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World Read Aloud Day: Building a Worldwide Literacy Community

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Today is World Read Aloud Day. Before the day is over, hundreds of thousands of people will participate in one of the most precious shared human experiences.

Last week I delivered a keynote speech to an audience of educators titled "Creating a Worldwide Literacy Community." And today, by celebrating World Read Aloud Day, this worldwide literacy community is what we are building together.

When you read aloud today, you are standing up for every person's fundamental right to read. And while today many thousands of people join us in this advocacy, the change we create will happen because we are linking our voices together with many small moments, in local libraries, under a tree, in the car on the way home from school.

"Literacy is at the heart of education and every person who learns to read is a cause for celebration." These words were shared ahead of World Read Aloud Day by Reverend Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford. With your offer of a story, today and every day, you have the opportunity to invite someone into this worldwide literacy club. For many, today will be the day that someone finally shows them what it means to be excited about reading, today will be the day they identify as a reader because they were invited to be a reader.

Because of the work that I do, I am asked -- often -- if there is a magic bullet for cultivating a love of reading, for boosting literacy levels and improving test scores. Actually this question has been answered for years: Just read. And for children: read aloud to them every day. Give all children access to books in any form and a reader you will have.

This week the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research published results from a six-year longitudinal study of children's reading skills showing that reading aloud to children every day puts them almost a year ahead of children who do not receive daily read alouds. The truly astonishing finding from this study is that the positive and dramatic developmental outcomes of reading over even longer periods of time occured "regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background."

In our tech forward culture we sometimes fixate on flashy and sleek solutions, we only want something if it looks like it came out of a Jetsons episode. Somewhere along the line we've linked innovation with technology and yet, here's the amazing thing: literacy itself is humankind's greatest and most lasting innovation.

Don't misunderstand, I love technology because it is our power tool for the innovation of literacy. Literacy itself is already mobile, portable and democratic. Technology simply amplifies this power.

With our literacy, we can carry stories anywhere, to the most remote corners of the world. We can use literacy to make us strong, inside and out, to help us feel joy, find comfort, get a job, find answers to our health concerns, manage a budget, run a business, raise a child. Regardless of the delivery method, the underlying action is the same, we are listening to each other, we are learning from each other, we are gaining information and inspiration. We are connecting.

I want to leave you with this final thought as you prepare to go out and Read It Forward for World Read Aloud Day. You are part of a revolution, and it is this: Stories matter. The world is full of joy, but the world is also full of immense struggle, and unfathomable sorrow.

We need to stand up for joy and human connection through stories. Through books and stories we introduce children, and ourselves, to people outside of our immediate community. Books and stories also re-introduce us to ourselves. My mother read aloud to me from Little Women. Years later, I read that same book to my own daughters, and I wept even before the sad part, just anticipating it. With my daughters hands linked with mine, we linked to my mother, their grandmother. We all felt like Jo. We all wished to be her, a young girl, in her attic, furiously writing the stories that made her strong.

Now let me end with something of a surprise. I am going to tell you who is not celebrating World Read Aloud Day today: the children of Kibera, Kenya. This is because they are in the midst of a potentially dangerous election moment in their city, and so the schools have been closed in their impoverished community and they were sent to the country for safety. But let me tell you a story. Last week, they asked us if they could celebrate World Read Aloud Day early. "We don't want to miss our precious holiday," they told us. So on that day, they gathered together, read to each other, created that reading community. They did just what World Read Aloud Day is supposed to do: they made it something that should happen every day.

So let us read aloud and find each other through stories so that this inconceivable number -- 793 million people, those who cannot read, gets transformed, and that number becomes all the new readers in the world. Read aloud, connect, repeat.