Initiated as a pilot program at the time Gene Luen Yang was appointed National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, Reading Without Walls, a program to expand the range of books that children read, will launch and become an annual event beginning in April.
The formal launch of the annual program will make it easier for schools, libraries, and booksellers to host Reading Without Walls events to encourage children to participate. Although the national initiative begins in April, organizers at the different venues can visit the ReadingWithoutWalls website immediately and find a video of Yang discussing the program as well as a wide range of downloadable support materials that include physical kits, reading lists, buttons, badges, stickers, and posters.
According to the program's website, Reading Without Walls is designed to "celebrate reading and diversity" and encourage children to read books outside of their personal experience, books they might not have considered before. Structured as an educational challenge, the program encourages children to “read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you,” or to read “a book about a topic you don’t know much about,” or “a book in a format that they don’t normally read for fun, such as a chapter book, an audio book, a graphic novel, or a book in verse.” Once a challenge is completed children receive certificates and other rewards that mark their literary achievement.
In an interview with PW, Yang, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, who has had two graphic novels nominated for National Book Awards in Young People’s Literature, said that “[Reading Without Walls] started last January as an experimental pilot when I was appointed National Ambassador. Schools and libraries and bookstores put up displays and issued challenges. We want to make it easier for them.” Yang said the pilot program has led to the design of certificates of participation, posters, activity kits, puzzles, and other materials to promote the reading program.
“I announced Reading Without Walls program at the National Book Festival [last fall] with a speech on social media. People really ran with it and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback. Now we’re finalizing the program and supplying a lot of formal materials to teachers, retailers, and librarians that will help them get involved.”
Yang said that feedback from the pilot program has helped to expand the program to “reading in other languages. We’ll also have kits that encourage children to create their own poetry, novels and comics. We’re taking [the program] from reading without walls, to encouraging kids to make their own stories, outside of their walls.”
The program is a partnership with the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, Every Child a Reader, the Children's Book Council, and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.