LitWorld at the World Literacy Summit in Oxford

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Ana Stern, Director of Program Operations, and Amber Peterson, Director of Program Innovation, recently returned from Oxford in the United Kingdom, where they attended the World Literacy Summit. Below, the dynamic duo reflect on their experience.

As two LitWorld program leads who travel frequently and far to observe LitClubs and LitWorld programs in action, we were thrilled  to travel to Oxford, England for the World Literacy Summit this March. It was an amazing opportunity to talk about our programs with an international community of fellow educators and innovators in the field of literacy and truly a privilege to present our work in a city with such an immense academic history and reputation.

As we learned about the challenges faced by the many organizations in attendance, we were happy to participate in conversations with them about our approach. In many similar conferences, the intended beneficiaries of programs like ours are often shut out of conversations. With pride, we highlighted the many ways in which we engage our partners in discussion about our programs and the impact they’d like to see, and ensure that they are enrolled in our decision making processes. This approach is echoed in our LitClub programs where the goal is always to empower the child to engage in a conversation about what they want in order to advocate for themselves and their communities.

 Ana and Amber at the World Literacy Summit.

Ana and Amber at the World Literacy Summit.

It was validating to hear LitWorld’s emphasis on joy and engagement in literacy programs echoed by several of the renowned speakers at the event.  Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands implored the development community to focus not just on the practice of reading, but the joy of it as well. This sentiment was repeated in talks by Gail Gallie of Project Everyone, Stacy Mackler of Lancome, and over and over on each of the panel sessions that we attended. LitWorld can truly consider itself an innovation leader in this realm and we were approached by many individuals and organizations interested in aligning their practices with our own.  

In a panel focused on girls’ literacy, it was heartening to hear how motivated many individuals and organizations are to alleviate the global gender gap in terms of access to literacy. Several initiatives and campaigns were highlighted, with LitClub programs in Afghanistan receiving a huge shout out! While we applauded the great work being done and acknowledged the work still left to do, we were also reminded of the importance of bringing men and boys into the work of uplifting girls, and cautioned against making assumptions about the needs of communities based solely on gender. One panelist brought up the effects of the civil war on boys in Sierra Leone and stressed that, contrary to popular belief, they were often less likely to have access to education than their female peers. It was an important and eye-opening discussion.  

Our presence at the summit was beneficial for several reasons. The first, of course, was the access it provided to such a breadth of organizations and institutions doing parallel work in the world of development and literacy promotion. We were able to network on an unprecedented scale with both a education focused and academic crowd.

 The LitWorld team meets with international friends and partners in the United Kingdom.

The LitWorld team meets with international friends and partners in the United Kingdom.

The World Literacy Summit also enabled us to represent a younger, more diverse demographic within the international development community. We couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the attendees were significantly older than us, very few were women, and even fewer were people of color. It was empowering to be present in a space in which we have traditionally been absent. When we found ourselves front and center during several group photo ops, it was rewarding to note that the significance of our presence was not missed.

 Melissa Villa, Founder and Director of   Project PEARLS   and winner of the first Albert Schweitzer Award for Humanitarianism.

Melissa Villa, Founder and Director of Project PEARLS and winner of the first Albert Schweitzer Award for Humanitarianism.

It was extremely thrilling to see the LitWorld mission, story, and 7 Strengths spread across the summit. Shamim Jawad, founder of Ayenda Foundation in Afghanistan, a LitWorld partner since 2015, was on the Girls’ and Women’s Literacy and Education for Sustainable Development panel. On stage she not only spoke about LitWorld and how transformational the LitClubs have been at her organization, but also pointed to us in the audience and listed the 7 Strengths out loud. We also applauded Melissa Villa, Founder and Director of Project PEARLS in the Philippines, a LitWorld partner since 2012, when she won the first Albert Schweitzer Award for Humanitarianism.

Our presentation focused on LitWorld’s unique partnership model. We promoted the development of literacy identities and best practices for activating entire communities as advocates of storytelling. We walked the audience through our robust trainings and professional development programs, and demonstrated how we build the capacity of community leaders as literacy ambassadors and advocates.

