Books

What Are Wordless Books?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Wordless Books Post.jpg

What Are Wordless Children’s Books and Where Can I Find Them?

Wordless children’s books rely on illustrations to tell the story and allow children to create their own narrative in their head. These books may have no words at all or may have just a few words on each page. Wordless books are commonly found in school and public libraries and can cater to children of all ages in elementary school. Popular examples include The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, and Journey by Aaron Becker.

Why are Wordless Books Important?

Wordless books are important in building  literacy skills and confidence with books. Without a set storyline, there are a lot of different directions and discussions that the book can take the reader on. This allows for a more diverse method of learning. More specific benefits include:

  • It familiarizes children with books. When just starting out on their journey with reading, children need to learn the basics of books: which way to read the book (front to back), what the spine and title page are, where to find the author’s name, etc. Wordless books provide the perfect opportunity to introduce these important aspects of reading to a young child.

  • They allow children to use their imagination. Children can use context clues to infer what will happen next in the story. They are able to make up whole conversations and narratives based on a single page of illustration. The complexity or simplicity of the story is up to them and can easily be guided by additional questions from an adult.

  • The story changes depending on who is reading it. This maintains a child’s interest in reading by never allowing the story to get repetitive. This dynamic aspect of wordless books has the potential to get children excited about all of the various book options available so they can get more creative with their stories!

  • You can read them in any language. Illustrations have no language. This means that reading as a family doesn’t need to be limited by what language is read in the home or what reading level the parents are at. Children create the story, and can do so in the language they feel most comfortable and excited about.

To help drive home the importance and dynamic use of wordless children’s books, we read these in our Family Literacy Program -- which is starting back up soon! This program, which only runs in the spring, focuses on making reading a fun habit for the whole family. Our volunteers and staff work with families to deliver ten hours of parent education over the course of seven weeks. Each workshop includes an information session and skill-building exercises for parents, group story time, and guided activities for parents and children. We continue to do this each year because we have seen promising results and feedback from the session, including a 29% increase in the positive literacy behaviors in the home environment following the workshops.

If you would like to learn more about our Family Literacy Program or how to get involved, click here.

Why We Should Own Books

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of a young student from Golden Hill pointing at a large pile of books at a book giveaway we hosted in 2017.

An image of a young student from Golden Hill pointing at a large pile of books at a book giveaway we hosted in 2017.

Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, The Going to Bed Book -- these are some of the most iconic children’s books today. You may have read them to young ones before bedtime or perhaps you had them read to you when you were young yourself. However, many children don’t have books read to them before bedtime because they don’t have home libraries or books at home. Having books in the home is important not only for bedtime stories and the routine it creates for a family, but also for the educational value books can provide to developing minds.

An analysis of nearly 100,000 school children across the United States found that access to printed materials is the critical variable affecting reading acquisition. Having books easily accessible, such as in the home, helps them enjoy reading and read more frequently. For a skill as important as reading, something that can change one’s social and economic standing for years to come, frequent exposure is imperative. It’s also been noted that even allowing a child to pick out a book that they would like to read teaches them autonomy and empowerment.

Previously, having college-educated parents was thought to be the top predictor of a child’s success in school. A study at the University of Reno found that both having a 500 book library or having university-educated parents propel a child an average of 3.2 years in their education. Though 500 books is a significant investment, having as few as 20 books in one’s home library can have an impact on a child’s future education, with the impact increasing as the number of books increase.

An article from The Atlantic discusses a community with high poverty rates that was found to have only one age-appropriate book per 33 children -- all of which were coloring books. By comparison, children in a middle-class community in the same city had access to 13 books per child. By slowly building home libraries in these communities, we can help develop an interest in reading in children.

Words Alive helps our participants in all programs build their home libraries. Our Family Literacy Program students take home a new book every week, culminating in 7 new books for their home libraries by the end of the program. Our Adolescent Book Group participants keep the books that we read together throughout the school year. We also have our Winter Book Giveaway coming up where we will be giving away 3,000 new books to students in our Read Aloud program.

If you would like to donate or become a fundraiser to help us continue building home libraries for students, check out our Champions for Youth campaign that is running through January 27, 2019!

