Many years ago, my mother read to me from the book Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. I remember as if it were yesterday, hearing her voice at my side on a cold wintry night sharing those words: "Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk..." as little Sal's blueberries thunked into her pail. My mother's voice changed my world.
Long before I could read on my own, she shared with me the strength and beauty of McCloskey's language -- a profound story of a little girl and her mother out in nature, co-existing with a mother bear and her own baby. The power of story, of language and of my mother, all came together. And happened many times after that, over and over. The read aloud made me a reader.
All these years later, I was reading aloud a picture book to a small child in a classroom. His life, so far, had not been easy. His childhood was troubled by poverty and loneliness. In that moment, in the joy of the read aloud, he had an idea that started something big.
March 5 is World Read Aloud Day, a grassroots movement that my organization, LitWorld, created four years ago to honor this young boy's wish for everyone to be able to have a read aloud every day. His eager, glowing smile has reverberated with me every day since then. What he said was this: "Mrs. Allyn, let's make sure everyone knows how good this feels. Let's have a holiday for the read aloud."
Since the day he shared that good idea with us, World Read Aloud Day has become a worldwide event reaching over one million people in more than 65 countries around the world. This year, as we count down to the big day on March 5, we are over 600 cities strong, a number that is growing every day.
In the 21st century, with all of us more connected than ever before, the message that every child deserves the right to read is urgent. According to UNESCO, there are 57 million children who are not in school and hundreds of millions more who are in school but are not learning. Here in the United States, the latest research from the Pew Research Center shows that almost 25 percent of American adults didn't read a book last year -- in any form. By age four, a devastating 30 million word gap exists between children from high and low-income families.
And yet, the good news is this: Research from a six-year study of children's reading habits conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found that reading aloud to kids every day will put them a year ahead of kids who are not read aloud to daily, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances. The same result was echoed in the 2013 Kids & Family Reading Report published by Scholastic which found that "having reading role-model parents or a large book collection at home has a greater impact on kids' reading frequency than does household income."
The message is powerfully clear: Reading aloud to children can close the word gap. Children who grow up as readers become engaged citizens of the global world, and every child deserves that right to read.
When I say that reading aloud will change the world, I know it sounds simple. But one of the many great things about giving kids access to the power of stories and sharing them together is that it is simple. It is also cheap and easily done. And the impact is huge.
Reading aloud builds vocabulary and reverence for language, welcomes a child into a supportive reading community, conveys the joy of reading and shows a child that reading is something to value.
World Read Aloud Day, let us raise our voices for children everywhere who do not yet have access to the kind of reading community they so hunger for. And let us enjoy the day itself for the warmth and joy it brings. Read aloud over video chat to bring loved ones who are far away a little closer. Read aloud to an elderly relative who is not well enough to go out in the cold weather, but wants the world to come inside. Read aloud to show children in your life that we read to discover new things, to learn how to love the world fearlessly and with our whole heart, to be moved together, laugh together and talk together around the power of a shared story.
Find someone to read to on Wednesday. And the next day and the next day, let's keep the spotlight on the right to read until all children can do it. Let your voices on WRAD become the "wave" that ensures every child in the world will get a read aloud every day. And yes, in this way, we can, we will, change the world together.