We communicated our objective to empower individuals, organizations and institutions to take ownership of their own stories and see themselves as agents of change. Our unique, multi-tiered approach to literacy advocacy focuses on supporting young people and helping them recognize their ability to be changemakers in their lives and in the world.

Finally, we illustrated how we mobilize an international network of individuals and organizations around the shared mission of establishing literacy a fundamental human right. In doing so, we learn from each other and share in the creation of a more literate and equitable world.

We hope that this is the first of many conferences where we get to highlight our innovative approach, our pedagogy, and unique programming.

Pam Allyn's Super Reader Road Trip: Making A 365-Day Commitment to Our Kids


It’s been a whirlwind month for LitWorld founder Pam Allyn, who just returned from a four-week-long driving tour to advocate for children’s literacy across the country. Pam, her husband Jim, and their adventurous dog Dewey piled into the car, and criss-crossed through more than 16 states meeting with teachers, parents, students, community leaders and others, learning about the barriers to literacy many American communities face and working with those communities to develop solutions.


One major focus of the tour was the “summer slide,” a term used to describe the phenomenon of children losing their reading skills over the summer break. This “slide” is especially apparent among lower-income kids, who lose up to 3 months of reading development during the vacation. Over time, this can put lower-income students years behind their middle-class counterparts.

“Affluent kids get to go on vacations and trips,” Pam said, “but most kids aren’t really doing that sort of thing. We must give our kids a way to learn and think differently throughout the summer. We all need that, even adults. It’s important that we work to change our brain a little bit. We all have a responsibility to think about the way kids learn all year, and make a 365-day commitment to kids. We can have that serious joy in the summer and have fun and learn at the same time.”

Summer months are absolutely critical in the reading lives of our kids, and this message resonated deeply with everyone Pam met on her tour. “I met so many amazing people in our schools,” she said, “but we still have so many challenges. One thing I wonder is if we are looking at kids as having strengths rather than deficits. A strength-based approach means leaders will look at kids as coming into school with strengths already; really believing in kids. We have to believe every kid can learn to read, and sadly, that’s not always the attitude people have. The mission to educate people has to begin with literacy, and we’re ten steps behind if we don't believe that we can all do this.”

 Pam with education leaders and professionals in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pam with education leaders and professionals in Atlanta, Georgia.

 Pam and Dewey in North Carolina.

Pam and Dewey in North Carolina.

“Not thinking about kids’ learning lives in the summer is very outdated, but right now, we’re in a new world and and there’s no reason to waste all that time,“ said Pam, “but it has to be a community commitment. Kids’ reading skills don’t always have to be cultivated in schools. It can happen in churches or community centers.”


The understanding that learning happens not only within a classroom, but throughout the entire community, is inherently understood by many educators and parents. They clamored for resources to help prevent the summer slide, and one of Pam’s solutions was the signature LitWorld and Scholastic program, LitCamp. “LitCamp closes that summer gap and creates a 365 day-a-year commitment to kids’ education; it's a way to reframe the school year,” said Pam, “The results that are coming back show that kids in LitCamp are surging ahead as readers compared to kids who aren’t involved, and they’re having a great time to boot. It’s truly summer camp, reimagined.”   

LitCamp’s newest curriculum includes a 14 week-long Family Messaging program. Teachers are provided with a set of text messages (see below) to send to families once a week through school messaging services to encourage them to read and tell stories with their children at home. This programming integrates classroom with community, and fights the summer slide by making reading an integral part of family life.

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“In spite of working against a lot of odds—poverty, prejudice—the teachers and leaders I met believed so much in their kids. And that is a big part of how we make change. I was struck by how dedicated people in education really are, it is very extraordinary, and these are untold stories. It feels like such a movement. I even met with kids who are reading to their parents on a regular basis! Sometimes we look at our country and wonder how we are doing, and really, at the local level we are doing awesome,” Pam said.

 Dewey hitches a ride in the back seat of the LitCamp Tour-mobile!

