2015 Library of Congress Literacy Awards Celebration

>> From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C. >> David Mao: Good
afternoon everyone. Welcome to the Library of Congress. Welcome to this celebratory
event for a great day here — finally have some nice weather
here in Washington, and I'm so glad that it's happening today. We are here to celebrate the
winners of the 2015 Library of Congress Literacy Awards. My name is David Mao and I
have the privilege of serving as the Acting Librarian of Congress
and again, welcome to the library. The Library of Congress
Literacy Awards originated with and is sponsored by
philanthropist David Rubenstein. The awards — first
announced in January 2013 — helps support organizations
that worked to promote reading and literacy in the United
States and around the world. The awards highlight and reward
organizations for their exemplary, innovative, and easily
replicable work. Now these awards, they
benefit not only the winners, but also new groups,
organizations, and individuals through the best practices
of all of our applicants. And so anywhere around the
world, people can be involved in alleviating the
scourge of illiteracy. And that's one of the benefits
of all of these awards. We're very fortunate to have with us today our very generous
benefactor, David Rubenstein. He has perfected what he has
called "patriotic philanthropy" through the many gifts to
institutions around the country and more specifically, in this
area — to the Kennedy Center, the Washington Memorial — I'm
sorry, the Washington Monument, the National Zoo — and if you
read the news just this past Monday announcing a great gift to help
recreate the Lincoln Memorial. And so we're very, very
privileged to have David as a very generous sponsor
to the Library of Congress and he's been a sponsor and a
patron to us for many, many years. His projects — the projects that
we have here would not be achievable without his great support. And we thank him very much for that. One in particular that I will
just mention since it's related to the literacy awards that we're
celebrating today is the Library of Congress National Book Festival
which is now in its 16th year. And we are very grateful
that David funds the program through his generosity. Now, when David is not being a
philanthropist, he is the co-founder and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group. He is sitting right here in
the front row so I would ask that you join me in acknowledging and thanking David Rubenstein
for all of his support. [ Applause ] For the past three years, the awards
have been administered by the Center for the Book in the
Library of Congress. The Director is Dr. John Cole. And John is right over here. So I want to acknowledge the staff
of the Center for the Book and, in particular, Dr. Cole, for
the great work that they've done in contributing to the
success of the awards. Thank you. [ Applause ] Thank you, John. [ Applause ] In addition, over the last three
years, we've had the benefit of the Literacy Awards
Advisory Board. And they have given
their time and expertise to make these excellent
selections every year. So for those members of the Literacy
Awards Advisory Board that are here with us, thank you very much
for your generous contributions to the success of this program. Thank you. [ Applause ] Now at this time, I'm very pleased to introduce a very special
guest, Michael Dirda. Renown book critic for
the Washington Post. He is a graduate of Oberlin
College and has a doctorate in Comparative Literature
from Cornell University. Since 1978, Michael has enlightened
readers with his opinions on writers — both very well-known
and, perhaps, not so famous. And he even received a Pulitzer
Price for criticism in 1993. He has help readers discover
forgotten masterpieces and brought needed attention
to the classics in the making, so we're very excited to
have Michael Dirda with us. Please join me. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> Michael Dirda: Thank you, David. First of all, can you
all hear me all right? It's fine? Signal wildly if you can't. I was lucky enough to be
taught to read by my mother. After finishing the
dishes, she would plop down on the dining room floor next
to the heat register and take me, washed up, ready for
bed, onto her lap. There on the floor, she would
then open a tattered Golden Book and point with a fingertip — red and wrinkled by detergent in hot
water — to the books first page. "Look, Michael. See the cute yellow chicky. Or the pokey little puppy
or the very naughty bunny." As I snuggled there in my
mother's lap, feeling the warm air of the furnace blowing on me, I would drift into a
contented sleepiness. Over time though, I
began to pay more and more attention to
the books themselves. Probably because my beloved mother
seemed to derive so much pleasure from the pictures and those
funny little squiggles. On the day I can no longer remember, I deduced like a four-year-old
Sherlock Holmes that those squiggles were
the letters — C-A-T — were pronounced cat and stood for the animal pictured
on the page above. When John Cole asked me to speak
at this afternoons ceremony for the Literacy Awards, I began
to mull over what I might say. We hear a great deal these
days about computer literacy, but sometimes forget that
it is print literacy — the ability to understand the
meaning of written words — which actually ushers most of us
into a world larger than ourselves. Learning to read though
isn't at all intuitive. It takes hard work and persistence
on the part of parents, teachers, and organizations like
those we honor today. Before a child can suddenly
achieve that eureka moment — when the letters C-A-T — the picture of [inaudible]
animal playing a ball of yarn, and the word "cat,"
all come together. Once these fundamental
interconnections are made though, the truly life enhancing stages
of literacy actually begin. These stages might be
labeled enchantment, understanding, and power. Our earliest reading is
the age of adventure. We pick up books for excitement. For wonder. For the most basic enchantments
of plot and narrative. In my own generation, we discover
stories with irresistible titles like " Danny Dunn and
the Anti-Gravity Paint," " Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars,"
and "The Boxcar Children." We follow the never ending
battles between Uncle Scrooge and those dastardly Beagle Boys. Roar manically over joke
books with titles like "Yours Till Niagara Falls." And eventually settled
down for a couple of years with the endless adventures of
the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. A little later perhaps, the librarian might suggest
a book intriguingly titled "The Secret Garden." Or at the local Salvation Army,
we might unearth an old paperback of "Journey to the
Center of the Earth." Or a cousin would lend us the
short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. In the 21st century, only
the particular titles might be different. Kids read now about Harry
Potter rather than Tom Swift, Jr. But the overall
pattern remains the same. Still, it pleases me to
know that Beverly Clearly, whose Henry Huggins
books I eagerly searched for in third grade,
will be 100 in April. As we all know, the true golden age
of reading is 12, or possibly 13. Does life get any better
than the dark and stormy night we
first turn the pages of "The Hound of the Baskervilles?" On just such a night, I, myself
discovered the spectral hellhound and learned of the curse laid
on the Baskerville family, and listened as Dr. Mortimer
told of the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Near the body, Mortimer informed
