The program responds to a persistent problem: youth illiteracy. In January 2012, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce website reported that, “8 to 10 percent of Colorado third graders cannot read a basic children’s book, such as Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, because they are functionally illiterate.”

This problem is mirrored in cities all across the United States and Canada. While both countries have high literacy rates overall (99%), they experience low rates of literacy amongst specific groups (e.g. high-risk youth and immigrants) of the population. In my own country, Canada, a 2009 study showed that 1 in 10 students performed at a low reading level and lacked some fundamental skills to prepare them to either enter the workforce or pursue postsecondary education. And amongst the adult population, current national figures show that, “nearly half of Canadians had low levels of literacy.”

Literacy programs aimed at youth are not simply about helping kids read and succeed in school, but also about helping them stay in school and succeed in life. The school-based Youth Literacy Canada gets to the heart of the matter:

“One of our nation’s greatest challenges is to improve the literacy of our youth and adults. We need to do this not just for the good of the “new economy,” to fight crime, and reduce poverty, but, most importantly, to improve the lives of young people who do not read well.”

There are many wonderful literacy programs working away at this problem. But hats off to Burning Through Pages for their simple, fun, grassroots program that is helping to put the spotlight on an important issue. If it grows, think of the possibilities?

Find out more at the Burning Through Pages website.

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