Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s reading and literacy?
CR: I was an avid reader from an early age, always wanted to have plenty of books in case I finished one book, ready to start the next. And I found studying authors great fun, loved many genres early on but in particular biographies, poetry, and travel books in addition to the more traditional novels. My undergraduate degree was in elementary education and I then taught sixth grade until going into elementary / early childhood counseling when I used bibliotherapy in many situations. While I then took a pause from the “paid workforce” as my two children were born, I re-entered that workforce in the policy field for the next 20 years. When that period came to a close I chose RIF as the place I wanted to be, back to the children’s books!
Q: What are the biggest barriers to children’s literacy in the United States today?
CR: There are many areas to be addressed but if I had to limit to two areas I would note poverty with all the barriers presented by that condition as well as the general lack of understanding by all citizens regarding the critical role of early childhood, pre-K literacy skill acquisition. Certainly I am not talking about children reading proficiently by age 3 or 4, but instead, the acquisition of the necessary literacy skills and foundations for learning to read well.
Q: I understand you are currently the president and CEO of Reading is Fundamental Inc (RIF). What exactly is RIF?
CR: For more than four decades, Reading Is Fundamental has been helping children discover the joy of reading. To motivate new generations of strong and engaged readers, RIF remains committed to empowering children to explore the world around them through quality, new, paperback books freely chosen and meaningful literacy experiences. Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, RIF serves children who lack books and access to them. All RIF book distribution programs are required to provide children with books, encourage family and community involvement, and motivate children to read through fun, literacy-based activities. RIF also supplies local volunteers with the tools, support, and flexibility they need to run a successful program. At least three times a year the programs provide books, and the children may choose, without adult interference, whichever books interest them to start or add to their own home library. Whether they live in a reservation community in South Dakota, inner-city New York, rural Florida, or in a world affected by visual and hearing difficulties, RIF puts books in the hands of the children who need them most.
RIF also provides a free website with materials for students, parents and educators in addition to our local book distribution coordinators. RIF offers training courses for parents, educators and care providers, with the training needs of those working with children always under review.
In order to do our part in alleviating the disparities shown in the NAEP assessments between African American, Hispanic and American Indian children RIF has a Multicultural Literacy Campaign seeking more multicultural books being made available to children as well as training for those parents and caregivers.
Q: Prior to leading RIF, I understand you held some high-profile state and national positions as an advocate for literacy, education, and families. Tell me a bit about your work in those positions.
CR: I was fortunate to work for ten years in the Arkansas Governor’s office serving as the director of policy with a particular focus on human capital development and services. During that time I also served as the liaison for the governor to the National Governors’ Association; this role necessitated a significant amount of time spent in DC working with other governors’ liaisons on mutual efforts in Congress. It was the best job I have ever had; to be working with people at all levels of policy-making and services to seek change for the good and to be in a small enough state to see those changes unfolding, the successes erupt, the failures where work was still to be done, was a highly gratifying experience.
I then was honored to work in the White House serving President Clinton for four years as his Domestic Policy Advisor where I worked with the cabinet and a great staff in the White House on a wide range of topics affecting the lives of citizens daily. This was followed by four years at the U. S. Department of Education with Secretary Riley in designing and implementing The America Reads Challenge. Those eight years were very busy years and the time when I became reacquainted with RIF through carrying out activities with them.
Q: How and when did you start your blog?
CR: First posting was October 1, 2008. The Communications Department at RIF had strongly recommended I start a blog; they did some research and made recommendations about content, style, purpose, etc. And two years later I still love blogging and meeting other bloggers as well as readers who share my love for literacy and reaching children to share that love!
Q: What is the content of your blog, and what are your goals for it?
CR: The overriding goals are to share RIF and to provide content in furthering our mission to “prepare and motivate children to read by delivering free books and literacy resources to those children and families who need them most.”
The content is a potpourri…commentary on issues within literacy, musing about something fun I have seen (hay sculptures recently!), book talks via posting, exciting RIF events around the country, updates on legislative issues, and much, much more!
Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate the books you review?
CR: Very simple: I’ve read it, liked it and where applicable, I’ve shared it with age appropriate audiences and at least some of them liked it.
Q: What are some of your favorite literacy resources online?
CR: Ah, too numerous to mention and depends on what I am needing at a certain time. I encourage individuals interested in literacy for children to be on twitter and start growing their own kid lit network that is best suited for her/his purposes!
Q: What are some practical ways that ordinary adults can further children’s literacy?
CR: Talk to/with children. Read to/with children. Make sure certain books are easily accessible to children year round. Volunteer in schools. Give books as gifts to children with whom you celebrate birthdays and holidays and other special occasions…and/or give those books in a child’s honor to their child care, school, local library, after school or summer program.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work around children’s books and literacy?
CR: The children’s excitement over books. My close proximity to lots of children’s books daily. Meeting kid lit advocates and practitioners.
Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of kids’ books, what advice would you give your audience?
Start early. Start early. Start early. (in a child’s life!) Make sure every child in your community is enveloped in a culture of literacy that is always reaching out to engage them in ongoing meaningful ways. That “culture of literacy” includes plenty of print material in all of today’s relevant forms and all genres available!
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