Sherlock Holmes, were footprints. The great detective immediately
asks, "A man's or a woman's?" To which question, he receives what
is merely the most thrilling reply in all of literature. "Mr. Holmes, they were the
footprints of a gigantic hound." [ Laughter ] While enchantment and excitement are
important to any reader of any age, there does come a time
when one begins to yearn for more than just escape. As we grow older, we realize that
books don't only transport us to fairy lands forlorn; they also
tell us about the world we live in. More and more, we read
to acquire knowledge. In school, we learn
through book about history. We study key works of literature. We review our Latin, or
French, or Arabic grammars. We prop up newspapers and
magazines — or smart phones — next to our bowl of breakfast
cereal to find out about politics and current affairs and
the latest baseball scores. Meanwhile, novels like "Pride
and Prejudice," and "The Red and The Black," teach us about love. Our horizons expand. We enter adulthood. Through such youthful reading,
we grow in understanding, acquiring a sense of what the world
is like and what we need to know to navigate our way through it. Gradually true, we discover
the third gift of literacy. A consciousness of power. A confidence in ourselves. When I was a boy, I devoured all the
self-help books of Dale Carnegie. Best known for " How to Win
Friends and Influence People." Throughout his work,
Carnegie repeatedly emphasized that successful careers — and to
some degree fulfilling lives — come more readily to those who
could speak and write well, who know history, literature, and
the arts; who have read great books, and have become, in the broadest
sense, educated men and women. For all this popularity
among business people, Carnegie was a strong
advocate of the liberal arts. If you couldn't attend college — and remember, he wrote during the
depression when many couldn't — you could still go to the
library or the bookstore. You could teach yourself
if you knew how to read. Such a peon to literacy may now
sound a little old fashioned in our age of Facebook and Twitter,
but if you consult the memoirs of poor kids who have made good, you know that books
are always understood as the key to their later success. In prison, Malcolm X copied out
by hand the entire dictionary so that he might improve his
vocabulary and better himself. Or recently, a son of a
working class Italian father and a Mexican mother, Dana Gioia,
would — through reading — rise to become the Chairman of the
National Endowment for the Arts and one of the country's
finest poets. Books and the knowledge found
in them enrich our souls, yes, but they also form the
foundations for consequential life. The reader's journey then
leads from enchantment to understanding to power. But it all begins with learning
to recognize the letters of the alphabet on flashcards. Then the simple words
in picture books. Literacy is the engine
that drives the world. The illiterate and alliterate
only drift aimlessly. Those who can read,
those who love to read, can go anywhere and do anything. Certainly, the three organizations
we honor today know this far better than I. They deserve our gratitude
and our applause. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> David Mao: Thank you very much,
Michael, for those inspiring words and a great way to start us off
as we now celebrate the awardees because I have the pleasure
now of issuing those awards. So I will ask that — David,
if he will join me up here so that we can honor our winners. Our first winner that we
will honor is the winner of the David Rubenstein
prize and that is First Book, represented by CEO, Kyle Zimmer. [ Applause ] Our second awardee is the
winner of the American Prize, United Through Reading,
represented by CEO Sally Ann Zoll. [ Applause ] And finally, the winner of the
International Prize, Beanstalk. Represented by CEO, Ginny Lunn. [ Applause ] Now, we will have an opportunity
to hear from each of our winners. And we will first hear it
from Ginny — from Beanstalk. [ Applause ] >> Ginny Lunn: Thank you very much. It's truly a privilege to
be here this afternoon. And I'm really honored
to be amongst all of you. Actually, last night, when
I arrived here from London, I thought I was truly honored. My full name is Virginia. When I arrived, it said,
"Welcome to Virginia." [ Laughter ] So I thought, "Oh, that's amazing. Just for me." So, I have been to
the states before. When I was 18, I was a bit
of a struggling child myself. I didn't really know where I was
going or what I was aiming to do. And so I spent a year
in Oklahoma City. I know some people might say,
"Why did you choose there?" I think it, sort of, chose me. So I spent a year there
and then I went on and joined a travelling carnival. So I always think of
America as the place where it really kick-started
my career because I, sort of, learned about myself. I went back and studied
English, and then I went on to become a primary
school teacher. So I, kind of, think
it's this country that has brought me here today. So I think the nation
for that, so thank you. I'm here [inaudible]
about Beanstalk. Before I do that, I do want to
just say a few words of thanks. I started the CEO in June this
year — well, 2015 actually. So I haven't been the CEO for long
so I really feel I can't take credit for the fact that we've
won this award. So I want to thank all the
children, the volunteers, the schools we work with,
and all my Beanstalk team who have made it possible
for us to win this award. We're a small charity in
England with big ambitions. And to get this award
is just truly amazing. And I'd like to thank
Jared Grading [phonetic] who gave a recommendation. And also Save the Children,
Melissa Smith, who wrote a letter recommending us. And Save the Children is one of our
partners who is helping us to grow and develop across the
UK, which is amazing. So, can I also thank
David Rubenstein and the Library of Congress. I think what you're
doing here is incredible. I have looked back
at the other awards. Things like Planet Read, Reach
Out and Read, other organizations who have won this awards. And it's such a good practice,
I think it's really brilliant that this even is taking place because we can all learn
so much from each other. So thank you for that. But what's Beanstalk? I'm sure some of you are
thinking, "What is Beanstalk?" We were founded — so I'm supposed
to nod at the back — I wanted it — Should be a picture of a woman. There we go. So I couldn't talk about Beanstalk
without recognizing our founder, Susan Belgrave, who I see
as an inspirational woman, a role model who started
Beanstalk in 1973. And we, kind of, call
her our magic bean because she had an idea
— she saw a problem. The problem was that there were lots of children leaving primary
school unable to read well. Sadly, that's still
pretty much the case today, although it is improving
in certain areas. There are real pockets
around England that are doing really poorly. Susan saw that and she
gathered some of her friends around her kitchen table
and she hatched a plan. And what she came up
with was really simple. And I think, sometimes, it's the
solutions that are just so simple that are the ones that can
make biggest difference. So she recruited volunteers. She trained them and then she
put them into primary schools to help those struggling readers. So they go in, twice a week,
consistently for a year. And we know in that time, it really
does turn children's lives around. It's a model that works. She started it. And over 43 years later, what
she started with three volunteers in seven schools, we now have
