How Did Book Clubs Start?

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

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A book club is a reading group made up of several people. They can either meet in public, such as libraries, classrooms, coffee shops, or other rooms and buildings, or they can also meet in people’s homes. Together, the groups discuss a particular book they are reading, asking questions and sharing thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the selected book. Book clubs have always had a foundation based in contemporary politics, society, and religion. These clubs are also a great way to meet new people who share similar interests in books, genres, and reading material. 

The popularity of book clubs is due to the importance of engaging in conversation about books. These discussions heighten our perspectives and knowledge about a particular story or event. It also helps improve reading comprehension and other literary skills that allow us to effectively articulate and nurture the reflection of not only literature, but ourselves as well. Book clubs also inspire positive attitudes towards books, such as a love for reading and appreciating literature in its diverse art form. Book clubs for students encourage them to read in more extensive and intensive ways, as it exposes them to a multiplicity of perspectives. 

How Did Book Clubs Begin? 

The evolution of American book clubs began in the early 17th century, when religious renegade Anne Hutchinson organized a female discussion group pertaining to sermons, all while being on a ship that was heading to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. In 1727, Benjamin Franklin was also a pioneer of today’s social gatherings of book clubs when he organized a ‘prominent Philadelphian literary society called the Junto, which was made up of 12 members. ‘The group met weekly to discuss moral, political, commercial and scientific topics of the day.’ For the next three centuries, prominent American figures have kept the tradition alive through constructing reading societies and study groups related to education in school, particularly in literacy.

In the past, the majority of book clubs have been organized and centered upon oppressed minorities and women. They provided a ‘self-culture’ for people, as well as a ‘mutual desire for self-cultivation through literature.’ Women’s groups have made book clubs an ideal place for consciousness-raising and collective engagement, in the aims for intellectual growth.   

Adolescent Book Group

Volunteers at the Adolescent Book Group Program here at Words Alive focuses on facilitating monthly or bi-weekly book discussions, writing workshops, and other projects within classrooms to help improve students’ reading analysis, literacy, vocabulary, and critical thinking. The ABG program also provides opportunities for underserved teens to achieve academic and social success. Teens in book group discussions will gain college-ready skills that will enhance their critical-thinking, ability to express themselves, public and interpersonal communications, and overall confidence/self-esteem.   






Banned Books Week!

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 - Sept. 28) recognizes the intellectual freedom to read and express opinions. It also brings to attention the current and historical attempts to censor certain books in schools and libraries, which deprives students the ability to explore new ideas and learn about the issues we face in the world. That is why Banned Books Week aims to bring book communities together (librarians, booksellers, teachers, journalists, authors, publishers, and readers of all types) to freely express their ideas and possess the freedom to explore different varieties of books, despite whether or not it’s considered popular or appropriate.

Censorship of books is a deprivation of one’s curiosity to explore and expand one’s thinking, knowledge, or broaden life perspectives. Censoring books could also prevent socio-political progression and innovation. That is why at Words Alive, we support Banned Books Week and the spotlight it places on issues surrounding censorship. 

Examples of Banned Books:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

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Starr Williams is a ‘16-year old girl who navigates between her poverty-stricken neighborhood and the wealthy suburban prep school she attends. She is also the sole witness to the police shooting of her best friend Kahlil, who is unarmed but may or may not have been a drug dealer.’  

This story has been attacked by ‘would-be censors’, such as officials in Katy, Texas, claiming that it contains a “‘perversely vulgar” depiction of drug abuse, profanity, and offensive language.” The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, which raises attention to the continued existence of prejudice and police violence, as witnessed by the main character of the YA novel, Starr Williams. However, thanks to Ny’Shira Lundy, a teenage student in the school’s district, 4,000 signatures on a petition were gathered, calling for the restoration of the book. Students are still required to get parental permission for access of the book. 

According to Ny’Shira Lundy, The Hate U Give inspired her style of writing. She was able to connect with the character Starr, as she also attended a predominantly white prep school, where she struggled to find her own voice. 

1984 by George Orwell 


‘The main character, Winston Smith, is a civil servant of the ironically-named Ministry of Truth, responsible for carrying out the State’s historical revisions in order to maintain control over the individuality and intellect of the people’.

The novel has been repeatedly banned and challenged, due to its content of nationalism (pro-communism), sexual themes, and themes around control, censorship, and privacy. In 1950’s communist Russia, the book was burned under Stalin and the USSR. Ownership meant possible arrest until 1990, when it was accepted again in the country after content-editing. In 1980, the book was also banned in Jackson County, Florida for its explicit sexual content. From 2009-10, Amazon deleted it from its kindle databases due to its controversy.

