Freedom Through Literacy Award

Freedom Through Literacy Award.

The Freedom Through Literacy Award


The Freedom Through Literacy Award was established by Judith’s Reading Room in 2015 to identify and honor individual champions of literacy from all disciplines around the world — teachers, librarians, authors, researchers, educators — anyone who has done exemplary work to instill in others a love of reading.

Judith’s Reading Room, a nonprofit literacy organization, was founded in 2010 in the memory of Judith F. Krug, a librarian, and cousin to the organization’s founders. Judy served as the Director of Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association for 40 years.


Grand Prize ~ $2,500
Judith’s Award ~ $1,500
Board Option Awards: A pool of $1,000 to be awarded in different amounts to deserving champions of literacy with or without an application based on Board of Directors nominations


If you are selected as a Judith’s Reading Room Freedom Through Literacy Award winner, we require that you agree to provide materials to use on Judith’s Reading Room’s website and social media. Such materials can include: video or photographs. Also required, a quote to use in our marketing materials. In addition you agree to provide updated information and materials on your project’s impact and progress. Judith’s Reading Room continuously promotes award winners and their contribution to literacy.

The application period for the 2024 application period ended on Feb. 5, 2024. Winners will be announced on the Judith’s Reading Room’s website. If your information changes, please contact us.


February 13, 2023 — Judith’s Reading Room, a global nonprofit literacy organization founded in 2010 in the memory of Judith F. Krug, a distinguished librarian, is pleased to announce the winners of its 9th annual “Freedom Through Literacy Award.”  The judges declared eight (8) champions of literacy with a combined financial award of $5,000. 

“The organization’s global footprint expanded in 2023 thanks to the number of applications received from the U.S. and abroad,” said Cathy Leiber, President, Judith’s Reading Room.

Author who helps kids bring their biggest ideas to life wins

Grand Prize Award – $2,500

Ty Jackson – “The Danny Dollar Entrepreneur Fair”
Fresno, California

The $2,500 Grand Prize goes to award-winning children’s book author Ty Jackson for his youth financial literacy project:  “The Danny Dollar Entrepreneur Fair,” Fresno, California.  Ty, a previous winner of the coveted Judith’s Award, developed a creative program based on his book, Make Your Own Money:  How Kids Can Earn It, Save It, Spend It, and Dream Big.   The Danny Dollar Entrepreneur Fair premiered in 2022 in Pittsfield, MA where 300 fifth graders read his book and learned how they could start making, saving and spending money now. This program is successful because it makes reading fun and empowers kids to bring their ideas into the world. 

” We believe that children are more likely to pick up the habit of reading if they are introduced to books that are fun, relatable, and interesting.” 

       – Ty Jackson


Judith’s Award – $1,500

Amber Drinen – “R.E.A.D. in Beauty Bookmobile”
Chinle, Arizona

The $1,500 Judith’s Award winner is Amber Drinen for “R.E.A.D. in Beauty Bookmobile” project, an initiative of Chinle Planting Hope in Chinle, Arizona, a Native-controlled nonprofit that supervises the Bookmobile which serves 34,000 members of the Navajo Nation, where there is no public library.

There is great excitement about the Bookmobile, according to David Goldberg, MD, who notes in his letter of reference, “There is an ambitious, thoughtful plan to bring books and library programing to the communities surrounding Chinle.  Lives are about to be enriched; memories will be formed; and sparks of wonder are in the offing.” For example, Bookmobile staff provide assistance with laptops, internet and STEM activities while maintaining the on-board library of 10,000 catalogued books for children K-12. 

“Children must experience the joy of a good story and what it means to lose yourself in the pages.”

   Amber Drinen

 2023 Board Option prizes:

Board Option Award – $400

Victor Owuor –  “Pathway to Alternative Learning Education (PALE)”
Nairobi, Kenya

Victor Owuor, after -school program coordinator, the Sunflower Trust, Nairobi, Kenya for his project, “Pathway to Alternative Learning Education (PALE).”  As World Literacy Ambassador since 2022 representing Kenya, Victor understands what it means when one lacks resources to attend school:  He was born and bred in the informal settlement of Kibera slum, Nairobi.  Sunflower Trust works in partnership with community schools to identify girls, in the fifth grade, who are at risk of ending their education early and transitions them to the after-school, part-time PALE program.  At PALE, literacy groups help the girls develop critical thinking, communication and reasoning skills.  Sunflower is also committed to involving parents and caregivers through focus groups and one-on-one meetings.   The girls are challenged to write their own books which has encouraged them to read a variety of books to borrow ideas for their own stories.  “Literacy as leadership and a form of justice is at the core of our programming,” said Owuor.  He added, “while there are many literate youths in the world, there are few who are truly freely literate — whose voices are heard, whose opinions and beliefs are listened to and honored, and who have the ability to fully express themselves and be who they want to be.”  For his dedication to changing lives one at a time, Judith’s Reading Room awards Victor with a USD$400 Board Option Prize.

“Free literacy is not simply the ability to read and write fluently but the ability to freely express oneself.”      
    – Victor Owuor

Board Option Award – $200

Colin Bloom – “Creating a Library for Literacy
New York City/Mpumalanga, South Africa


Colin Bloom, 16-year-old New York City high school student and founder of a literacy nonprofit for his project, “Creating a Library for Literacy at the Senianya Primary School in Mpumalanga, South Africa.”  Colin is a standout on multiple levels:  as a teenager, he established a nonprofit, Libraries for Literacy, has dedicated two libraries in impoverished rural South Africa, has assertively insinuated himself into partnerships with global entities, and has shown tenacity, drive, entrepreneurship, compassion and a desire to learn and improve from each experience.  As Colin points out, “Learning to read without books is like learning to play soccer without a ball, impossible but relevant to many South African kids who are expected to become literate without access to books.”  For his spirited determination to use his life to work towards the goal in which all children have access to a good education, Judith’s Reading Room awards Colin with a USD$200 Board Option Prize.