Dewey hitches a ride in the back seat of the LitCamp Tour-mobile!

Pam, Jim, and Dewey championed reading across the country, and can’t wait for the next LitTour! So many stories were shared—stories of triumph, fear, sadness, joy, and hope. These stories illuminate the wish we all share: to give our children the education they deserve, and grow a love of reading that will last forever.

Learning to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: An Interview with Caron Levis

Our Storytelling & Advocacy Coordinator, Jake Adler, spoke with Caron Levis, an award-winning children's book author, educator, and social worker about working through difficult topics and emotions with kids through picture books and stories.

 From Levis's    Ida, Always

From Levis's Ida, Always

Caron Levis, a children’s book author, educator, and social worker has become adept at delivering rich stories to her young audiences, especially stories with themes and situations that can challenge kids’ notions of life and society. Her award-winning picture book, Ida, Always, is a “beautiful, honest portrait of loss and deep friendship told through the story of two iconic polar bears” living in New York City’s Central Park.

“I think it’s important to speak super honestly to kids, and purposefully take on tougher subjects,” Levis told LitWorld. “They are sponges that hear and see and seek answers about the troubling aspects of our world like death or sadness; and without a trusted adult to explore these things with, they will fill in blanks for themselves, and the flipside of kids’ incredible creativity is that they will likely fill those blanks in with something far more scary or troubling than the truth.”

“While it comes from a natural and well intentioned impulse to protect children, adults can sometimes make the mistake of skirting around kids’ complex questions. Kids are resilient. They have better coping mechanisms than a lot of adults, but they just need a safe space to be able to communicate about their feelings openly.”

Levis’s comments gesture toward the universal, timeless power of storytelling. Songs, ballads, poems, myths, and fables have, for centuries and across cultures, paved the road for individuals and communities to share their feelings, frame intricate issues in simpler terms, and build trust, confidence, and strong, warm bonds of understanding and shared experience between people.

 Levis reads her book,    Stuck with the Blooz   , aloud during one of her frequent classroom visits.

Levis reads her book, Stuck with the Blooz, aloud during one of her frequent classroom visits.

“That’s what is so important about picture books: they’re these safe containers in which we can have emotional experiences,” she said. “Kids are able to feel those big, scary, uncomfortable emotions, but then the book shuts, and they find themselves beside a trusted adult. Books are a place kids can practice and internalize skills that will then be there for them when they encounter similar situations in life.”

“Kids don’t get to control much, but they can have control over their books. We can give them that power: to choose when to skip a page, choose if they want to hear you say the words, or if they’d prefer to read the words themselves—or not read them at all. Books can be a loving, caring partner for kids. Books are things which tell us all that we’re going to be okay.”

 “That said,” Levis continued, “I sweat over every syllable I write. I want to balance being honest and frank with being gentle and soft. I want to both challenge and take care of my readers. Stories may get uncomfortable, but they should never feel unsafe. Maybe we as authors can play a role in raising a generation who will learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and be more adept at having complex conversations with each other.”

“Picture books are, by their very nature, visceral experiences,” Levis explained. “Publishers know this well, and seem to be upping the ante on the book as a special object—they feel rarer in today’s world, like magic artifacts, relics of power.”

More rapidly than ever, technology is upending the status quo and changing cultures around the world. There is talk among experts that long-standing parenting paradigms like reading a bedtime story with one’s children may be threatened by iPads, Candy Crush, and YouTube. Caron Levis, however, seems largely unperturbed by the internet revolution’s potential impact on today’s kids.

“I feel like kids will always be kids,” she said, “When I give readings at schools and spend time with young children today, I see that they’re still full of the same curiosity, wonderments, big questions and feelings. These things stay the same—their desire for interaction as well as quiet and solitude. They respond to the same genuine heartfelt stories.”

 The cover of Levis's    Ida, Always

The cover of Levis's Ida, Always

At the same time, Levis admits that certain aspects of the modern world must be considered when penning a story for older kids. “Certain situations just don’t ring true anymore. The stakes must be raised differently—it’s more difficult to place a fictional character, a young one, in a situation where they are truly alone. Readers might ask, ‘don’t they have a phone?’”