Sources:

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/face/pdf/research-compendium/access-to-books.pdf

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/where-books-are-nonexistent/491282/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100520213116.htm

https://booksaremagic.org/2012/03/14/book-ownership-matters/



Annual Report: Family Literacy Program

What happened in our Family Literacy Program in the 2017-2018 school year? Well…a lot!

To start, 437 families came through the door, taking home 2,511 books and clocking 1,310 hours of shared learning time. Let’s dive in and share what else happened in the program this year!

Meet Sheena

An image of Sheena Burks. She is standing in front of a bare wall and smiling at the camera.

An image of Sheena Burks. She is standing in front of a bare wall and smiling at the camera.

In our sixth year of the program, our expanded facilitator team included Sheena, a talented mother and preschool teacher who attended the program the past two years with her young boys. She is the first parent participant to go on to lead the program with other families. Sheena has been able to use her experience as a participant in the program to shape her leadership style. Over the past year, Sheena has inspired 72 families through the Family Literacy Program, while sharing her own stories and experiences to help strengthen their connection to reading. Through this unique perspective, Sheena has been able to see the incredible effects the program has on children and families.

“I had a parent say that they couldn’t get their son to read at all because he thought it was boring,” said Sheena. “But after the program, they’re saying that he wants to read more and more...he’s comfortable now — he’s not feeling forced to read!”

Reporting Out

An image of Sheena facilitating a Family Literacy session. She is sitting on the floor with guardians and children while they all look at books together.

An image of Sheena facilitating a Family Literacy session. She is sitting on the floor with guardians and children while they all look at books together.

To engage returning families, Words Alive introduced new curriculum, including new book titles and supporting activities — and it was a huge hit! What’s more, parent knowledge in understanding child development, implementation of literacy-building activities at home, and book sharing behaviors continue to increase for our families during their time with us. With the increased knowledge and skills that come from our programs, parents are empowered in their role as their child’s first and most important teacher. By the program’s end:

• 68% more families reported having a routine for looking at books with their child.

• Families reported an average 38% increase in the size of their home libraries, growing on average from 11 to 16 books.

• Families that completed our program reported a 40% increase in understanding how their preschool child learns and have created a language-rich environment for them.

Moving Forward

Parents play the most critical role in developing skills and abilities within their children. Parent engagement is one of the key factors in a quality childhood program. At Words Alive, we know that our Family Literacy Program is engaging parents in a meaningful way and making an impact on the families who participate each year. We have successfully collaborated with a variety of partners like the Fullerton School District, who offered four sessions of our program in their schools after we trained their staff and provided curriculum.

“Words Alive has empowered parents to support their children acquire valuable literacy skills, engage families in discussion about meaningful literature, and connect our parents into our school community.” —Dr. Robert Pletka, Fullerton School District Superintendent

We continue to see the same results in the families through this training model and through direct services. Going forward we want to continue to diversify where we can offer our Family Literacy Program by reaching out to families through classes located within their communities.

Learn more about our Family Literacy Program here!

Why Diversity in Books is So Important

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Image of young adult author Nicola Yoon and her husband holding up a sign that says, “We need diverse books because of everything in this circle.” There is a circle cut out of the sign and their daughter is standing so her face is in the circle. Photo credit:  Nicola Yoon

Image of young adult author Nicola Yoon and her husband holding up a sign that says, “We need diverse books because of everything in this circle.” There is a circle cut out of the sign and their daughter is standing so her face is in the circle. Photo credit: Nicola Yoon

In a recent blog post, we previewed a few books included in our curriculum for the 2018-2019 school year. Among the books included are short stories and novels that feature characters and are written by people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, authors who deal with mental health issues, and have other diverse experiences.

