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NEA News

NEA Celebrates 25 Years of Read Across America with New Programs

NEA’s Read Across America raises awareness about the importance, value, and fun of reading, now with a Diverse Book Challenge and classroom resources on the freedom to read.
2023 Read Across America
Published: March 2, 2023

Key Takeaways

  1. Read Across America emphasizes diversity in books and readers, reflecting different cultures and student experiences.
  2. States and local communities are putting their unique spin on Read Across America with community events.
  3. New programs like the Diverse Book Challenge and resources about the freedom to read in an era of book banning are special markers of the 25th anniversary of Read Across America.

Kids around the country are celebrating a love of reading as we mark the 25th anniversary of Read Across America, like an elementary student in Connecticut. 

“We love reading this much!” said the second grader at Hamden Elementary School, as he threw his arms wide then wrapped them around himself in a bear hug. 

For 25 years, ­NEA’s Read Across America has raised awareness about the importance, value, and fun of reading. While NEA’s Read Across America celebrates reading year-round, March 2 is Read Across America Day—a special day to call attention to the efforts of educators, parents, and others who motivate and teach children to read. With an estimated 45 million people participating, Read Across America Day is the biggest reading celebration in the country. 

Everyone can get involved in Read Across America by reading books with kids, tapping into NEA’s Read Across America’s resources, and by hosting community gatherings.  

Read Across America emphasizes diversity in books and readers, reflecting different cultures and student experiences. NEA works with its affiliates to bring books to student populations that don’t have as much access as more affluent communities. 

This year, NEA awarded $50,000 in Read Across America Grants to 10 state affiliates. The program encourages affiliates to get as many diverse books as possible into the hands of students—books that feature diverse characters and recognize all diverse experiences, including diversity in race, culture, language, setting, beliefs, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, income, ability, religion, and family structure. 

Books and Literacy Boost Achievement

“We went into a district particularly struggling with funds. To be able to give those kids books for their library and to have their own personal book that they can take home was amazing. We were so excited to give them that” said Joslyn DeLancey, Connecticut Education Association (CEA) Vice President, and the President of the Connecticut Education Foundation, which has spearheaded the Read Across America program in Connecticut.  

Theresa Dudley
On March 3, at Easton Elementary School in Easton, MD, the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) donated 20 books, and MSEA Vice President Theresa Mitchell Dudley visited with and read to students. Credit: MSEA

The lack of funding for education can cause disparities and can disrupt the academic opportunities for students to meet their potential.  

According to the Education Policy Institute, “school funding is inequitable, with low-income students often and communities of color consistently lacking resources they need to meet their needs.”  

Access to books, particularly those with characters in settings that reflect the lives of young readers, can help boost literacy and overall achievement. 

According to the National Public Radio, “Researchers found that high-poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average.” said Clare Lombardo.  

Athletes Also Love to Read 

The CEA has a unique approach to celebrating Read Across America by integrating sports into reading.  

They teamed up with University of Connecticut basketball legends Scott Burrell and Morgan Tuck as well as super climber Nina Williams, to share their love of literacy and explain how reading helped shape their careers. 

"Just seeing the athletes that they look up to in a different realm gives students a sense of awe, to see a sports hero who also loves to read is really inspiring,” said DeLancey.  

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    Renewing Freedom to Read Amid Book Bans

    This year’s anniversary of Read Across America is especially important amid an upward trend of banning books.   

    According to the American Library Association, “Between January 1 and August 31, 2022, ALA documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted. In 2021, ALA reported 729 attempts to censor library resources, targeting 1,597 books, which represented the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling these lists more than 20 years ago.” 

    “When books are banned, it limits access to student learning and understanding the world around them,” DeLancey says. "When we ensure kids are exposed to books and can make their own choices to read books that represent them it’s critical to their development as people. That is why Read Across America is more important than ever.”  

    As we celebrate 25 years of Read Across America, NEA President Becky Pringle, calls for a renewed commitment to defend the freedom to read.  

    "All students deserve the freedom to read books as diverse and complex as the world in which they live," she said. “When they have access to books that include characters—by authors—of all races, genders, and backgrounds, students will discover their own voices and learn from the stories and voices of others.” 

    Books are for all of us, she added.  

    “When politicians ban books, censor lessons, or erase people from history books, they rob students of an honest and accurate history that enables them to learn from the mistakes of our past to help create a better future,” said Pringle.

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      NEA Affiliates Celebrate Read Across America with Communities 

      Every state and region celebration reflects the students and communities that live there, like in Louisiana, where the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) will showcase Louisiana roots with the Krewe of Livre: Parade of Books event for children, parents, and community members at the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. Participants can browse books, enjoy reading aloud with the Bayou Book Queen and other community leaders, and create crafts to take home along with a new book of their own. 

      The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) is hosting five reading celebrations in counties in Eastern Kentucky that were devastated by recent flooding. KEA Read Across America events will have special guest readers, activity centers, and each student will leave the events with a book of their choice to help rebuild their home libraries.

      LAE Read Across America
      The Louisiana Association of Educators hosted a Read Across America event in Baton Rouge.

      At the event in Corbin, KEA will cut the grand opening ribbon on a free community bookstore at Lynn Camp Middle/High school, which will be open daily for students to help them regularly add to their home libraries, as well open during special events to allow the community to also have access free books. 

      At Mildred B. Poole Elementary School at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, a Department of Defense school, students "Celebrate a Nation of Diverse Readers" with a week-long literacy extravaganza. Parents, grandparents, community members, and military command will read to students, in both English and Spanish. The school also hosted a storybook character/cultural parade for students and staff with each student getting a new book to keep. This is one of 24 Read Around the World events taking place with the Federal Education Association. 

      New Programs Launching This Year 

      This year, NEA is championing the power of diverse books by launching NEA’s Read Across America Diverse Book Challenge. Educators, parents, students, and book lovers of all ages can join by following just five easy steps, shared in this video by Read Across America Ambassador Marley Dias, the powerhouse beyond the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign. 

      NEA also created Classroom Resources to Celebrate the Freedom to Read. This online resource page provides educators with posters, bookmarks, stickers, and more to help them show their support for banned books and promote the freedom to read in their classrooms. 

      Below are the some of the ways in which parents, educators, and students can jump into stories with NEA’s Read Across America:

      • Discovery Education is hosting a virtual read-aloud on March 2, featuring writer and activist Alice Walker reading her powerful new book Sweet People Everywhere. Click here for additional information.
      • The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will host free virtual Read Across America readings on March 2, featuring four diverse aviation-themed books for second- and third-grade students. Click here for more information.
      • Reading Is Fundamental is hosting a Rally to Read virtual event on March 2 with Barnes & Noble, featuring notable authors Naaz Khan and Peter H. Reynolds and hosted by 2021 Time Kid of the Year Orion Jean. Click here for additional information.
      • Books Kids Love. What do these books have in common: Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour; The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang; and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas? NEA recently asked educators to share book titles that are popular with their students—and these titles are included in this list of Books Kids Love.
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      Recommended Books by Theme from NEA's Read Across America

      Spread the joy of reading with these lists from NEA and Colorín Colorado to connect children and their families to diverse books, languages, and cultures.

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      The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.