Ironically, 1984 raises important issues concerning communism and the eerie thought of an abusive, overpowering government. The novel also represents dystopian genres in literature. ‘Dystopia’ refers to an imagined state of future society, where injustice and totalitarianism dominates a certain environment. 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle 

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This novel tells of a story about a girl named Meg Murry, who travels through time and space in order to save her father from evil forces. Much of the novel’s thematic aspects involve religious ideology, mixed with a sense of radical ideas that intertwine science and religion. The book was frowned upon by the Christian community, labeling the novel as ‘unorthodoxy’ and ‘heretical’. Other viewers claimed that the book ‘encouraged witchcraft, or heretically conflated Christianity with the occult.’   

L’Engle believes in an overlying concept of spirituality and science coexisting together. The idea of putting figures such as Jesus, Gandhi, Einstein, and Bhudda in the presence of each other and fighting against the forces of evil challenged and went against Christian principles. Christians assumed that L’Engle was giving the implication that these four figures were of equal significance to each other. The Disney movie’s adaptation omitted aspects of the novel that originally contained depictions of science and religion mixed together.  

Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Written from the perspective of Miles, the story tells of a male teen who leaves his high school and joins a co-ed boarding school and ventures out to a new exciting journey. In this new school, Miles joins a social circle where he meets another character, Alaska, a rebellious poetic prankster who alters Miles’ life. 

This YA novel was challenged due to its explicit sexual content between two teenagers. In 2012, Knox and Sumner County High Schools from Tennessee removed the book from the school’s curriculum, after a parent raised issues of its explicit language, ‘encouraging sexual experimentation’, and a ‘sexual gateway’ for teens. In Marion County, Kentucky, the book was also claimed to contain scenes of drug and alcohol use. 

“Looking for Alaska ranked No. 6 on the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016.”

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


“Set in the near future, The Handmaid’s Tale describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans… The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order.”

This book has been banned from certain U.S. and Canadian high schools due to its sexual degradation of women, religion, and political controversy. In 2008, a parent from Toronto claimed that the novel used “profane language” and “anti-Christian tones” that were deemed inappropriate for 12th grade English classes. A superintendent of the Judson school in Texas removed the book from the English curriculum. “In doing so, the superintendent overruled the recommendation by a committee of teachers, students, and parents. The committee appealed the decision to the school board, which overruled the superintendent in 2006.”

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr.

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In 2010, the Board of Education in Texas mistakenly banned the book, due to a confusion in the author’s name. A board member confused the author, Bill Martin Jr., with Bill Martin, the author of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.

Nonetheless, the Huffington Post asks: “Why would the political implications of an author’s work for adults be reason to ban his book for children?” The Texas Board of Education perhaps feared that children who enjoy this book would lead to a ‘slippery slope’ to those same students reading Bill Martin’s books in the future. The HuffPost also raised the question: “Was the board afraid that children who enjoyed Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? would decide to then read Bill Martin’s complete oeuvre, moving to Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? — and his other 298 or so books for children — and then quite naturally onto Ethical Marxism?”













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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month!

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

At Words Alive, we’re celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month by taking a look at the history of this month and highlighting lively, cultural books on our curriculum list that connect with Hispanic history and culture! During this month, we recognize the significant contributions and the native heritage of Latin Americans that has existed in the United States since before its colonization. Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968, beginning from September 15, which is the anniversary of the independence of five Latin countries, including Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Today, 18% of the American population are of Hispanic/Latino origin. The term “Hispanic” or “Latino” refers to cultural and ethnic roots from the Carribean, South & Central America, or Spain. 

It is important to incorporate Hispanic authors/characters in both children and young adult novels. It is also vital for students to be introduced to new and different cultures in order to raise awareness of what is happening around the world, as well as in our own country. Many students can also see themselves represented in these books, as it explores empathetic topics and other relatable themes of Hispanic heritage, culture, and language. Hispanic novels enrich and enhance multiculturalism in the classroom, as some students can relate to the characters and plots in these books, which are based off  existing culture that is present today. 

Here is a sample of books exploring Hispanic themes on our Read Aloud and Adolescent Book Group curriculum lists!