ADL is a nonprofit whose mission is to secure justice and fair treatment to all, including those of varying religions, races, genders, and identities. ADL posted an article outlining anti-biased education and how diversity in books was related. The article explains the difference between “mirror books” and “window books” when referring to diversity in children’s literature. A “mirror book” contains a reflection of oneself: your culture, gender, race, religion, etc. and enables the reader to potentially see themselves in a different light. On the other hand, a “window book” gives the reader a glance into another life that features different people, events, and places that they may not be familiar with. Exposing students to different environments through these “window books” is a unique opportunity to learn empathy and perspective, while allowing children to reflect on their experiences through “mirror” books helps them relate in new ways and learn more about themselves in the process.

A graphic titled “Proportion of children’s books by people of color published in the US (2017).” The graphic shows the following statistics: 3,150 white, 274 Asian Pacific/Pacific Americans, 122 African/African Americans, 116 Latinos, 38 American Indians/First Nations.  Source

A graphic titled “Proportion of children’s books by people of color published in the US (2017).” The graphic shows the following statistics: 3,150 white, 274 Asian Pacific/Pacific Americans, 122 African/African Americans, 116 Latinos, 38 American Indians/First Nations. Source

What Portion of Books are Considered Diverse Today?

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center does a yearly study on how many books are published from non-white authors. Though there has been an increase in recent years for books published from multicultural authors, there are still just over 10% of books published in the last 24 years that were written by and about people of color. This is compared to the 2017 census data that reported 40% of Americans as people of color.

Examining the books in the Young Adult LGBTQ category, where the characters or plot line focuses on LGBTQ issues, the percentage has doubled in the last decade. Malindo Lo, an author who writes about such issues, conducted her own study in 2017. Malindo counted books published each year by mainstream authors, reaching nearly 80 books in 2018, up from 55 in 2015. Comparing this to the 4.5% reported American LGBT population in 2017, there is a large variance between the population and the representation within publications and what students are exposed to. This under-representation is what a lot of advocacy groups and movements aim to address today.

Is Diversity in Books an Important Topic Today?

Yes! We Need Diverse Books aims to “produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” An 11 year old African-American girl, Marley Dias, launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in contemporary books.

Words Alive understands the importance of diversity as well and works hard to bring “window books” and “mirror books” into the classrooms to teach students self-reflection and empathy. Most of our participants are non-white students, a group that is severely underrepresented in American publications. By exposing students to different cultures and reliving how main characters have endured experiences that the reader may have gone through personally, we are able to bring more representation, tolerance, and understanding into the classroom.

Sources:

https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/table-talk/why-we-need-diverse-books

http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217

https://www.malindalo.com/blog/2017/10/12/lgbtq-ya-by-the-numbers-2015-16

https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

https://diversebooks.org/about-wndb/





Learn a New Word Today!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of one of our Adolescent Book Group students working on a blackout poetry exercise, which requires them to select certain words and phrases from a page of text to construct a poem.

An image of one of our Adolescent Book Group students working on a blackout poetry exercise, which requires them to select certain words and phrases from a page of text to construct a poem.

October 16th is National Dictionary Day, which celebrates the English language on the day that Noah Webster was born. Webster is known for his publication An American Dictionary of the English Language, which included 70,000 words and involved learning 27 languages in order to determine the etymology of the words. This publication from Noah Webster is a predecessor to the now widely recognized Merriam-Webster dictionary that has helped millions of people understand new words.

Learning new vocabulary is an integral part of a child’s development and continues to be important into our adult lives. In an article on TalkingKids.org, it’s estimated that 3 year old children typically have between 500-1,100 words in their vocabulary. These are words  that they can both verbalize and understand. A few years later, between the ages of 5-7, children typically have the knowledge to use between 3,000 to 5,000 words in their conversations. At this point in their life, their brains are “sponges”, absorbing their surrounding environment at a rapid rate.

An article on Scholastic.com outlines three reasons why vocabulary is such a large focus for children. First and foremost, vocabulary itself makes up communication -- how we speak, read, listen, and write. Secondly, the goal of reading is to understand and grow from the material. Understanding and overall comprehension of the text improves when we know the vocabulary included in it. Lastly, when children and adolescents improve their vocabulary, their academic and social confidence and competence improves as well, allowing them to succeed in diverse environments.