“It’s interesting to reflect on how phones, often given freely to young kids today, can expand their worlds and knowledge as much as they can oppress and bully them,” Levis noted. “I’m not a member of Gen X or Gen Y. I grew up analog but I was still young when I got my first Hotmail account. And yet, it feels like the technology gap between kids and myself today is as wide as it is between my grandmother and I.”

“After interactive readings on school visits, I thank kids for having helped me ‘write’ that story, because I want them to identify as writers in a big sense. As readers, their imaginations are always adding something to the story and this is a form of writing. During read alouds, the stress of spelling each word correctly falls away, and they get to be storytellers.”

“Humans are storytelling creatures, after all!” Levis exclaimed during her discussion with LitWorld. “Everything about our world—relationships, advertisements, even—is a story. Stories allow us to explore, which is exactly what kids want to do most: to interact, to engage, to be involved.”

“Kids are very happy about learning new things when it is fun,” Levis remarked, “Who isn’t?”

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Caron Levis is the author of the picture books, May I Have A Word? (FSG), Stuck with the Blooz (HMH), and Ida, Always (Atheneum) which the New York Times Book Review calls, "an example of children's books at their best." Forthcoming titles include Stop That Yawn! (Atheneum, 2018); Mama's Shoes (Abrams 2019); and This Way, Charlie (Atheneum 2020.) Caron is an adjunct professor and the coordinator for The New School's Writing for Children/YA MFA program, where she earned her degree; she has an LMSW from Hunter College. After many years as an arts educator, Caron now loves using acting and writing to teach social, emotional, and literacy skills to students of all ages through her author workshops.

The HerStory Campaign at CSW 62: Recap

HerStory Campaign Manager Juliana Vélez looks back on a magical week with our international partners in New York City during the UN's 62nd Commission on the Status of Women.

 Staff, mentors, partnership coordinators and LitClub members from five organizations pose together outside of the New York Public Library.

Staff, mentors, partnership coordinators and LitClub members from five organizations pose together outside of the New York Public Library.

Last week, the HerStory Campaign participated in the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations. This year, the event focused on ‘challenges and opportunities for achieving gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls. Partnership coordinators, mentors and members from the Rukmini Foundation in Nepal, Project PEARLS in the Philippines and NEWI in Kenya joined the HerStory Campaign in New York to share their stories and highlight the impacts of their Community Action Plans (CAPs) which were designed last March at the 2017 Global HerStory Summit.

Our week in New York was filled with storytelling activities, inspiring events and fun excursions.

Lillibeth from the Philippines and Mordecai from Kenya, two LitClub graduates who are now mentors, attended a Working Group on Girls Youth Orientation to engage with other young adults on advocacy strategies and ways to ensure girls’ rights. Peachy, Prakriti, Rose and Dan Martin, partnership coordinators and mentors from the Philippines, Nepal and Kenya respectively, participated at the NGO CSW Consultation Day along with other leaders, advocates, and activists. Together, partners engaged in two days of preparation in the lead up to our main HerStory CSW parallel event,  “Championing Girl-Driven Community Change.”

 Mordecai from NEWI (left) with her friends Lilibeth and Peachy from Project Pearls (right) at the HerStory Campaign's UN CSW parallel event.

Mordecai from NEWI (left) with her friends Lilibeth and Peachy from Project Pearls (right) at the HerStory Campaign's UN CSW parallel event.

At the HerStory CSW parallel event, the room was buzzing with excitement and overflowing with guests that were engaged and captivated. Each team member and partner spoke with passion and creatively demonstrated how mentorship, literacy and storytelling are truly transforming their communities and strengthening their girls. Rukmini Foundation of Nepal, Project PEARLS of the Philippines and NEWI of Kenya focused on showcasing the impact of their CAPs on girls, communities, and the world:

  • “Empowering Through the Generations” - Prakriti and Laxmi from Rukmini Foundation shared insights about the safe space they built for 25 moms in their community to meet and learn from one another, receive training, and work with other community leaders on solutions to issues important to them.

