Photo of Randi Weingarten reading to students at Buckeye Primary School in Medina, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 2022.

Reading Opens the World: Giving Kids Stories of Hope and Joy

This blog post is from Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO a Unite Against Book Bans partner.

When Abby Rose McCoy, a ninth-grader at North Marion Middle School in Citra, FL, wanted to learn more about Islam, she went to her school library and checked out Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices. But her school banned the book before she could finish it—one of thousands of books targeted for censorship in recent years.

The American Federation of Teachers made sure Abby’s school—and schools and libraries in 14 additional Florida cities—got copies of the acclaimed book, along with thousands of other books that have been challenged or banned. The giveaways are part of the AFT’s Reading Opens the World initiative, which has distributed 1.5 million free books across the country since it launched in December 2021.

Reading Opens the World is one way the AFT is rejecting the toxic attacks against public education in favor of real solutions for kids. We are addressing literacy, learning loss and loneliness through transformative strategies to help children recover and thrive.

At a time when young people are still trying to recover from the pandemic, when social media is taking its toll on their mental health, and when districts are getting rid of librarians in favor of discipline centers, kids are also losing access to books—including books that affirm their lived experience.

In Beaufort, S.C., nearly 100 books were pulled from school library shelves last fall, “pending review,” after complaints from extremist groups. They haven’t been returned. In Clay County, FL, complaints from one parent—just one—led to 100 books permanently disappearing. Overall, the American Library Association recorded more attempts to ban books in 2022 than in the entire 20 years it has been keeping track.

Banning books won’t help kids become confident, joyful readers. It is not a solution to loneliness or learning loss. It is not how we raise compassionate, resilient kids who can think independently and critically. It is not how we raise a generation of leaders ready to preserve our democracy and unite our diverse society.

In addition to giving away millions of free books through Reading Opens the World, the AFT is investing in Reading Universe, a free online resource to give all educators access to evidence-based reading instruction. And we just launched Real Solutions for Kids and Communities, a $5 million yearlong campaign that focuses on reading, experiential learning, community schools, and resources for kids to thrive.

The AFT is a Unite Against Book Bans partner because we are united for our kids. And we’ll make sure that if kids like Abby want to read stories of joy about Eid, or any other religion or culture, they can get them.

Featured Image: Randi Weingarten reads to students at Buckeye Primary School in Medina, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 2022.