helped over 100,000 children. We have over 3,000 volunteers. And we're in over 1,200 schools. So it's growing. We have big ambition. We want to double what
we do by 2018. I think, being here today and
helping us raise our profile, is going to really
help us on that path. And, I think, another thing that's
really important to stress is that it's all about
mobilizing local people. So a lot of what we do to get our
volunteers is mobilizing local people to join together and
help those struggling children. So it's mobilizing communities
to help the next generation. I think it is an amazing model. So I'm going to now — so
Susan — thank you to Susan. [ Laughter ] Could we now have the film. I'm going to show you a short film
which has just been made recently which is a story of one of our
reading helpers and the voice of the child that she's helping. It's an animated film so
please, press that button. [ Music ] >> Ellie's Story. [ Music ] So Ellie was afraid
to read at first. So we played lots of I Spy
with colors rather than words because they confused her. [ Music ] She absolutely loved
princesses and anything pink. So we read piles of
fairy tale comics. It was a struggle. But Ellie stuck at it and before
long, we were reading short books. Her teacher said that Ellie's
always been shy of reading in class. But one day, when she was
handing out water bottles with all the children's
names on them, Ellie came over and
said, "I can do it. I can read now." [ Music ] I watched Ellie grow in confidence. It made me feel amazing. Just to think that she wasn't
afraid to read anymore. [ Music ] Become a Beanstalk
reading helper today to make a lasting difference
to a child like Ellie. [ Music ] >> Ginny Lunn: So it's very
simple — straightforward — and the school teacher
said to me the other day, "It's all about the quality
of the reading helper. They sprinkle our children with
magical fairy dust and open up the wonderful world
of books to them." So we know it works. And we're trying to
do it more and more. But also, it's not just
about delivering what we do. What's really important to me
and to the rest of Beanstalk is that we are part of big
campaigns to take the message of what happens when
a child can't read. When they feel that their
potential is limited. You know, it's really important
that we get that message out to get more support
to our children. So we join forces with — that's just some examples
— of local newspapers. We're doing a campaign with
BBC Radio 4 this summer. We also partner with Mature times. That says what it is. Saga — some of you don't
know is for 55 plus — so we do partner with
people who can get to the volunteers that
we want to reach. Waitrose — is there
Waitrose in the states? I don't know. It's a big superstore
all across the UK. And basically, it's a
magazine read by millions. So we really do look to partner
and make innovative partnerships to get our message out there. And also, part of our strategy
is to be part of big campaigns. We are a founding member of Read On, Get On which is led
by Save the Children. But it's got hundreds
of partnerships all — getting together, joining forces,
to help raise literacy levels and make sure children do
not leave primary school — age 11 — unable to read well. So we're part of that and
very proud to be part of that. Also a European campaign
called ELINET. And another global campaign — you
may have heard of Project Literacy which the Pearson's
[phonetic] are involved in — which is talking about
tackling global illiteracy. So it's really important to be part
of that bigger picture which is why, I think, we're all here today —
because it's important to be part of that over all, join
the course, do something and make sure we can change
the lives, change the story, for thousands and thousands
of children and adults who are suffering with not
being able to read well. And I just wanted to
end with a thank you from the children of Beanstalk. >> Thank you. [inaudible] I love my
reading [inaudible]. Yay! Thank you. [ Applause ] >> David Mao: And now, we'll
hear from United Through Reading. >> Sally Zoll: Okay, John. I got the clicker. It's dangerous. Where's Michael who spoke to us? Thank you very much. You suggested that your words
might be a little old fashioned? For me it was the best
blast from the past that I've had in a long time. So thank you very much. That was lovely. Thank you all in the
Library of Congress. It's an incredible honor to be here
and accept this award on behalf of United Through Reading. I would like to thank David Mao,
the Acting Librarian of Congress. David Rubenstein, of course. And John Cole, our good friend. And the National Advisory
Board to the Library of Congress Literacy Awards,
thank you all so very much. I also would like to thanks friends
of United Through Reading who are with us today including
Mrs. Ellyn Dunford, General and Mrs. Carter Ham,
and special United Through Reading beneficiaries,
Emma and Sam and Jackson. Thank you very much for being here. We are honored to be in the
company of amazing organizations like First Book and Beanstalk. And so, we're thrilled to share
a little bit about what we are at United Through Reading. United Through Reading
was founded in 1989 and began serving the military
during the first Gulf War. Our founder, Betty Mohlenbrock, was
the wife of a navy flight surgeon. And when he deployed to Vietnam,
their daughter was a year old. When he returned, she didn't
recognize him a year later. Betty was also a reading teacher who saw children starting
school not prepared to read and unprepared to learn. And so these two experiences came
together for her with this bold idea that service members
could stay connected with each other during
separations through the simple act of reading a story book aloud. And so, like you said
earlier, it is simple. What we do is very simple
but to profound effect. Our mission is to unite military
families facing physical separation by facilitating the
bonding experience of reading aloud together. And our vision is that all
children will feel the security of caring family relations
and develop a love of reading through that read aloud experience. As many of you know, military
families face unique challenges. Despite incredible bravery,
resilience, and strength, military families —
especially the children — have increased risk factors or
are associated with frequent moves and deployments that
often bring instability to our military families. Research indicates that children from active duty military families
experience significantly higher levels of emotional difficulties
during family separations than children of the
general population. And in a recent study, one-third of our military children surveyed
reported symptoms of anxiety. Longer deployments are linked
to greater difficulties in children's social and
emotional functioning. And if that weren't distressing
enough, a recent study by the RAND Corporation
found an association between military children who
have endured long separations from a parent and lower
achievement in reading and math. Counterbalancing these findings,
there's good news reported by numerous studies that point to a very simple thing
to help these children. The single most important activity for building earliest
emergent reading skills appears to be reading aloud to children. It's simple. And this conclusion is
also at the very heart of United Through Reading. We use that treasured family
practice of story time to sustain healthy family
bonds during separations and alleviate the stress
for family members. And both are essential to
helping our at-risk children in learning to love reading. The photo that you see right
now is of a young sailor who was at the Naval Medical Center in San