Reading is one of the best ways to gain exposure to words that may not be in used often everyday conversation but have significant meaning and can be added to your “word bank” for future use. On the U.S Department of Education website, a presentation about vocabulary development outlines the correlation between time spent reading and the number of words we are exposed to each year. With less than one minute of reading each day, we are exposed to 8,000 words per year. With 4.6 minutes of reading each day, we are exposed to 282,000 words per year. And with 20 minutes of reading each day (the recommended amount for beginning readers), we are exposed to 1,800,000 words per year! Learning and comprehending new words by using context clues or looking them up in the dictionary is an important step in becoming a more advanced reader.

An image of four dice spelling out the word “risk.” The word “hazard” originated from an Arabic word for a dice game that involved high risk!

An image of four dice spelling out the word “risk.” The word “hazard” originated from an Arabic word for a dice game that involved high risk!

National Dictionary Day also celebrates the etymology of words: where they originated from and how they came to be a part of the English language. Oxford Royale Academy lists some common words with some very interesting backgrounds. Take “hazard” for example: a word dating back to 13th-century Arabic of which “al-zahr” referred to dice used in gambling games, which had a high amount of risk involved for participants. “Al-zahr” subsequently became associated with danger and was believed to be brought to Britain when the Crusaders learned these dice games while in the Holy Land.

Looking for a fun way to celebrate this day? Try looking up etymologies of new words you learn -- or everyday ones such as sandwich or genuine! To celebrate dictionary day year round, there are multiple “word-a-day” apps and emails you can receive, including Merriam-Webster and Oxford English.

Sources:

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-dictionary-day-october-16/

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/understanding-vocabulary/

http://www.talkingkids.org/2011/07/how-many-words-should-my-child-be.html

https://www2.ed.gov/programs/readingfirst/2008conferences/language.pdf

https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/14-fascinating-word-origins-english-language.html

Words Alive Curriculum Sneak Peek!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group and Read Aloud Program have started back up for the school year! We are excited for our volunteers to get back into the classroom and engage with students while reading and talking about books together. In our curriculum for both programs, we focus on new, diverse, and relevant texts so that students can see themselves represented in popular stories.

In 1965, The Saturday Review published “The All-White World of Children’s Books” showing that only 6.7% of children’s books published in the past three years had included black characters. By 2013, the numbers had only risen slightly to 10%. More than a third of people in the United States are non-white and they deserve to see themselves represented in literature as much as anyone else. Providing students with diverse representation in books is so important in our programs and allows students to make connections between the books they read and their own lives.

Here is a sneak peek of a few of the books we’ll be reading in each program this year!

Upcoming Curriculum for our Read Aloud Program

Although children’s books are generally shorter, we want to ensure that students get the most value out of each book we bring into the classroom. Rather than reading through each book and moving quickly on to the next, our volunteers bring the book to life by asking questions before, during, and after reading aloud to encourage the students to participate. The goal is to bring enjoyment to the classroom through reading while helping children develop cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills.

For the month of October, we have a Halloween themed book titled Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween. The book includes 15 different poems describing youngster’s Halloween celebrations, accompanied by bright illustrations. While reading, our volunteers help students focus on rhyming, rhythm, and emotion. Students are also given the chance to learn about and create their own silly alliterations and share their own Halloween costumes with their peers.

An image of Giraffes Can’t Dance surrounded by children’s toys! Photo credit:  phenom_llama

An image of Giraffes Can’t Dance surrounded by children’s toys! Photo credit: phenom_llama

Another book our volunteers are looking forward to reading is Giraffes Can’t Dance. This book follows Gerald the Giraffe’s journey from a self-conscious to graceful dancer, including all of the animals and friends he meets along the way. As with most books at this level, our volunteers talk a lot about the book before reading it -- what do the students think the story will be about? Where do they think the book is set? After reading the book, some topics of discussion will be idioms included in the story as well as what lessons were learned.

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? describes Elizabeth Blackwell’s decision in the 1830s to become a doctor instead of a mother or housewife. A big focus of this book is relating it to the students own lives: what do the students want to be when they grow up? Does it remind them of any other people they know who have worked to achieve equal rights? Relating a book to our reality helps bring the book to life and can make it a more memorable activity for students.

