Reading Is Fundamental x Literati: A conversation between RIF President and CEO Alicia Levi and Literati Founder and CEO Jessica Ewing in celebration of National Literacy Month
The month of September celebrates and raises awareness for the importance of literacy during National Literacy Month, something both Reading Is Fundamental and Literati care about deeply. This September, RIF is excited to partner with Literati, modern book curator and distributor focused on delivering the best books to kids through its kids’ book club and school book fairs. Each month, Literati’s kids club members receive five books curated just for them – by age, reading level, and interests – and keep only what they want. For memberships purchased during National Literacy Month, Literati will donate 15 percent of its $9.99 monthly membership fee and cost of books kept for as long as the membership exists. These funds will go straight to supporting RIF in providing books and reading resources to our nation’s children, many in our most under-resourced communities.
Below, read RIF President and CEO Alicia Levi’s conversation with Jessica Ewing, Literati Founder and CEO, to hear more about our new partnership.
Alicia: We are so excited to be working with Literati, especially during National Literacy Month. For Reading Is Fundamental, this month is a particularly important time for us to focus on reading engagement. In fact, just 20 minutes a day makes a huge difference when it comes to children’s reading development. We are honored you thought of RIF as a partner for this campaign. Could you share a little bit more about what went into your decision-making to reach out to RIF for this collaboration?
Jessica: As you know too well, literacy rates in the U.S. are at an all-time low. Solving this problem is going to take all of us, and I mean all of us: business owners, educators, parents, and government and non-profit organizations. The work RIF is doing to support families in underserved communities is critical. Providing books is important, but we love that RIF also builds tools and inspires communities.
A: RIF recognizes the power of a good story and how sharing “book joy” inspires a love of reading for our nation’s children. Clearly, this is also important to Literati. We’re curious about your journey that led you to starting Literati in 2017. At the beginning of your career, you worked for Google, and then you spent five years writing a novel. How did the idea of starting a children’s book club come to you?
J: It's funny you mention Google. I feel like books were the first internet, and they are one of the oldest and most important technologies our civilization has ever produced. Literati was born of pure joy. I have always been an unapologetic lover of literature, but it had been a while since I had picked up a children's book. That was until I was visiting my best friend and her new baby and I picked up a copy of Miss Rumphius. Something about that book hit me at the time. It was about a woman who wanted to make the world more beautiful and started planting lupine seeds in the wild. She was bold and independent, traveled, and her life's mission was simply to make the world more beautiful. I think we can sometimes lose sight of that goal. Miss Rumphius might be my hero.
A: At RIF, we are committed to ensuring all children are represented in the stories they read. How do you and your team go about curating the book boxes you send out every month? How does diversity, equity, and inclusion play a role in your book selection process?
J: Absolutely. We've always worked with a wide variety of publishers to get diverse books into our offering and currently work with over 150 different publishers. However, one of the nice things about our product is that we have the capability of personalizing each box to each child. It's my hope that we can deliver the perfect books for a child's age, reading level, interest, and representation. It's so important that kids see themselves reflected in the stories they read. One of my favorite Literati customers of all time is a 6-year-old who read a book called Those Shoes, which features a Black boy who gives his shoes to another kid who is being bullied. Because of the lesson learned in that book, that same child went on to start a non-profit to inspire kids to give back, at age six. It's astounding what we can do when we have role models and heroes that look a little more like us.
A: Supporting family literacy by encouraging parents and caregivers to make time to read at home is a wonderful way to get and keep children interested in reading. In that vein, how is Literati working with teachers, librarians, and other educators to motivate and create reading engagement in school?
J: We recently launched Literati Book Fairs, which are currently operating across the United States, bringing a magical reading experience directly into schools. Our book fairs offer educators, kids, and families expertly curated books allowing them to find their next great read. We are also proud of the profit sharing options available to schools, which will directly support schools’ library programs. We also give schools a portion of book club membership revenue when purchased through the school fair.
A: We’re all still adjusting to the “new normal” these days. How did Covid-19 affect Literati? With so many children unable to go to school, did you see an increase in your subscriptions? We all suffered setbacks during the pandemic, but how did Literati turn its setbacks into opportunities?
J: When schools and libraries closed, and many retailers deprioritized the shipping of books, we knew that families needed us more than ever. We worked hard to ensure that we were able to continue delivering the best books so kids could continue developing their love of reading from home. Additionally, we worked with school districts and non-profits to ensure all kids could receive books at home. We were lucky to see a substantial increase in membership during the lockdowns and are pleased that our book clubs helped kids continue their reading journey during those uncertain times. Kids are still adjusting from their time in school being disrupted, which is why we are focusing our clubs to support a child’s reading journey more deeply.
A: And, of course, I have to ask – what is your favorite children’s book?
J: I have so many, honestly, it's hard to narrow down. You know I love Miss Rumphius, I told you that already. I also loved The Rough Faced Girl, which is a Native American retelling of Cinderella and it's so deep and beautiful. If someone wants a funny early chapter book, I always recommend You're a Bad Man, Mr. Gum! by Andy Stanton. It's absolutely hilarious, kind of a British humor piece.