How many 8-year-olds do you know that can say they’re a two-time published author and the co-founder of a non-profit? Well, meet Selah Thompson. At just 5 years old, Selah noticed that many of her fellow kindergarten classmates were struggling with their ABCs and didn’t know how to read, but she wanted to do something to change that. The determined girl enlisted the help of her parents and, thus, The Empowered Readers Literacy Project was born.
After listening to their daughter’s concerns, Khalil and Nicole Thompson researched the issue and found some shocking information about literacy here in America—including the fact that 85% of children in the juvenile prison system are functionally illiterate. “All these crazy statistics for literacy blew our minds,” says Khalil Thompson. “The statistics said some prisons forecast the number of prison cells they are going to build in the future based off of third-grade reading test scores.”
Despite the daunting nature of the problem they were facing, the family was spurred on by Selah’s resolution. “ ‘We really should just give away 20 hundred thousand books,’ ” Nicole remarks, recalling her daughter’s words. Now, with their goal to donate “20 hundred thousand books” (or 2 million, if you’re counting), the family got to work—starting initiatives such as the Children’s March for Literacy, Project 500, and their Holiday Book Drive.
As they began, one of the main issues the family found, contributing to illiteracy, was representation—children are not as excited about reading when they don’t find themselves reflected in the pages of the book. And after realizing that very few of the characters in the stories she’d read looked like her, Selah then decided to write a book of her own that features a main character who looks like her and shares her same interests and sense of adventure. In November 2019, Selah’s first book, Penelope the Pirate Princess, was published, and its sequel was just released in December 2020.
“There is so much inspiration behind the fact that this is a child that wrote this story and came up with this,” says Khalil. “You [children] can reclaim your story, do your own story, and do all the things that adults can do at a young age and you should really know that you have power in your voice and ideas.”
To find out more about The Empowered Readers Literacy Project and how you can help, visit their website.