Upcoming Curriculum for our Adolescent Book Group Program

Our ABG program serves teenagers in alternative schools who have faced extraordinary circumstances such as violence, pregnancy, and homelessness. Our trained Words Alive volunteers facilitate book discussions, writing workshops, and projects to help bring the books alive.

An image of  Turtles All the Way Down  surrounded by flowers! Photo credit:  courtneyandherbooks

An image of Turtles All the Way Down surrounded by flowers! Photo credit: courtneyandherbooks

Among the new and diverse texts we’re bring into the classroom this year is Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Positive and accurate mental health representation is still so rare in our media and this book can be highly impactful for students with any type of mental health problems. This book explores topics of friendship, mental health, and mystery as 16-year-old Aza investigates the disappearance of a billionaire The discussions around this book include some of the unique writing techniques John Green employs, as well as how mental health plays a part in the story and in real life.

An image of  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe ! Photo credit:  sarachico

An image of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe! Photo credit: sarachico

We’re also excited to introduce students to the wonderful YA coming-of-age novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This book follows two high school aged boys, Aristotle and Dante, as they struggle and come to terms with their racial and sexual identities and feelings of loneliness and anger. This book tackles a wide range of topics for students and volunteers to discuss together, and while reading students will be able to enjoy Saenz’s poetic and beautiful writing style.

Finally, a brand-new book we’ll be diving into this year is Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro. This book details Moss Jefferies’ life after his father was murdered by an Oakland police officer and how he continues to be treated like a criminal in his own school. This book touches on themes of racism, oppression, police brutality, and activism. Discussions around this book focus on problem solving, activism, and how different upbringings can affect perspective.

This sneak peek represents just a few of the books we’ll be reading and discussing with students this year. These engaging, diverse texts and topics are sure to get all of our students excited about reading and learning!

The Love You Give: A Reflection On Our 4th Annual Art & Literacy Event

By Jennifer Van Pelt & Sara Mortensen

An image of our students from La Mesa Community School posed in front of their sculpture. One of the students is holding up a copy of the book, The Hate U Give.

An image of our students from La Mesa Community School posed in front of their sculpture. One of the students is holding up a copy of the book, The Hate U Give.

On June 8th, Words Alive held our 4th Annual Art & Literacy Event to showcase artwork made by our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) participants. Each year, ABG students participate in a program-wide literacy and arts project that enhances their reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in a book and their own environment.

This year, our book of focus was the stunning young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The book and the exhibition focused on the theme of “duality”. At the Art & Literacy Event, our Executive Director, Patrick Stewart, explained where the inspiration for the theme came from:

For many the term “risk” is a very positive or powerful way to go forth or evaluate next steps. Yet at the same time, we use the term “at-risk” with a child and I don’t need to define that even further because you know exactly what that is. At-risk kid. At-risk communities. They have very negative connotations. These are labels that very often these kids grow up with, I don’t know if they are trying to shed them, they will tell you sometimes it's who they are. But we look at risk very differently [depending on our perspective]. That was the inspiration for this...Through this duality we wanted to take a look at dual concepts but with language and having conversations about [this] one particular word.

In the novel, The Hate U Give, the main character encounters and witnesses police brutality in her community and overcomes barriers through activism. For the exhibition, students focused on themes of duality in their own lives and how they have struggled and persevered individually. The project enabled the participants to make real-world connections between the book and their lives in a meaningful way in order to learn about themselves but also reflect on how coming together and sharing their experiences can make a larger impact.

Each student painted an individual wood piece based on either the positive or negativw aspects associated with a particular theme. For example, students may have created work about the negatives of activism, or the positives of anger. 

Each student painted an individual wood piece based on either the positive or negativw aspects associated with a particular theme. For example, students may have created work about the negatives of activism, or the positives of anger. 

Students painted individual pieces of wood based on a theme from the book (identity, racism, grief, anger, bravery, risk, or activism), then the pieces of artwork submitted by the students were combined together into communal sculptures by local artist Isaias Crow. In the end, each school participating in the project had a distinct sculpture that served as a visual representation of the positive and negative aspects (i.e. the “duality”) of one of the prominent themes in The Hate U Give.

