2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award Winners

Empowering Global Communities to Create Positive Reading Experiences

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

Grand Prize Award – $3,000

Alvin Irby, “Barbershop Books”
New York, New York

Alvin Irby, a passionate social entrepreneur and former teacher, had a simple idea: why not use the time you get your hair cut to build literacy skills? And with a laser-beam focus,
Barbershop Books was born. Irby’s community-based
program creates inviting, child-friendly reading spaces in
urban barbershops for young black boys.

Originally developed in Harlem, Barbershop Books has
spread to 140 barbershops (and counting!) across more than
30 cities and 20 states, reaching 5,600 boys per month.

We warmly honor Alvin Irby as the Grand Prize winner of the
2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award for his creative
approach to bring culturally-relevant, age-appropriate, and
gender-responsive books to foster literacy skills and a love
for reading amongst young black boys.






Judith’s Award $500

Vicky Xanthopoulou- “Let’s Play Book”
Potamia, North Greece


Children in the village of Potamia on Thassos Island in North Greece have little access to books; without a library, it had been difficult for the community to foster solid reading skills. That’s why Vicky, an elementary school teacher, jumped into action. She created “Let’s Play Book,” which encourages children to interpret the world around them through reading and playing with books that she and other local authors have created.

In her honor, we announce the establishment of its 98th library in Vicky’s village of Potamia, starting with a donation of 75 children’s books.

We also happily recognize Vicky and her “Let’s Play Book” program as winner of the 2019 Judith’s Award.



Let’s play book (LPB) is a reading promotion project based on sociocultural, constructivist, ecological systems and experiental theories of learning. LPB focuses on the social and cultural dimensions of learning and promotes equal opportunities for all students. Children are encouraged to understand and interpret the world around them through reading and playing with books. By setting the book at the center of the learning process and through a diverse range of reading animations I am trying to create social landscapes inside the classroom which stimulate children and incite them to interact with each other.

I am hugely honored to receive ‘Judith’s Award’ by Judith’s Reading Room whose visionary work and ideals appeal to the highest of my aspirations.

2019 Board Option Award – $300

Karen Brown “Cat Tales – Kids Reading to Cats”— St. Paul, Minnesota

  Two Sundays a month, Karen Brown opens up her no-kill cat shelter, Caring for Cats, to young children volunteers to practice reading aloud to a very willing audience — dozens of cats! Testimonies from families reveal that children have improved their confidence in reading thanks to the calming and low-pressure atmosphere. For creating a unique and rewarding experience for cats and children alike, we award Karen Brown a 2019 Board Option Award.    

  CFC Quote from Karen on how she feels about winning a 2019 Freedom Through Literacy Board Option Prize Award:

Thank you to Judith’s Reading Room for recognizing and encouraging the Caring for Cat’s reading program: Cat Tales – Kids Reading to Cats. A cat shelter may seem an unlikely advocate for literacy, but we knew our kitties would help kids fall in love with reading. Not only do the kids get to read stories to a supportive and nonjudgmental audience, they get to see how their words and actions help shy or traumatized kitties connect with people. We see cats showing appreciation to their reader friends with a paw on the shoulder or a nose-to-nose touch. By sharing a story, cats learn that people are okay, and kids learn that reading can be a force for good in all kinds of places and situations. This award reaffirms our commitment to being partners with our community and with organizations like Judith’s Reading Room and our fellow awardees to support literacy. I am personally honored to have Cat Tales receive a 2019 Freedom Through Literacy Board Option Prize Award.

2019 Board Option – $300

Kathleen Kapila “LGBT Children’s Literacy: Drag Queen Story Hour”— Allentown, Pennsylvania

As librarian of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Kathleen Kapila is showing off her creativity with the creation of Drag Queen Story Hour, a new program in which drag performers read books to young children to encourage both a love of reading and freedom of gender expression. We proudly award Kathleen Kapila a Board Option Award for her efforts.      

2019 Board Option – $200

Sue Goatley “Outdoor Education Book” — Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

    Sue Goatley has spent the past few years ensuring that St. Mary’s School in the Hwange Region provides its 845 students with books. For her work to open up their world through literature, we proudly award Sue a Board Option Award.  


2019 Board Option -$200

Chanith Wijeratne “Promoting Conservation Through Inspired Reading”— Essendon, Victoria, Australia

ChanithWijeratneChanith has been writing about the wildlife of Sri Lanka, Australia and Africa since the age of six. With 10 titles under his belt, he has inspired many children around him to pursue writing and conservation. For this, we happily award Chanith a Board Option Award.





2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award Winners


2018 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2017 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2016 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2015 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

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