Rally To Read 100: Q&A with Alicia Levi, RIF President and CEO, and Jackie DeLeo, Barnes & Noble Chief Merchandising Officer
On October 1, 2022, RIF’s Rally to Read 100 reading initiative launched its second year with a pledge to read 100 books, engaging monthly themes, author read-alouds from acclaimed authors, book and theme activities, and a book sweepstakes to engage and inspire reading among elementary-aged children. This Year, RIF is excited to share our new Inspiration Partner, Barnes & Noble, has come aboard to join our rallying cry to create a nation of readers! Read below for a conversation with Alicia Levi, RIF President and CEO, and Jackie DeLeo, Barnes & Noble Chief Merchandising Officer, as they discuss the new partnership, their excitement for this year’s Rally to Read 100, and their joint commitment to children’s literacy.
Alicia: First, I want to share how excited RIF is to have Barnes & Noble join us for our second year of Rally to Read 100. We reached more than 400,000 children last year, and we know with your partnership we can reach even more. Can you share with the RIF community why Barnes & Noble is excited to support Rally to Read 100 this year? What are you most looking forward to during the next six months?
Jackie: Literacy, at any age, is the key to success. At Barnes & Noble, we help people discover new books and encourage a lifelong love of reading. Partnering with Rally to Read 100 helps us engage with the youngest readers at a pivotal time in their literacy journey. Reading 100 books is such a fun challenge, but the impact for each reader will be immeasurable. I can’t wait to see the lists begin to take shape by hungry readers.
Alicia: As you know, Rally to Read 100 is anchored on sharing monthly author read-alouds. Research validates the importance of children listening to others read books in their reading journey. I see that Barnes & Noble has a YouTube channel, B&N Storytime. What have been some of the most popular read-alouds?
Jackie: Books written for children are meant to be read aloud. There is a poetry and rhythm in children’s books that is not replicated in works for adults. We lost a spark in our children’s department when COVID-19 temporarily shut many of our doors, keeping children from our popular in-store B&N Storytimes. We immediately went virtual, which provided access to a wider audience, but it also enabled author participation.
Some of our most popular read-alouds include Ryan T. Higgins reading We Will Rock Our Classmates, Joanna Ho reading Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, Peter H. Reynolds reading Be You! and our bookseller rendition of The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit. Reading aloud is a skill, and it is challenging to do virtually, but every one of our narrators nailed it.
Alicia: Barnes & Noble is sharing six amazing read-alouds for Rally to Read 100 through your B&N Storytime Picks. Can you share how your team chose these specific books and authors? Is there one you are most excited to hear?
Jackie: It was important to us that the books on our list align with the Rally to Read 100 monthly themes, vary in representation, contain relatable content, communicate clearly, and follow imaginative scenarios and characters. Scott Berkowitz leads the curation of our children’s department, and he hand-selected each book for our Storytime Picks.
I personally am very excited for our December read aloud, Wutaryoo, a heartfelt story written by Nilah Magruder being read by our bookseller, June. You will smile, and possibly tear up just a bit before the last page.
Alicia: RIF believes that books offer mirrors and windows for children so they can see themselves and learn about others. Can you share the importance of diverse books offered through Barnes and Noble and as a part of Rally to Read 100?
Jackie: All children should be able to see themselves in the books on our shelves, especially books written and illustrated by authors of diverse backgrounds. This was an important factor in our Rally to Read 100 selections, and it carries forward in our day-to-day operations.
Community is a joint focal point of both our organizations, and it speaks to our missions to serve our communities through our amplification of voices and love of literature.
Alicia: Everyone loves a great story and never forgets their favorite children’s book. As an active member of the publishing and book retailing industry for more than 20 years, I can only imagine the number of children’s books you have read. Can you share your favorite?
Jackie: I do not think that any book lover can name one book as their favorite. There have been books that have made their way into my life – either from a parent, teacher, librarian, or bookseller – that were pivotal in where I am today. Doesn’t everyone love Max, Eloise, Madeline, and Toad? Books create a common language, and I was fortunate enough to have them in every stage of my life.
Go, Dog, Go is the first book I ever read on my own, encouraging me to keep going. The bent corner library edition is still on my shelf at home. I wouldn’t have a job in children’s publishing if it weren’t for Harry Potter. And I wish that I had Elephant & Piggie when I was a kid.
Alicia: It is such a joy to have Barnes & Noble as a part of Rally to Read 100! With our 100-book pledge, book giveaway for educators (thanks to Barnes & Noble’s generous donation), a diverse selection of read-alouds from renowned authors, and plenty of reading activities and resources, it is hard for me to pick my favorite part of Rally to Read 100! Is there a part that you are most excited for?
Jackie: We have been so impressed by RIF’s unyielding commitment to children’s literacy and we’re honored to be a part of the Rally to Read 100 journey this year.
While there are many incredible activations planned throughout the six months, I am most excited about hosting the crowning event in our Union Square store in New York City on March 2, Read Across America Day. The event will be a celebration of books and literacy and will be full of read-alouds and activities. I can’t wait to congratulate the participants who took the Rally to Read 100 pledge!