MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Learning to read.
The U.S. Department of Education says 6 in 10 fourth graders in this country are reading below grade level. And children who don’t read proficiently are more likely than others to drop out of school.
Organizations all over the country are trying to come up with solutions to the problem, but a seven-year-old girl found another way to inspire her classmates to read. WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown is here with her story.
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Selah Thompson is 7 years old, with two long, bushy ponytails. Her blue glasses match her blue hooded sweatshirt.
AUDIO: [Sound of Selah reading]
The first grader has been reading to her parents, Khalil and Nicole Thompson, since she was 3-and-a-half years old.
KHALIL THOMPSON: There were all these words that were inside of her. You could just see it in her eyes.
NICOLE THOMPSON: We barely make it through a page without a full discussion.
SELAH: No, toothpaste inside of oreos, ewhh!
In their three-story-brick townhouse, neatly stacked books adorn the shelves and the kitchen counter. They surround a large pine wood table. This is where the family reads, prays and tells their own stories, like Selah’s first day of kindergarten.
NICOLE TO SELAH: Did everyone know how to write their names? Mostly everybody. But there were some who didn’t? Yes.
That realization made Selah sad, and she decided to do something about it. First, she wrote a kids book with characters that looked like her and her classmates. Then, she remembered how many books she had and wondered if her classmates had access to more books, maybe her classmates would be more likely to read. The idea of a book drive was born.
KHALIL TO SELAH: And you told me you wanted to give away a number of books. Yes, 20-hundred-thousand books. What’s that number again? 20-hundred-thousand.
That’s 2 million books. Selah’s parents came up with a way to collect those books: the “March to 20 Hundred Thousand Books” book drive. But Selah had a better idea.
KHALIL THOMPSON: We should do an actual physical march and get kids to dress up like their favorite characters and we can march down the street.
In August 2018, the Thompson family began planning. They applied for city permits and found sponsors.
KHALIL THOMPSON: We ended up having 1,300 people register for it.
In the middle of a busy intersection, the spot where the march will end, Selah’s dad and a fellow volunteer dig three holes.
VOLUNTEER TO KHALIL: So, that’s how deep they’re going to be, 2 feet deep, which leaves them about 3 feet off the ground. You think that’ll be good? It’s perfect.
They’re planting wooden posts, attached to tiny house-shaped boxes, with little glass doors. They’re called free, little libraries.
KHALIL THOMPSON: At the end of the march tomorrow, we’re going to do a big unveiling ceremony to show these off to the neighborhood and then tomorrow morning we’ll stock them full of books and get ready to present them to the neighborhood.
MYRNA TO KHALIL: How are you feeling about the weather? I’m optimistic. I mean they say it’s gonna rain tomorrow, and rain or shine, we’re going to be out here.
Saturday January 19th, dozens of families in raincoats gather in a huge parking lot. It’s been drizzling all morning.
DJ: We got a day full of activity. We’ll march at 10. Help us reach our goal of 20 hundred thousand books.
ROBINSON FAMILY: I am Ion and I’m 7 years old. My name is Jai and I’m 11 years old. My name is Kedar and I’m 9. And I’m the father of them, Ernest Robinson.
The Robinsons have never met the Thompsons, but were drawn to the cause and their story.
DJ: Once again, thank you to the Atlanta Literacy Club, Chick-Fil-A Foundation…
About a dozen drummer boys, all dressed in warm, red hoodies begin to play the soundtrack for the children’s march for literacy. Carrying a long, blue banner and wearing a purple pirate’s hat and a ladybug raincoat, Selah leads 370 men, women and children down a two-way street, lined with houses and buildings. The first leg of the one-mile march is over in about 30 minutes.
KHALIL THOMPSON: Thank you everybody
As the march concludes, the Thompson’s unveil three brightly decorated free little libraries.
KHALIL THOMPSON: We planted them here yesterday, so today we want to show those off and dedicate them to this neighborhood. [Applause]
CHILDREN: I like these two. They are different colors. One is blue and red and one is green and red. What I like about it is this glass. What goes in there? Books!
Throughout the year, the Thompson’s plan to plant 72 more free little libraries in two dozen neighborhoods. It’ll be a job to keep them stocked with books.
FAMILY MEETING: Oh, what’s on our agenda? What did you put on our agenda for today?
Back at the Thompson’s kitchen table, Selah and her family are cooking up new ideas to influence and inspire more children and families to read.
SELAH THOMPSON: Instead we can make a human size book and then we can make an LOL book.
KHALIL AND NICOLE THOMPSON: I think she’s opened our eyes to something and by us just being patient enough to listen, it’s empowered us to be better people and to have a bigger impact for folks as well…And a little child shall lead them.
SELAH THOMPSON: So here’s the first thing we’re talking about…
For WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown reporting from Atlanta, Georgia.