“Learning to read without books is like learning to play soccer without a ball.

    Colin Bloom

Learn more about Colin and his “Creating a Library for Literacy” and get updates!

Board Option Award – $200

Evangelia Ritzaleou – “School Reading and Creative Writing Club”
Drama, Greece


Evangelia Ritzaleou, award-winning high school teacher, Drama, Greece for her project, “School Reading and Creative Writing Club.”  Evangelia knows what she is talking about when she documents the effects of book clubs on kids — she has, after all, headed up a Reading and Creative Writing Club at her school for 15 years.  Her efforts have resulted in kids feeling that they are “equal” members of a club, and with this new-found confidence, they become effective speakers, writers, critical thinkers, listeners and communicators.  Evangelia has expanded her school library from 20 books to 530 and boasts that her school library serves not only as a place for reading and writing but also as a refuge for introverted kids.

She says, “Joining a Reading and Creative Writing Club is a path from literacy to critical literacy and that lifelong readers have the culture of reading instead of being addicted to social media.”  For her passionate commitment to enriching the lives of high school children through the beauty of a book club, Judith’s Reading Room awards Evangelia a USD$200 Board Option Prize.

Reading must be seen as an engaging entertainment.” 

        Evangelia Ritzaleou


Board Option Award – $200

Pamela Laskin – “Diversity and Differently-Abled”
New York City

Pamela Laskin, author, New York City for her project, “Diversity and Differently-Abled.”  Two-time Freedom Through Literacy Award winner, Laskin has completed a series of picture books that capture the world of those who are differently-abled; in particular, those without speech, and what it means in a family.   She reads these books aloud in public school classrooms with the goal to educate a mainstream audience.  Laskin says, “books have been written about children with special needs, but what makes my project innovative and creative is that the books are written from the point of view of the young people who ARE differently-abled.”  Through her work, this diverse population will no longer be marginalized.  For her insistence in presenting differently-abled people, she is helping establish human dignity with a focus on what can be done, not what can’t, Judith’s Reading Room awards Pamela with a USD$200 Board Option Prize.

“Reading and writing are marriage partners. Literacy happens when young people are engaged on both levels.” 

                   –  Pamela Laskin

2023 Honorable Mentions

Cynthia Jacobsen, Ph.D. – “Rhyming to Reading:  Early Literacy Curriculum”
Longmont, Colorado

Cynthia Jacobsen, Ph.D. Speech Pathologist and Researcher, Longmont, Colorado for her life-work project, “Rhyming to Reading:  Early Literacy Curriculum.”  Dr. Jacobsen, co-authored Rhyming to Reading, an early literacy program for children 4-7 whose goal was to create a program to help young children learn skills that are highly predictive of early reading success. Thousands of children participated in the group classes at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics for 20 years prior to the COVID pandemic.  Dr. Jacobsen collected evidenced based outcomes and clinical data to develop the program.    She says, “Literacy instruction must be evidenced-based, with methods which are known to help children.”  For her life-time devotion to helping children and families learn methods to overcome literacy challenges such as dyslexia, Judith’s Reading Room wishes to give Dr. Jacobsen global recognition through an Honorable Mention.

“Literacy involves the entire family. When families know how to model early literacy skills in a fun and multi-sensory manner, children experience success.”  

   Cynthia Jacobsen

Joseph Tsongo – “Amani Academy for Peace Literacy”
Goma, North-Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo


Joseph Tsongo, Coordinator, Amani Academy, Goma, North-Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for his project, “Amani Academy for Peace Literacy.”  Born in the middle of war in 1994 in the province of North Kivu, Joseph challenged himself to inspire young people to rebuild, despite the traumatic ordeals they were facing on a daily basis.  Since 2016, he has organized resilience and community building activities to promote a culture of active non-violence.  Through the Amani Academy, which he initiated in 2018, he introduces children to the basics of reading.  In 2022, Joseph was named a 2022 Mandela Washington Fellow, a program of the U.S. State Department.  For his determination to foster literacy and peace in the context of violent conflict, Judith’s Reading Room proudly recognizes Joseph Tsongo as a Freedom Through Literacy Award Honorable Mention.

“We use literacy to teach and communicate the culture of peace and life skills to young people affected by conflict and war.”        – Joseph Tsongo

2022 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2021 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2020 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2019 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2018 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2017 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2016 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

2015 Freedom Through Literacy Awards

Judith’s Reading Room’s mission is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging Freedom Through Literacy.  To date, the organization has fulfilled that mission by establishing 105 libraries (and counting!) in 23 countries with more than 132,000 books donated worth $1.42 million dollars.
The “Freedom Through Literacy Award” was initiated in 2015 as the organization’s signature event.  Including the 2023 winners, the organization has disbursed $53,500 in cash awards to 60 champions of literacy.  Winners hail from 17 countries:  Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Greece, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, South Africa, the United States of America and Zimbabwe.  Winners come from 11 U.S. states:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
We are so proud of the tireless efforts of everyone involved and joyously celebrate their victories. We are all inspired by the same mission: championing freedom through literacy.
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