Read Aloud Program

An image of a page from  Tortillas Are Round . The image features and adult cooking a stew while two young children help. The text says: “Round are tortillas and tacos, too. Round is a pot of abuela’s stew. I can name more round things. Can you?”   Source:

An image of a page from Tortillas Are Round. The image features and adult cooking a stew while two young children help. The text says: “Round are tortillas and tacos, too. Round is a pot of abuela’s stew. I can name more round things. Can you?”


Tortillas Are Round by Roseanne Greenfield Thong is a book that focuses on teaching children about shapes, as well as comparing and identifying common objects with those shapes. The story is written in both English and Spanish, allowing the opportunity for students to learn new Spanish words. 

Another book we’re proud to have on our list is Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull. This story introduces students to one of the greatest civil rights leaders, Cesar Chavez, who led a 340-mile peaceful protest march in California, supporting workers’ rights for migrant farmers. The story also explores Cesar Chavez’s background of growing up in poverty with parents who slaved in the fields, having barely enough money to survive.   

Adolescent Book Group

The Adolescent Book Group Program is proud to introduce students to Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. This is a true story of a brave Honduran boy who faces unimaginable hardships, as he journeys to reunite with his mother in the United States. At age 5, Enrique’s mother left Honduras to work in the U.S. to support her children. At age 16, Enrique ventures out alone from Tegucigalpa with nothing but a slip of his mother’s telephone number from North Carolina. Sonia Nazario is an award-winning journalist whose stories pertain to real world problems. This book, particularly, raises issues of immigration, explores perseverance, and depicts the danger and difficulties of travelling to the U.S. from Central America through Mexico.  

An image of the book  Like Water For Chocolate . Source: @fictionmatters on Instagram.

An image of the book Like Water For Chocolate. Source: @fictionmatters on Instagram.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is a fictional novel, which tells the story of a young girl named Tita who yearns to marry the love of her life, Pedro. However, according to her mother, Tita must follow the family tradition of the youngest daughter not marrying, but taking care of her mother until the day she dies. Pedro ends up marrying Tita’s older sister, Rosaura, instead. This causes Tita’s imense emotions to be infused with her cooking. Anyone who eats her food will feel intense sadness, happiness, longing, or anger. This story brings about themes of magical realism, love, happiness, lust, grief, and rebirth. 





Words Alive 2019-2020 Sneak Peek!

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

The new school year has begun, which means  Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group and Read Aloud Program are back! We are excited to have our volunteers engage with students in the classrooms while reading books out loud and talking about them together. In both programs, our curriculum focuses on a diverse range of popular stories that students can see themselves in and connect with. Here is a sneak peek of just a few of the books that we’ll be reading in the program this year! 

Read Aloud Program: Our Upcoming Curriculum

An image of three of our RAP books:  Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween, Dinosaur Bones,  and  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

An image of three of our RAP books: Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween, Dinosaur Bones, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Although children’s books are usually shorter, we want to make sure that each student gets the opportunity to absorb the values of these books, so they can learn from the text and dedicate themselves to truly appreciating all the different books that are brought to them. Rather than merely reading through one book and moving onto the next, our volunteers bring the books to life by asking questions before, during, and after reading aloud to encourage students to participate. This will also help students gain an interest in reading in and outside the classroom. The enjoyment of reading a good book is a valuable aspect in a student’s life, and will help their reading skills in the future. It will also help children develop cognitive language and social-emotional skills. 

October is Halloween month! Which means we will be reading the book titled Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween. The book will introduce students to the creativity of poetry, as it is composed of 15 poems, each with unique Halloween celebrations with bright and colorful illustrations. During reading, our volunteers help students point out words that give the poems that scary Halloween feeling, as well as which lines have rhyming words, how each poem is different, and the emotions behind them. This allows children to learn about alliteration and rhyming patterns. Students are also given the chance to create their own silly alliterations and share their Halloween costumes with their peers.

Volunteers will also be introducing and reading the book Dinosaur Bones. This book will bring the dinosaurs back to life, with Bob Barner’s lively rhyming text and curiosity induced information about dinosaurs. Through paper collages, the book also contains vibrant illustrations of dinosaur bones that can be found in museums. Students will engage with several questions about the variety of dinosaurs, identifying and differentiating them by name, size, weight, and appearance. This will also help children develop an understanding of history (time periods and timelines), and they will learn new terms, as well as other interesting facts! Dinosaur Bones will spark a child’s inner scientist, and make enthusiasts roar with delight.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of a boy named William Kamkwamba, who’s village has been struck by a terrible drought, causing his family and his village to lose all their crops, resulting in having nothing to eat. Through exploring the science books in his village, William found the solution, which was to build a windmill that would bring electricity back to the village, and helps his family pump water to farm the land again. This book inspires children, as well as evokes perseverance, and teaches kids new terms/words, such as “drought” or “windmill”, for example. Students will also be able to learn about the different environments that other kids live in, showing how their lives are different than ours.