Diego recovering from wounds of war when he participated in our program. And reading together was a
great opportunity to connect through a familiar
comforting routine. As you can see from the happy and
engaged faces of these children, this dad has indeed instilled
a love of reading in his kids. United Through Reading
was the first non-profit to promote the read aloud experience to bring separated
families together. And so from nearly 200
locations on land and at sea, United Through Reading
offers service men and women the opportunity to be
video recorded reading a story book and sending those with the
books home to their children. Again, it's simple
to profound effect. And the experience of
reading together erases and eases the anxieties
of separation and helps family members
stay connected. The enduring value is this — the
stories read by far away parents to children at home nurture literacy in this very special group
of vulnerable children. Just as you can see, this little guy
trying to crawl right into the TV. Daddy is in that room
just as sure as shooting. For more than 25 years, this
concept has proven itself over and over again. Deployed military parents
are reading to their children from outposts in Afghanistan,
Djibouti, Bahrain, Ethiopia, on U.S. naval ships, on coast
guard cutters, in base libraries, and military medical
centers, and in 70 USOs. Nearly two million mothers, fathers,
and children who are separated by oceans, deserts, and time
zones have sustained family bonds and nurtured young readers through
the quintessential tradition of reading stories together. And so here's how we do it. The service member reads a
book to their child on video and sends the video
home with the book. The child at home watches the
UTR video and follows along. The caregiver at home, whether
it's mom or grandma or auntie, captures the child's
reaction — watching — and then we send that
picture or that video back to the service member and the service members morale
is boosted by the feedback. And he or she is encouraged
to read again. And so it's a great circle of
communication that keeps it going. The book itself is a very component
of United Through Reading's program. Research shows that there's a direct
correlation between the amount of books children own
and their reading levels. Our hope is that participation in
United Through Reading will help to build children's
personal home libraries. Each quarter, we partner
with our good friends — and this year's David M.
Rubenstein's prize winner, First Book — to select
titles for use in our program. So thanks to Kyle Zimmer
and her amazing team, these books are then
shipped to United Through Reading program
locations around the world. We collaborate to select titles
that speak to special days that mom or dad is going to
miss during deployment such as, "Look Out, Kindergarten. Here I come." Or "Arthur's Loose Tooth." As well as those beloved bedtime
classics that we've all read, "Goodnight, Moon," and
"Guess How Much I Love You." There's something incredibly
powerful about a child holding the
same book in his hands that his mama held reading it to
him from halfway around the world. And we hear stories all the time
from families who has told us that their kiddos take their
United Through Reading books with them everywhere as a
touchstone to their faraway hero. The obvious question
is, "Why not skype?" And that's a good question. And we want families to Skype; and
we want them to Facebook; and email and write and communicate
through any means available. But there are some
important reasons why United Through Reading can be
the essential supplement to those family communications. For example, time differences. When it's naptime in Fort
Campbell, Kentucky, it's the middle of the night in Afghanistan. Time zones and operational demands of our service members
don't often line up for service members
and their families. And even when they do, sometimes
the stars don't quite align. Where service members are
deploying, training, working, that precious bandwidth
— when it's available — is most often needed for
operational activities. And so unreliable connections can
mean disappointing conversations and that's when the
bandwidth is there. Often, it's simply not. With United Through Reading videos,
parents and children alike can rely on availability and repeatability. We call it, "Mommy
and Daddy on-demand." [ Laughter ] Anyone who has ever read to a
child knows that children love to hear the same story over and
over and over and over again. And we know that this
repetition may drive us crazy. But it's a wonderful way to build
vocabulary and word recognition. And we have loads of proof too. For example, General and Mrs.
Odierno's five-year-old grandson watched his first video 17 times. The first day. [ Laughter ] And the reason we know that is
because his parents were so amazed that they started counting. I'm pleased to tell you that
our beneficiaries report that United Through Reading works. Program surveys tell
us that 81 percent of our participants
reported decrease in their children's anxiety. Eighty-eight percent report
an increase in connectedness. Ninety percent of participants
report that participation
reduces their own stress. And that's really important
and very encouraging because while children were
the initial focus of United Through Reading, the adult service
member is a key beneficiary as well. And that's great news in light
of the mental health issues that our service members
are coming home with. Seventy-eight percent of
participants report increases in their child's interest
in reading and book. And like General and Mrs. Odierno's
grandchild, we know that more than 80 percent of the
recordings are watched every day or several times a day. And it's not unusual for children to watch a recorded story 250 times
during a ten-month deployment. So do the math with me. That means that 2500 recordings
enjoyed by two eager children in a home amounts to 1 million
bedtime stories in a year. As I'm sure you know, we believe
that parents have a fundamental role as children's first teachers to help
them acquire pre-literacy skills. And in June of 2014, the American
Academy of Pediatrics recommended that pediatricians tell parents
that they should be reading together as a daily fun family
activity from infancy. We absolutely agree. United Through Reading has
equipped military parents to that for more than 25 years. And plus, reading to
children enhances vocabulary and other communication skills. We recognize that story time forms
a critical bond between parents and child and it provides
moments to share things that might be left unsaid in the
chaos of a normal family day. Especially when that normal family
day takes place over the course of a ten-month deployment
and families are separated by oceans and continents. United Through Reading trains
volunteers to oversee each site and how to engage children
and draw them into stories. And as I mentioned, each site
has a selection of high quality, age appropriate books that
service members can read. We also celebrate certain
events throughout the years. In this particular picture,
these service members are from Task Force Sinai, and they
are celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday on Read Across America Day. All of these adds up to a profoundly
powerful connection being made by military families who are facing
seemingly insurmountable odds. Parents maintain their vital
roles as first teachers. They build early literacy
skills in their children. Children who associate story time
with joyful opportunities to connect with their mom and dad as you
can see here in this video. [ Music ] >> We have four children. Ryan is 11, Annalie [phonetic] is