The exhibition, titled The Love You Give, was displayed at the San Diego Art Institute (SDAI), a regional contemporary art center in Balboa Park, at the Youth Alliance Exhibitions: a showcase of student artwork created during the past school year with seven other local non-profit organizations. In addition, two of our schools (La Mesa Community School and 37ECB) took field trips to view the exhibition. During these field trips, the Education Director from the San Diego Art Institute, Karla Centeno, held a discussion with the students about how they felt about their work being displayed and publically available for others to see. Responses ranged from “I feel famous” to “I feel proud” and Karla encouraged the students to bring their family and friends to view their accomplishments as well.

At the Art & Literacy Event on June 8th, nearly 100 of our volunteers, donors, and community members showed up to support our students and our mission. The room was filled with awe and amazement as everyone took in the incredible artwork our students had produced. In addition to the art, students participated in writing exercises based on their theme, some of which were printed in the event program. On the subject of grief, one student wrote:

Like  a Trojan  Horse

love  is the  costume of  pain

that  drowns  in black  water.

-Christian,  17 years old   

Monarch  student

On the subject of bravery, another student wrote:

Bravery  is not about  jumping in front  of a bullet or standing  up for someone.

To  me, bravery  is avoiding confrontation  and walking away.

Bravery  is not about  getting locked up  or committing a crime.

Bravery  is staying  away from crime  and moving on.

Bravery  is not always  about fighting or  jumping someone you  hate.

Bravery  is breaking  up a fight or  doing what’s right.

-Salvador,  17 years old

37ECB  student

An image of the Words Alive program for The Love You Give next to the book cover for The Hate U Give.

An image of the Words Alive program for The Love You Give next to the book cover for The Hate U Give.

Words Alive Executive Director Patrick Stewart spoke at the event and called upon the experiences the participants have had throughout the program and during the art project specifically. He recited their words such as “this is the first book I’ve read” when speaking about a novel they studied, then later, “I can’t believe I actually wrote this” as they picked up the program that held their own poems.

Providing the environment and tools that allow students to read, analyze, create, and learn to love reading is what Words Alive strives to accomplish with our Adolescent Book Group. One of the many ways we teach and inspire the students to do this is through the integration of literature and art, which studies have shown can expand critical thinking and language development. We are so proud of our students for creating such beautiful art pieces and engaging with the project. We can’t wait until next year’s project!

If you would like to learn about and get more involved with our literacy programs at Words Alive, click here to find out more information.

80% of Students Develop a Positive Attitude Toward Books: The Impact of Adolescent Book Group

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group has wrapped up for the school year, so we would like to take a deeper look at what the program entailed, our successes, and what the participating students had to say about it!

An image of one of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship students facilitating a book discussion at La Mesa Community School.

An image of one of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship students facilitating a book discussion at La Mesa Community School.

What is the Adolescent Book Group?

In 2018, our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) worked in 19 different classrooms that are within the Juvenile Court and Community School System. Across all classes, our participants read 41 books over the course of the school year.

Our ABG Program works to achieve three main goals: help students develop an enduring commitment to reading, become life-long learners, and become an advocate for themselves and their futures. In order to develop a commitment to reading, students are exposed to books with inspiring and life-changing themes that they are able to analyze and discuss further with their peers, teachers, and Words Alive volunteers. In 2018, 80.24% of students agreed that ABG has helped them develop a positive attitude toward books while 85.19% of students agreed that ABG has helped their ability to express themselves in group discussions. Luis, a 17 year old high school student said, “I thought this program was very helpful to me and made me want to read more. I really never liked reading until I got out to a program like this.” Developing a positive attitude towards reading opens up countless opportunities to continue learning by either teaching yourself or motivating yourself to pursue higher education.