  • “The HOPE Project” - Peachy and Lilibeth from Project PEARLS performed spoken word and shared that 200 girls were able to access their series of reproductive health seminars designed to ensure girls have access to the information they need and can stay in school.

  • “Nafalama” - Rose and Mordecai from NEWI shared a powerful two-part poem that focused on the safe space they created for 45 girls to get together weekly to study, find mentors and access a variety of resources including menstrual supplies.

 From left to right: HerStory Campaign Director Jennifer Estrada, Morecai, Juliana Vélez, Lilibeth, and Maddie of Global G.L.O.W.

From left to right: HerStory Campaign Director Jennifer Estrada, Morecai, Juliana Vélez, Lilibeth, and Maddie of Global G.L.O.W.

The group was also able to spend quality time with team members from the HerStory Campaign, LitWorld and Global G.L.O.W. Outings were planned to the New York Public Library, Rockefeller Center and Times Square. Needless to say, laughter filled each room, friendships deepened, and new memories were made.

The HerStory team, alongside LitWorld and Global G.L.O.W., is reflecting on the week at CSW, building on the momentum and carrying the work forward as we look towards the International Day of the Girl and the Global HerStory Summit in October.

The HerStory Campaign at CSW 2018

Our HerStory Director, Jennifer Estrada, on our UN Commission on the Status of Women parallel event (March 14th, 2018) and the Community Action Plans implemented by our international partners in their communities around the world.

The HerStory Campaign is hosting its fourth annual presentation during the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Leaders, mentors and girls from our partnerships—NEWI in Kenya, Rukmini Foundation in Nepal and Project PEARLS in the Philippines will join team members from LitWorld and our HerStory founding partner, Global G.L.O.W., to share the impact of our work with girls around the world.

Every year at the CSW, UN member states and NGO representatives come together to take stock of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go to reach global gender equality. This year’s theme is challenges facing rural women and girls and opportunities for rural women and girls to actively participate in the work toward sustainable development and gender equality in their own communities.

With this theme in mind, our team and our partners are excited to share HerStory’s innovative Community Action Plan (CAP) model and the impact this work is having in three rural communities. At HerStory Summits worldwide, girls and their mentors are invited to think about the challenges they see women and girls facing in their own communities and are given the tools and resources to design and implement CAPs: girl-led, creative solutions to those challenges.

 HerStory Director  Jennifer Estrada  marches with program participants at the conclusion of the National HerStory Summit in Kenya in 2016.

HerStory Director Jennifer Estrada marches with program participants at the conclusion of the National HerStory Summit in Kenya in 2016.

At our Global HerStory Summit in New York last March, HerStory ambassadors from ten countries designed CAPs to positively impact girls across their region. These ambitious, thoughtful projects included programs to combat negative stigmas around reproductive and mental health, workshops providing leadership and entrepreneurial skills, and access to safe space, educational resources and menstrual supplies.

At our CSW presentation this year, our Kenyan, Nepali and Filipina partners will share the purpose, impact and lessons learned on each of their CAPs.

In Kenya, HerStory girls built separate classrooms just for girls to use for studying, to store school supplies and to meet with their mentors. These secure spaces are helping girls successfully complete school, have access to higher education and career guidance, and receive ongoing support after they graduate.

In Nepal, HerStory girls brought together women from different communities to share ideas and plans for how to strengthen their lives and communities. The women formed Moms Clubs that are supporting their own learning lives and giving them tools to advocate for their daughters' education.

In the Philippines, HerStory girls took action to reduce teenage pregnancies and improve sexual health through education. They organized workshops on reproductive and sexual health, ensuring girls have access to the information they need to take care of their bodies, make healthy choices and stay in school.

The CAPs model has made it incredibly clear that when we listen to girls and give them tools and resources to support their ideas, they can have an incredible, sustainable impact on girls in their communities.

We can’t wait to share this exciting work with the UN audience and friends of LitWorld, Global G.L.O.W. and our international partners.

To join us on March 14th, RSVP here!