nine, Lou Ann [phonetic] is six, and Emmalyn [phonetic] is four. >> My dad is on a ship. He's on a ship because
he's on deployment. >> So when — now I'm four and
then when my daddy gets home, I'm going to be this — 12. >> Every day, there is always
something that we miss. Daily stuff. I mean, big things are hard too, you
know, not being here for holidays or birthdays, anniversaries,
things like that. Those are though because it's a
special day that he is missing but, you know, for us, it's
the everyday — just every day moments
that we miss out on. Since reading is such a big part
of our routine, and you know, he'll sit there and they'll surround
him when he's sitting on the bed and he'll read them a story. And like they said,
he gets animated. So for him to be on a DVD that
they can see and hear him, I know that they're just going to be over the moon to have
that connection. Because it is a part of our routine so he will still be a visible
part of our routing then. >> It feels like he's
sitting in front of us. Reading and it makes me feel,
kind of, sad, but not really because I love him so much. I miss him a lot. [ Laughter ] >> Purple cat, purple
cat, what do you see? I see a white dog looking at me. A white dog. [ Barking ] [ Laughter ] >> Deployments are not
going to stop anytime soon. And I just like the fact that the
programs that we have are able to keep me in contact
with the family. United Through Reading
is a great tool to help my kids better
cope with me being gone. It actually helped me cope
with being away from them also. [ Music ] That was a good book. [ Music ] >> Sally Zoll: This work is an
honor, a joy, and a delight. And on behalf of our Board of
Trustees, our staff, our supporters, and our beneficiaries around
the world, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for
recognizing United Through Reading. And for your support of the military
families we so proudly serve. We are humbled to be here. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] >> David Mao: Thank you. Thank you so much. And now we hear from First Book. >> Kyle Zimmer: That is
a tough act to follow. Thank you so much. It's a tremendous honor to be here. Thank you to David Rubenstein, the
Library of Congress, John Cole, who is heart and soul with
First Book all these years, and the center of the book. I'd also like to congratulate
our fellow award winners. I've know these groups and
we've worked with them, especially United Through Reading. And it is just a tremendous
honor to share this day with them because of everything they do. This event is also a wonderful way to salute everyone who's helped
First Book for more than 24 years. We're very, very grateful
for the recognition. I want to accept the award on
behalf of the First Book network. This is the largest and fastest
growing network of formal and informal educators
serving children in need in North America now. Numbering more than more than
225,000 classrooms and programs. These are an inspiring
group of people. And I tell you, I wish
I could introduce you to every single one of them. But in place of that,
we'll introduce you to one through this video, if I may. [ Music ] >> As a child, books were my
way of being able to learn about the world outside of the
housing project that I lived in. Woodland Terrace is a very difficult
environment to inspire hope. [ Music ] Smart from the Start is a family
supported community engagement initiative founded, really, as an answer to widespread
school underachievement. [ Music ] The goal of Smart is really to
help folks on the ground understand that there is no better teacher
for a child than their parent. [ Music ] Just simply having books in
their home is a great way for use to do that. [ Music ] We had an opportunity to meet
First Book, and almost immediately, First Book began to
flood our program with beautiful, high
quality, new books. [ Music ] Literally, thousands of
brand new books have gone out into the community. We wouldn't be able to afford to do
that if it wasn't for the generosity and the hard work of First Book. [ Music ] I just cannot imagine a better
gift for a child than a book. Giving a child a book is giving
them the gift of wider horizons. It gives them a chance to
exercise their imagination. It gives them an opportunity
to share a special moment with the person that they love. [ Music ] It really gives them an
opportunity to dare to dream. [ Music ] Now that we have this
partnership with First Book, we're able to introduce families
to opportunities and resources. This is how we change
the fabric of community. One family. One parent. One father. One child at a time. [ Music ] >> Sally Zoll: So with heroes
like that, I can, you know, you can easily see how we're
inspired every single day at First Book. And I realize at a
beautiful event like this — at one of my favorite buildings
in all of Washington — that I'm supposed to be
inspiring and hopeful. But I have to be honest with you
and, you know, it's difficult. I've been doing this job and working in this field for more
than 25 years. And I think that we have to
look each other in the eye and recognize one really
critical fact. Our system is broken. We're standing in one of the
wealthiest countries in the world. A country that is founded
on democracy and equality. And frankly, we're falling
far, far short of that promise. At First Book, that
keeps us up at night. And frankly, it ought to
keep all of us up at night. And I just want to share with you
— at the risk of making this sound like a gigantic group
therapy session — I want to share with you
a couple of the things that are keeping me awake. The first thing is the
sheer size of the problem. Our current educational crisis
is so vast, and our solutions, they have to be equal
to that challenge. This last year, we
crossed a threshold — 51 percent of kids in the United
States, in public schools — 51 percent are from
low income families. The link between poverty and low
literacy is very well established. It shouldn't surprise any
of us to see that 80 percent of low income fourth graders are
not reading at proficient levels. And another way to say 80
percent is to say, almost none. Almost none of those children
are confident readers. And so to shift a trend
of that size, we've got to build
large scale solutions. Solutions that will really produce
the dramatic results that we need. And that is what First
Book is all about. We have built dynamic models
that have delivered now more than 140 million books, and a large
and growing list of resources. And we're proud of that. And we're happy with that. But we know every day, that
we have to grow faster. That we have to do more. And we have to do it at a rate
that's unprecedented if we're going to get ahead of the
wave that we see coming. The second thing that keeps
me awake at night is this. We need Gutenberg 2.0. And we need it now. We know from history
what access does to build an educated population. Gutenberg taught us that. The mass publishing industry in the United States really ran full
throttle in about the mid-1800s. So it shouldn't surprise any
of us that after 150 years, that industry needs a major reset. The average price of
a premium picture book in the United States today is $18. $18 is a price point that excludes
everyone but the wealthiest five or maybe 10 percent of
the U.S. population. The publishers are not to blame
in this and anyone who works with publishers knows that they
are heart and soul in this battle. And they worked with us. They worked with many, many
other terrific organizations. But we also know — all
of us in this room know — that publishing really holds the
intellectual life of our country. And it can't be designed in a way that it's limited to
