October 29 marks the 15th anniversary of the annual Read for the Record initiative helmed by Jumpstart, a national early education organization founded in 1993 to provide language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and to promote quality early learning for all. Since sharing high-quality literature with children is at the core of its mission, each year Jumpstart chooses one picture book to be read across the country and around the world on RFTR day.
The 2020 selection is Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, who won the 2019 Newbery Medal for Merci Suárez Changes Gears. Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, the RFTR choice was released by Candlewick on September 8 and picked up five starred reviews, including one from PW. Late last month, Medina sealed a three-book deal with the publisher for the final volume in the Merci Suárez trilogy, a stand-alone middle grade novel, and a picture book.
In this pandemic-clouded year, the RFTR campaign’s read-aloud sessions and other events will be held virtually rather than live in classrooms, school auditoriums, libraries, and community centers. On RFTR day, Medina will host a kickoff event via Zoom from Orange County Public Library in Santa Ana, Calif., with a presentation and a reading of her book. Further information about this year’s readathon, which Jumpstart anticipates will draw more than two million participants, is available here.
As it has in prior years, Jumpstart partnered with the campaign book’s publisher to create a proprietary paperback edition of the title, which is available in English or Spanish. The RFTR edition of Evelyn Del Rey features additional content, including activity guides and resources, tips for reading with young children, vocabulary words, and comprehension questions.
A Prescient RFTR Nod
Jumpstart CEO Naila Bolus explained to PW that Evelyn Del Rey was selected from dozens of titles submitted by publishers as RFTR candidates in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S. “Though none of us knew at the time that the country would still be dealing with this situation eight months later, we were already feeling the pandemic’s effects in the ways we were being challenged as communities, struggling to adapt to the changes in our lives, and finding ways to stay connected,” she said. “So, Meg Medina’s picture book became not only a timeless story celebrating the lasting friendship and deep connection between two girls, but a book for our times.”
Medina said she reacted to the news that her book was 2020’s RFTR pick “with utter disbelief.” At the time, she said, “I was worried that this quiet story about two best friends was too quiet. And this was also my first book pubbing after the Newbery, and I was self-conscious about that—and then here comes Jumpstart and Read for the Record to give me an immense vote of confidence in the story. At the same time, it feels so surreal that a book I wrote is going to be read by so many people at the same time, and I probably won’t believe it till it happens!”
The author points out a silver lining in the unexpected relevance of Evelyn Del Rey, which she completed pre-pandemic. “Covid has separated all of us, and children have obviously missed being with their friends,” she said. “I feel lucky that this book can really matter right now, and that the story will make sense to kids given what we are all living through.”
And, true to the young characters’ experience in Evelyn Del Rey, key life changes necessitated Jumpstart’s adaptability and resilience when it came to planning and executing this year’s RFTR day. Bolus praised the event’s partners and participants’ willingness to “dig deep into their creativity and flexibility. On a positive note, we all have a leg up since our lives have become increasingly virtual. Local and global celebrities, teachers, librarians, and parents are making use of social media to support early children’s literacy and encourage reading with children, and we are working to leverage these platforms to celebrate Read for the Record day on October 29th.”
Medina applauded Jumpstart’s resourceful efforts to celebrate RFTR day in these times of compulsory remote learning and living. “Everyone has had to pivot in so many ways to create a sense of connection,” she said. “Read for the Record will be different from other years, but it’s going to reflect the reality we’re living in 2020. And that’s okay. We all have to figure out how to be in the present and to find new ways to make things meaningful while remaining at a safe distance. Right now, I believe strongly that we do not have any choice—it is the most respectful thing we can do. We can and must do this for one another.”