Our participants are able to move towards the goal of becoming life-long learners because they are given the opportunity to learn and recognize their own ability to seek out information to solve problems, acquire critical thinking skills, and use the needed skills to successfully transition into a post-secondary education or a career after school. 8/8 teachers surveyed said ABG helped their students achieve the common core standards of determining and analyzing themes, analyzing the development of complex characters, propelling conversations by posing and responding to questions. In an environment that is very heavily influenced by a student’s performance in Common Core standards, this is an area important to address. A classroom teacher from one of our schools said, “The volunteers were well prepared and extremely helpful in moving the conversation forward, talking about their experiences and how they felt as they read the book. The behavior they modeled helped the students to discuss the topic from the perspective of their own experience.” Having additional positive role models in the classroom are also helpful for these teens as they near a turning point in their lives.

Our last main goal, to help students become advocates for themselves and their futures, is obtained by not only increasing the participant’s self-confidence in the classroom but also learning their voice as a reader, writer, and a speaker as they work towards personal, educational, and career goals. 80.25% of students agreed that ABG has helped their ability to express themselves through writing and 83.75% of students agreed that ABG has helped their ability to make connections between what they read, their life, and their world. Jamie, a 15 year old who participated in our ABG program said, “I liked the creative writing because I had more stories than what I thought I had and I got a chance to show them to people.” Taylor, an 18 year old High School student said, “I liked the discussions because I was able to speak what was on my mind and put ideas in other students’ minds.” Having the confidence to share your ideas through written and spoken methods are important in becoming empowered to achieve your goals.

An image of one of our students from 37ECB working on a black out poem. The image features a page of a book and the student's hand.

An image of one of our students from 37ECB working on a black out poem. The image features a page of a book and the student's hand.

Across all 11 schools we work with, we have achieved top results. As we look for further ways to improve our program, we will continue to follow up with our student participants, teachers, and volunteers for productive feedback. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer yourself or would like to find out more information about attending our Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser to support programs such as our Adolescent Book Group, head to our main page here!

Board Spotlight: Orville Brown!

An image of Board Member Orville Brown standing in front of a bookshelf. The image has the following quote from Orville: "As a child growing up in the British Caribbean, it was instilled in me and my siblings  that reading and communication were critical in our development. We spoke the dialect “Patios” at home but in school we were taught English. We were rewarded when we able to spell a word or read a book.

An image of Board Member Orville Brown standing in front of a bookshelf. The image has the following quote from Orville: "As a child growing up in the British Caribbean, it was instilled in me and my siblings  that reading and communication were critical in our development. We spoke the dialect “Patios” at home but in school we were taught English. We were rewarded when we able to spell a word or read a book.

Orville Brown is one of our Board Member who came to us through our merger with Rolling Readers. He is a Senior Research Scientist at Ferro Corporation, and he has 14 patents in the microelectronic field. He received his undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Chemistry from Hunter College of the City of University of NY and his graduate degree in Chemistry from Columbia University. He is also involved in Habitat for Humanity Global Village.

We are so happy to have Orville on our Board! Now, let's hear from him!

What was your relationship with literacy as a child?

As a child growing up in the British Caribbean, it was instilled in me and my siblings  that reading and communication were critical in our development. We spoke the dialect “Patios” at home but in school we were taught English. Reading, writing, spelling/ pronunciation were separate courses which were taught from kindergarten through third grade. We were rewarded when we able to spell a word or read a book.

When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

I actually fell in love with reading when I was about 7 years old. I was in a school play and I had to remember my lines of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson – “The Moon”.

How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

The “everyday routine” such as traveling, communicating (such as sending an email or a text) or reading the news or a technical journal requires some degree of literacy.

What impact would being illiterate have on your life? Would you have the same profession if you couldn’t read?

Without being literate I could not be in my field. First it requires being literate to complete one’s degree and then as researcher, I have to be able read and write reports, technical journals, patents, standard operating procedures, solve technical problems/challenges and all the other requirements that come with my career. I would not have the same career—I would not be hired.

What is your favorite book and why?

My favorite book is Alice Walker’s, “The Third Life Of Grange Copeland.” The story encompasses love, determination (never give up), hope, and redemption.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

There was a book series that I was addicted to as a child. The Hardy Boys Series by ghost writer Franklin Dixon (Stratemeyer Syndicate). Joe and Frank Hardy's mystery solving skills kept me up late under the covers as an 8-year-old kid.