the top five percent. At First Book, we're building
a brand new market at the base of the economic pyramid for books
and for educational resources. Our market has grown more
than 30 percent every year. But we have to expand those efforts to reach every single
child in poverty. To sustain and strengthen the
current publishing industry. And most importantly, to
make good on the promise of equal education for
every single child. The third thing that keeps
me awake is that books need to be both affordable and relevant. People have been citing
a lack of relevancy. A lack of cultural diversity in
children's books for decades. And yet, in the last evaluation
by the University of Wisconsin, the percentage of non-white
children's authors is about eight percent. So there are wonderful books
being written by a huge range of wonderful authors,
but it's not enough. We're not moving it fast enough. And we're not even close. First Book's own research has
shown that over 90 percent of the educators we
serve have told us that their kids would be
more enthusiastic readers if the books reflected
their own lives. We've got to listen to
a voice that strong. We've got to listen
and we've got to act. Because between the high price of
books and the lack of relevancy, we're facing a really chasm. First Book has launched
something called Stories for All. And it's a program
that's revolutionary because it's market driven. And it is addressing this need but
we've got to amplify the results. We've got to move faster. Now, I can't close without
giving you some good news, right? Come on. We do know what works. We know what works. It's books. We hear from our network all of
the time, and we receive letters — like one recently I
want to quote for you. "Thanks to First Book,
over the summer, our students were able
to pick out new books. The results were phenomenal. Instead of falling behind, 95
percent of our readers maintained or improved their developmental
reading assessment scores. Ninety-five percent. I'll take that. I'll take that. We know that providing
great books and resources to heroic educators works. And now, our task is
to turn the volume up. And fast! If we can scale our
work over the next five years, we will reach one million educators. And that translates roughly
into about 25 million children. Then, and only then,
can we sleep a little. Maybe a nap. With the thought that every child
in this country has the equal chance to build their lives,
to raise their families, to contribute to their
community, and to their nation. And here is the most hopeful
thing, we can do this. We can do this together. We're so grateful for
your help already. And so grateful for
this terrific day. Thanks so much. [ Applause ] >> David Mao: Congratulations
again to all of our winners. As you've heard from
these presentations, inspiring, novel, sobering. It shows clearly all the hard
work that all of these groups do. And clearly, they are very, very
deserving of these Literacy Awards. As part of our — a very special
part of our program today. We will now have the opportunity
to hear more from Kyle. David will join us now — David
and Kyle will have a conversation on the stage here to hear more
about First Book and also more about the — as she mentioned — more than 25 years of
experience in this area. >> Kyle Zimmer: How about that. >> David Mao: To inspire
us even more. >> David Rubenstein:
So why don't we start by where are you original from? >> Kyle Zimmer: I'm
from Southeastern Ohio. Saintsville. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. And so you went to college where? >> Kyle Zimmer: I went to
the University of Iowa. I know. >> David Rubenstein:
What happened to Ohio? >> Kyle Zimmer: I don't have
a great explanation for that. >> David Rubenstein:
So you went to Iowa. What did you major in? I assume not — >> Kyle Zimmer: English
and writing, actually. It was one of their
great departments. >> David Rubenstein: So when you
graduated, then what did you do? >> Kyle Zimmer: I went to law
school here at GW, actually. I'm a — escaped lawyer — >> David Rubenstein: Like me. >> Kyle Zimmer: Like yourself. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. So if you graduate from law
school, your family said, Okay. You're now going to be a
great corporate lawyer. You're going to make lots of money. What went wrong? [ Laughter ] >> Kyle Zimmer: You know, my
family was always dedicated, my family was always
dedicated to education. It made a profound
difference in our lives as — my brother's and sister's —
that as part of the GI Bill, my father had been
able to go to college. And that wouldn't have happened but
for that governmental intervention. And so they believed deeply in that and they were also very
socially motivated. So they actually — I went
and practiced law for a while and then I saved my
soul by leaving there. >> David Rubenstein: And
where did you practice law? >> Kyle Zimmer: I practiced
here in Washington. >> David Rubenstein: At a law firm? >> Kyle Zimmer: At a law firm. Anderson, Hibey, Nauheim, and Blair. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. And you were doing Indian law or — >> Kyle Zimmer: I did some — represented the Navajo nation in
partnership with Peter Gold here who co-founded First Book with me. And a huge range of
corporate clients. >> David Rubenstein: Okay, so
one day, and epiphany happens. You say, "I don't really
want to do this for a living. I want to do something else. And I want to create First Book." Is that what happened? Or how did it come about? >> Kyle Zimmer: You know,
how it came about is — it was right in the middle of
the crack epidemic in Washington, D.C. and I was very aware that a
town that I loved was under siege. And so I began tutoring at
a little soup kitchen right down the road here
called Martha's Table. Now it's grown. Everybody knows Martha's Table. And so I — and when I
went there, every night, the place would be
filled with 50 or 60 kids that were all doing
exactly the right thing. They were coming in off
of dangerous streets. They were looking for
adult intervention. And we didn't really — at that point in Martha's
Tables development — we didn't have a lot to offer them. And so I kept thinking, you
know, what would this look like? We could start reading to them. We need books. We need — and that began
the process of looking at other neighborhood groups. Going into some of the schools and
seeing what was not available there. And Peter and I started
putting our thoughts together. >> David Rubenstein: So one day,
you went into your colleagues in the law firm and said,
"I'm just going to just quit and go into literacy world?" Is that what you said? >> Kyle Zimmer: It
was sort of like that. I mean, we always had a
sense we weren't going to build a traditional non-profit. And so it has a lot more
business modeling behind it. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. So when you told your family you
were going to give up your practice of law, what did they say? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, mostly
they were pretty proud. I think they were pretty
happy that I was willing to roll my sleeves up and jump in. And, you know, I've got a proud
tradition — my sister is here — who also is a lawyer who
works in the social sector. So she beat down the
bushes in front of me and I was able to walk the path. >> David Rubenstein: What year
was it that you started actually? >> Kyle Zimmer: 1992. >> David Rubenstein: Okay, and so
where did you get your first money? >> Kyle Zimmer: We got our first
check from Reading is Fundamental. They gave us a little starter grant. And then we got a larger
