This article by Jackie Schindler originally appeared on Goodnet
Books have the power to transport you to another place and make you feel like you are part of the story. A love of reading should be developed at a young age so children can see books as something magical. That’s the gift that 8-year-old Sela Thompson from Atlanta, Georgia, received from her parents and wants to pass on to other children.
When Selah was five-years-old she came home from her first day of kindergarten and told her parents that many of her classmates didn’t know how to read, according to CNN. Her father, Khalil Thompson, told CNN, “She said that a lot of her new friends at school didn’t know their ABCs.”
This really bothered Selah and she wanted to do something about it.
She then asked her parents to give away “20 hundred thousand books,” Selah’s mom Nicole Thompson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution; “this equals two million books!”
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Her parents began to do their own research after hearing Selah’s lofty plans. They found that there is a huge amount of illiteracy in America.
In fact, 85 percent of children in the juvenile prison system were functionally illiterate according to Literacy Inc., and that two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in prison or on welfare.
After understanding the dire need for books and establishing a love for reading, Selah’s parents were on board. In 2018, they created the nonprofit Empowered Readers Literacy Project. This organization promotes families to create solid reading rituals so children see books as something positive.
According to the organization, more than 2,400 kids and their parents participated in the march for literacy on Martin Luther King JR’s birthday in the project’s first event in Atlanta that first year. They also run an adventure time readers club and the 500 books project to get books into children’s’ hands.
But, In addition to being exposed to reading, “Children are not excited about reading when they do not see themselves on the pages of the book,” Nicole Thompson told CNN. She noticed limited representation of characters of color in kid’s literature. “We are just trying to do our little part to heal a big wound that our country has,” she said.
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Selah, along with her younger sister Syrai, wrote a book (with the help of their father) that was published in November, 2019 and that was the beginning of Penelope the Pirate Princess series. The main character Penelope looks like Selah and also loves science and space.
Recently, she wrote a new book in what is now a series, Penelope the Pirate Princess: A Bad Case of Glitter Spot Dots that was published on December 15, 2020. This book focuses on COVID-19, “Covid is like glitter. It spreads everywhere, and it doesn’t stop, ” Sela said with wisdom beyond her years.
Over the past two years, the literacy project has donated 8,000 books, including Sela’s own series. Although her goal of “20 hundred thousand books” is still quite far, Selah is on the right track. She is ambitious and a true role model for children and adults. Hopefully, her love for books is contagious and children will be more empowered to read when the main character actually looks like them.