My favorite single book was “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. This book introduced me to a different America than I envisioned it to be growing up in Jamaica. The ordeals, the trails, his relationship with Jim and the excitement of Huck Finn’s journey down the Mississippi got me hooked.

Do you have a favorite memory relating to reading?

Yes—As a 5th grader in a small class in New York we were each given a paragraph of Joseph Conrad’s, “Heart of Darkness” to read aloud. When it came to my turn, I was stuck, I completely went blank for about a minute. It felt like eternity. I was able to pull myself out, recover, and read my paragraph. But, I still remember that feeling!

What made you join the Words Alive board?

I grew up in a home where volunteering and giving back to the less fortunate was a requirement for all. I attended a Rolling Reader’s function and got hooked and wanted to be a part of its mission. In addition my kids were avid readers and are successful in their careers because of that. I wanted others to have the opportunity that I had and my children had because of that childhood reading experience.

What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

Seeing the positive results of Words Alive's efforts.

Can Reading Help Improve Mental Health?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

What is Mental Health and Who Can it Affect?

An infographic that says: "Fact: 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness. Source:  National Alliance on Mental Illness

An infographic that says: "Fact: 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness. Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

There are countless benefits to reading, and as May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we are focusing on the intersection of the two and are discussing how reading can be connected to an improvement in mental health. Mental health refers to a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. According to MentalHealth.Gov, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental health issues.  Mental health can affect how we think, feel, and act and can be influenced by biological factors or life experiences. Though there are many ways to improve your mental health, reading is a free method that can improve not only your mental wellness but your overall quality of life.

How Can Reading Impact Mental Health?

An infographic that explains the many different benefits of reading books, including: "reduces stress, exercises your brain, and increases your ability to empathize with others."

An infographic that explains the many different benefits of reading books, including: "reduces stress, exercises your brain, and increases your ability to empathize with others."

n a study conducted by the Reading Agency and summarized by the Independent, reading for pleasure can increase self-esteem, reduce symptoms of depression, help build better relationships with others, and reduce anxiety and stress. When immersing yourself in a good book, you can be swept away to a world that is separate from yours, thus separating yourself from the dilemmas or stresses you may have. Certain books can also help you realize you are not in alone in what you are going through, which is often times a focus for the healing process: recognizing others are going through what you are.

In a term that was coined in the early 20th century but has roots dating back to Ancient Greece, Bibliotherapy is a form of therapy that recognizes that books have the power to aid people in solving the issues they’re facing. As mentioned on GoodTherapy.org, there are various services that are offered by Bibliotherapists to discuss what you are struggling with, whether that be stress, anxiety, depression, relationships, etc. and they prescribe books that assist with these problems. There are also existing lists of books at some libraries that focus on common issues including self-esteem, adoption, substance abuse, and eating disorders, among others.

What About Mental Health Later in Life?

There have also been studies that delineate the connection between reading and mental decline that can happen later in life. In a study summarized by Psychology Today, being an avid reader throughout life and continuing into old age can reduce memory decline by more than 30%. Furthermore, for participants included in their study, those who read the most had the fewest physical signs of dementia. The Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation lists brain aerobics and mind games as methods to maintain the vitality of the brain -- activities of which both heavily employ reading and writing methods and focus on continuously exercising your brain.

Overall, professionals agree that reading can have a positive impact on your mental health by building intelligence, empathy, and gaining perspective. According to this article by Jen Reviews, 40 million adults in the U.S. have a mental health condition. If that includes you or someone you love, there are numerous ways to seek help (see resources below). One small thing you can do is bring literacy to the forefront of your life by picking up a book today!

If you are struggling with mental health issues and are looking for help, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

For more information about Words Alive, please click here.

Sources:

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/reading-improves-relationships-and-reduces-depression-symptoms-says-new-study-10446850.html

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/bibliotherapy

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201804/can-reading-help-my-brain-grow-and-prevent-dementia

http://alzheimersprevention.org/4-pillars-of-prevention/exercise-and-brain-aerobics/

https://www.jenreviews.com/mental-health-diagnosis/