investment from Share Our Strength. The hunger relief organization. >> David Rubenstein: So how many
people did you initially have in your organization? You and… >> Kyle Zimmer: There were — we ran it on a volunteer
basis for a little while. Maybe a year and a half,
and then we hired a couple of young people to come in. >> David Rubenstein: How
many people do you have now? >> Kyle Zimmer: I think
just over 80. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. And not on a volunteer basis? >> Kyle Zimmer: No, indeed. No. >> David Rubenstein: So you
have 80 people and now — how many books have you actually
purchased — would you say — over the years that
you've been doing this? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, we've given
away about 140 million books. And last year, we hit about
15 million books in that year. It's a wonderful hockey
stick — the growth. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. And you do it in the
United States principally? >> Kyle Zimmer: Principally, although we have expanded
into Canada. And so we have an office
just outside of Toronto and we've been doing that
for three or four years. >> David Rubenstein: So now you have
several different programs but one of them is you buy books,
and then you distribute them. >> Kyle Zimmer: Yup. >> David Rubenstein:
You have another program where people can go online
and buy books at a discount? >> Kyle Zimmer: Right. It's two jet engines. One is called the First
Book National Book bank. And that was the model we designed. That's the older of the two. And we designed that on the
understand of the book industry. And how because it's a
consignment industry, there's a tremendous
backflow of inventory. And so we went to the
publishers and we said, "Do you give those books away?" And they did what they could. But it's a very expensive
thing to manage. So we stepped into that space and
built the first system of its kind that now manages the lion's
share of contributed books from the publishing industry. That's the Book bank. And then there's the Marketplace. And these are very separate. The marketplace is when we buy
the inventory from the publishers. What we said to the publishers
in that instance is, "Look, you really are constrained — your market, the way it's
currently designed — the market for books is
constrained to the top veneer of socio-economic strata. And what we will do is we'll go out and aggregate the base
of the pyramid. So we will pay for aggregation. We will buy on a non-consignment,
a non-returnable basis. And that was music to
their ears of course. And then, we also said that they
wouldn't have to advertise to us. So we basically took away
all the risk from the market. And we took away a lot of the cost. And we said we expect your
prices to reflect the fact that we're building a new market
and that none of this risk is — or expenses any longer
on your plate. >> David Rubenstein: So are
you bigger now in Washington than other cities or is
— you're everywhere? >> Kyle Zimmer: Nope, our network
— we have an online system where, literally, anyone serving
children in need — zero to 18 years of age —
can sign up with us for free. Title I classrooms and schools,
anybody certain, you know, Head Starts, health care centers,
libraries, literally any place. They come on and they give us
their bonafide [inaudible] online. And that system is free. And once they're in —
once we've certified them, then they can have access to
both the book bank inventory — where they only pay for shipping — and the marketplace inventory
where the average price of a brand new paperback book,
including shipping, is $2.85. >> David Rubenstein: So
what ages do you focus on? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, we
cover zero to eighteen. We're all the way up. >> David Rubenstein: And what about
adults who can't afford books? Have you gone into that area yet? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, we haven't. By the time, I mean,
we haven't overtly. By the time — there are
a bunch of programs though where new moms will come
into the program to get books through their system to
read with their child. We also have a lot of books
that we specifically look for that are very high interest
in low level vocabulary to begin to bring the older population — the
older readers — into the system. >> David Rubenstein: So somebody
gets a book from your system. A child gets two or three
books and you have them, what do they do typically when they're done reading
them 20 or 30 or 40 times. Do they pass them along
or do they hold them, put them in their library,
what do they do with them? >> Kyle Zimmer: It's every
story you can imagine. So, you know, there are some
schools, some classrooms that build classroom
libraries with them. There are some families that — you
saw them on Sally's presentation, you know, family libraries. And we know how important
that is for reading skills. We know that having a family library of even 20 books has
an extraordinary impact on the academic achievement. So some of them stay
home with the kids, some of them get traded
around from kid to kid. It depends on the program. >> David Rubenstein: And
is there a difference between whether a child likes a book
with a hard back or a soft back? Does it make a difference? >> Kyle Zimmer: I don't think
it makes a difference at all. >> David Rubenstein: Does
it make a difference — why do publishers still
publish a hard back? Because it's presumably
more expensive or — >> Kyle Zimmer: It's
very much more expansive. And I don't think it makes
a difference to the kid. I think that there are
a lot of reasons — people love the feeling
of hard back books. And it also, you know,
is a lovely thing for a keepsake and things like that. >> David Rubenstein: So a lot of
adults now are reading books online. >> Kyle Zimmer: Yup. >> David Rubenstein: And on
Kindles or other devices. Are children doing that yet? Do they have their own
kindles yet for children or they're still reading books
— the kind of books you provide? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, I don't think that the digital content space has
taken off anywhere nearly as quickly as the industry thought it might. And it breaks down by age. Kids — the older kids may not
have kindles but they certainly — there's a huge penetration of smart
phones and smart technology, right? So those were actually working and
providing and increasing opportunity for digital content to
make that accessible through the First Book Marketplace. But littler kids, the
technology isn't really there. You know, because you
have to have a unit that is simultaneously
high quality enough — >> David Rubenstein: Right. >> Kyle Zimmer: That it
can capture the artwork, and it can also have grape juice
spilled on it and be dropped down a flight of steps, right? And so — >> David Rubenstein:
Who does a better job of preparing children to read? Fathers or mothers
when they're reading? >> Kyle Zimmer: Oh, man. >> David Rubenstein:
When they're reading to their children, is
there a difference? >> Kyle Zimmer: No, there's not. You know, I think the — what we want is we want 24/7
surround sound for kids. >> David Rubenstein: And
if you don't have a parent, does it make a difference
for the child? Or who typically reads to
the children if, let's say, they don't have a parent or
they're one parent families. Is it a big difference? Do you see a big difference in
their literacy capabilities — there's a one parent family? >> Kyle Zimmer: I think poverty
is the main indicator on that. It's when you've got caring adults,
that's the most important thing. That's the most important thing. And when they're reading in the life
