2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award Winners Named

CONTACT:  Cathy Leiber

2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award Winners Named

Empowering Global Communities to Create Positive Reading Experiences

From Allentown, St. Paul and New York City … To Greece, Zimbabwe and Australia

July 27, 2019 — Lehigh Valley, Pa — Judith’s Reading Room names “Barbershop Books,” as Grand Prize Winner of the 2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award.  Led by educator and author Alvin Irby, based in New York City, Barbershop Books is a laser-focused community-based program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops involving Black men, Black boys and Black barbers.  Irby believes that “early positive reading experiences help children identify as readers and when children identify as readers they are more likely to read for fun.”  The Barbershop Books program currently has child-friendly reading spaces in 140 barbershops across more than 30 cities and 20 states, reaching over 5,600 boys per month.  Books are selected by young Black boys and Irby’s program provides early literacy training to barbers.  For his work, Irby is awarded the 2019 Grand Prize Award valued at $3,000.

The Judith’s Award — exclusive to teachers, librarians or authors — names Vicky Xanthopoulou, originator of “Let’s Play Book,” its 2019 Judith’s Award recipient.  The elementary school teacher from Potamia Village, Thassos Island, North Greece created the innovative project titled, “Let’s Play Book,” which combines in her words, “the innate impulsion of children to play with the need to penetrate the text and all book’s aspects.”  “Let’s Play Book” is the winner of numerous Greek literacy distinctions and is based on reading animations designed to cultivate shared values for her multi-cultural students.  Her work is essential:  there is no lending library in her village, so her original publications have proven to be essential in providing basic literacy tools.  For her innovative, creative and passionate work in a village with no library, Judith’s Reading Room awards Xanthopoulou the 2019 Judith’s Award valued at $500.

The Board Option Award with a total prize of $1,000 is shared amongst four visionary individuals. The winners of the 2019 Board Option Award are:  

Karen Brown, Caring For Cats Shelter Volunteer, “Cat Tales — Kids Reading to Cats,” based in North St. Paul, Minnesota.  At this no-kill all volunteer cat shelter, Brown provides books for children to read aloud to kitty cats while they consider adoption.  One mother wrote, “My son’s fondness for reading is rather small.  But the spot in his heart for cats is quite large.  I’m hopeful that this will help him learn to love reading.” She writes, “we provide an entirely different setting where the kitties and children are both primary program beneficiaries.”  Brown is awarded a 2019 Board Option prize valued at $300.

Kathleen Kapila, Librarian, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, “LGBT Children’s Literacy:  Drag Queen Story Hour” based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  “The connection between community and literacy is especially true for people with marginalized identities,” the application states.  Drag Queen story hours, in which drag performers read books to children, encouraging a love of reading and freedom of gender expression, speaks to the heart of the Freedom Through Literacy Award and to the life-work of Judith Krug, in whose memory Judith’s Reading Room was created.  As founder of Banned Books Week over 40 years ago, Krug’s favorite book to read aloud in elementary classrooms was And Tango Makes Three, a story of two male penguins raising a chick.  Kapila is awarded a 2019 Board Option prize valued at $300.

Sue Goatley, nonprofit leader, Children in the Wilderness, for her support of “St. Mary’s Primary School Library Enrichment Project,” based in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  In the Hwange Region, where there is nowhere to buy books, St. Mary’s Primary School is a haven for its 845 students who rely on the school for opening up their world through books.  We recognize Sue Goatley for her work to provision a library in a country that does not provide government support for rural educational resource needs and for recognizing that even if the child cannot read, the idea of a book is “such an exciting prospect for them.”  Goatley is awarded a 2019 Board Option prize valued at $200.

Kulasekara Mudiyanselage Chanith Wijeratne, Author and Illustrator, for his project “Promoting Conservation Through Inspired Reading,” Essendon, Victoria, Australia.  Chanith, at the age of six, published Wildlife of Udawalawe National Park at Lens Range — the first-ever book about this globally popular National Park in Sri Lanka.Wijeratne has since completed 10 books on the wildlife of Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa.   His attitude toward literacy is clear: “being able to read and write prepares us well to serve fellow human beings.”  We recognize Chanith Wijeratne, who is in Grade 12, as an accomplished author, naturalist, and role model for other children.   Wijeratne is awarded a 2019 Board Option prize valued at $200.

Judith’s Reading Room mission is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging freedom through literacy.  To date, the organization has fulfilled that mission by establishing 97 libraries in 20 countries (and counting!) with 128,000 books donated valued at nearly $1.4 million dollars.  The Freedom Through Literacy Award, initiated in 2015 as the organization’s signature event, has disbursed $33,500 in prize money, honoring 31 individual champions of literacy in the United States, the Philippines, Bhutan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Cambodia, Mexico, Australia, Zimbabwe and Greece.

Visit Judith’s Reading Room Freedom Through Literacy Award for current award information!

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