Adolescent Book Group Program 

An image of three of our ABG books:  A Very Large Expanse of Sea ,  The Poet X , and  Hey, Kiddo .

An image of three of our ABG books: A Very Large Expanse of Sea, The Poet X, and Hey, Kiddo.

Our ABG program serves teenagers from alternative schools who have gone through adversity such as violence, teen pregnancy, and homelessness. Our Words Alive volunteers provide teens with engaging book discussions, writing workshops, and projects that help bring books alive. 

Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka is one of the books that will be introduced to the classroom for the first time this year! Expressing the unfortunate circumstances of troubled families, Hey Kiddo tells the story of a young man, Krosoczka, who lives with his grandparents, due to his mother being an incarcerated heroin addict. Not knowing who his father is, Krosoczka seeks to find him, while also facing problems with his mother, his daily livelihood, and making it to become an artist. This book depicts the impact of change in one’s life, as many teens struggle to find themselves in identifying who they truly are. This book also explores themes of addiction, abuse, and growing up in a non-traditional environment. The struggling relationships between families and the overwhelming path that leads to achieving success are also impacting aspects of the book. Art is an inspiring theme in the novel, as it is the aspiring focus and profession that Krosoczka wishes to pursue.

Another story that will be presented to the classroom will be The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. This fictional novel surrounds itself on the basis of racial identity, stereotypes, and the bonds between communities. The main character, Xiomara Batista feels neglected and unable to truly speak her mind in her Harlem neighborhood. All her heartfelt thoughts and inner emotions pour out into her notebook, where she writes and recites her words like poetic prayers. Xiomara lives in a religious environment, and falls into a deep crush on a boy named Aman. Students will be able to learn how to break free and have their own voice in life as well. The power of words is also emphasized with this reading, and will also encourage students to participate more in classes, extracurricular events/activities, and develop positive hobbies that they find interesting, or are passionate about.

Last but certainly not least, volunteers will be introduced to A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi. Another fiction novel, taking place in 2002. A year after 9/11, the story focuses on race, xenophobia, romance, relationships, and assumptions. Politically, it is an extremely sensitive time, especially for sixteen-year-old Shirin, a Muslim girl living in America. Shirin has to endure prejudice from people demeaning her as an outcast in society because of her religious and racial identity. She is also attacked for the hijab that she wears everyday, which even results in physical violence. Because of her circumstances, she must build protective walls, until she meets Ocean James, who really seems like he wants to get to know her. However, it will be difficult for Shirin to bring her guard down and develop a friendship. The aim of this story is to teach students to respect other cultures and backgrounds different from their own. Students will also learn about stereotypes and unfair treatment, as well as how to form friendships with different types of people, regardless of their religion, sex, or race.  

These books are only a few that we have previewed for a sneak peak into what we’ll be reading with students this year. These engaging themes, topics, diverse stories, characters, and texts are sure to get all of our students excited and interested in reading, as they learn and discover new things this school year!      

Independent Bookstore Day!

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

An image of books laying on a table.

An image of books laying on a table.

April 27th is National Independent Bookstore Day! We at Words Alive are celebrating the importance of supporting local businesses, particularly independently owned bookstores. How have independent and local bookstores been important in your life?

Supporting locally owned independent businesses not only helps your community, but allows us to go back to and enjoy the simple pleasure of perusing the aisles of a bookstore, searching for that one special book you’ll take home. I’m sure each of us has an abundance of fond memories at a bookstore, stretching from our childhood to present day. Many independent bookstores are also used bookstores, or have a used books section, which is so helpful to people wanting to build their home libraries. We’ve seen how important owning books is as one develops their identity as a reader, and when used books are available for only a few dollars, the idea of a home library becomes much more accessible.

Words Alive understands that supporting local bookstores is important to maintain a thriving community for all of those who wish to have a safe space to explore and read peacefully. Since we are based in the San Diego area, here is a list of just a few of our favorite independent bookstores:

Let us know in the comments the name of your favorite independent bookstore! Happy reading!

What Are Wordless Books?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

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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!


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.


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, 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 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.