of a child, that's a power tool. That's tremendous. I will tell you, quickly, that
I've seen just recently some extraordinary programs where
they are bringing older kids who are struggling with reading
themselves in to read and tutor with younger kids in
the same school. And the impact metrics
on that is breathtaking. >> David Rubenstein: So I
suppose President Obama called you up and said, "I heard — >> Kyle Zimmer: He
does all the time. [ Laughter ] >> David Rubenstein: He'd
say you've done a great job. I've heard about this award. I've heard about the organization. I'll give you a 100
million dollars — okay, I'll give you a billion
dollars, what would you do to improve the literacy
in the United States with 100 million or
a billion dollars? What would you do with that? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, the first
thing I would do is I'd make sure every teacher, every educator, every preschool setting had
every resource they need. Right now, what we
have is an army — forgive me for the
military reference — but we have an army with no supply
— with an inadequate supply system. And so I think that's the magic
of what first book is building. And with infinite funding
or nearly infinite funding, our ability to upgrade IT
systems, to market and make sure that every eligible
teacher is in the system and receiving the benefits — you can't imagine what pent
up heroes there are out there. Teachers go into teaching,
people are working at Head Start and they've all got ideas
about what they want to do with the kids in their program. And so when they get resources,
the lid blows off the place. It's really inspiring. >> David Rubenstein: So have
you ever thought of going into public service — a
different type of public service — and go into government and
changing public policies to make more along
the lines you like or is that not something
you want to do? >> Kyle Zimmer: Well,
I'd be very interested in being helpful in the that. I'm not sure that I
have the temperament for working on the inside. But I'm a terrific heckler and
I'd be very happy in that role. >> David Rubenstein:
So what book do you — how many books do you read a year? Are you a big reader yourself? >> Kyle Zimmer: I'm
a pretty big reader. A lot of my — I have a 16-year-old
son — he's sitting right there — and I have a 12-year-old
son and a lot of the books I read are
books that they are reading. >> David Rubenstein: And are they — they have to be gifted
readers because of your job? >> Kyle Zimmer: It's
required by law. Yes. >> David Rubenstein: Okay. And you like to read
fiction, non-fiction? >> Kyle Zimmer: I tend to love
fiction and historical fiction. Yeah. >> David Rubenstein: And today,
if you look back on your career — do you have any regrets in
leaving the practice of law? And you're very happy
with what you've done? If you could do it all over again,
what would you do differently? >> Kyle Zimmer: You know, I
don't have a single regret. I feel like the luckiest
person in the world. I really do. Because I feel like I spent a number
of years in training as a lawyer. And then a number of years
working as a lawyer at the elbow of brilliantly talented lawyers
who were able to sharpen my skills and my analytical reasoning
and my business skills. And I've been able to pivot and turn
and apply that to something that — it's tremendously meaningful to me. And I get to work with
extraordinary people. Some of whom are sitting here. >> David Rubenstein: So would
you recommend to your children that they go to law school? >> Kyle Zimmer: Yeah,
actually, I would recommend it. >> David Rubenstein:
But not practice law? >> Kyle Zimmer: I think it's — certainly not practi-,
no, I'm teasing. You know, I think it's
great training. I think it made me far more capable
in developing new business models. I think I don't hesitate to call
people when I need their skillset. And I think it helped a lot. >> David Rubenstein: So where do you
think your organization will be 10 years from today? >> Kyle Zimmer: Ten
years from today, well, we will certainly be global. We're already tiptoeing out. We've done major distributions in
India and several other countries. And I think we did distributions in
about 19 countries just last year. Just pilots to start getting a
flavor for what would be required. So definitely global. We already are expanding
into teacher training. To begin to elevate what
happens to those books when they hit the classrooms. And because we want to make sure
that every leverage point we have, that we really pull the
lever to elevate impact. So, I think, you know, and
then expanding also the kinds of products that we offer. Books will always be — either
electronic or traditional — will always be the
heartbeat of the organization. But we've learned, because
we constantly are talking to this network that we've built, and they tell us kids
are coming hungry. Kids are not coming to school because they don't
have winter coats. And so now we have this logistical
system, we can make coats available. We can start breaking
down those barriers too. >> David Rubenstein: So
what is your budget now? >> Kyle Zimmer: Our budget, if you
include books and all, is over — just over 100 million a year. Our operating budget is
just over 20 million. >> David Rubenstein: Where does that
money — that 20 million comes from? >> Kyle Zimmer: It's about 45
percent of it is funds that we earn through the market
place and the book bank. So we're heading towards
self-sufficiency. In fact, we believe in the
next three or four years, we will be 100 percent self-funded. How about that? >> David Rubenstein: Pretty good. >> Kyle Zimmer: But we also have
at this moment, great corporations who have stepped up to help
us and wonderful individuals. >> David Rubenstein: So I've always
found a non-profit [inaudible] should never say you're going to be
self-sufficient because you'd be — hard to get the donors but — [ Laughter ] >> Kyle Zimmer: I didn't say that. >> David Rubenstein: So when your
children were learning to read, and their teachers were
not doing as good a job as you thought they
maybe should have? What did you say to the teachers? Or you always thought the
teachers were doing a good job? >> Kyle Zimmer: I actually always
thought the teachers were doing a pretty good job. I mean, I think that what we did
at home was we just read a lot. And, I think, more important than
the curriculum, in a lot of ways, is having fun doing it
and making it something that your kids see that you love. And they become part of that. And that carries a lot. >> David Rubenstein: Well, look,
you've done a great job and I want to thank you very much for everything you've
done for the country — >> Kyle Zimmer: Thank you. Thank you. >> David Rubenstein: And
for the world, eventually. >> Kyle Zimmer: Well, thank you. >> David Rubenstein:
Starting First Book. Thank you very much. >> Kyle Zimmer: Thank you
and you know, before — [ Applause ] Thanks. Before we break,
I just want to say, the Lincoln Memorial is
my favorite memorial. And on behalf of everyone
in Washington, and everyone in the country — >> David Rubenstein:
Thank you very much. >> Kyle Zimmer: Thank you so
much for stepping up on that. [ Applause ] >> David Mao: Thank you so much
for sharing those words with us. And let's join again and thank
David for sponsoring the Library of Congress Literacy Awards. [ Applause ] Congratulations again
to award winners. Thank you to our advisory
board members here. Actually, thank you to all of
you because it's working together that we can help with this
problem that we have in the world and that is fighting illiteracy. >> This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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