The National Book Foundation announced the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) as the winner of the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize, a $10,000 prize annually awarded to an individual or organization that has developed an innovative project that creates and sustains a lifelong love of reading.
In addition to the winner, the Innovations in Reading Prize also identifies honorable mentions each year. This year, two honorable mention organizations will be awarded with $1,500 each to recognize their work. The 2019 honorable mentions are Oakland International High School and Word Up Community Bookshop.
Launched in 2004 as a response to the closing of school libraries in Philadelphia, WePAC works to mobilize nearly 200 volunteers to reopen and staff libraries in the area, serving more than 5,000 students and promoting positive reading habits with weekly library programming and special events. WePAC was chosen as the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize winner from a pool of 142 applications. In support of its mission and work, WePAC will receive $10,000 from the National Book Foundation.
“The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children is incredibly humbled and honored to receive the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation. At WePAC, we know that stories can stoke curiosity, inspire reflection, and enhance a child’s understanding of the world around them. With school libraries in our city no longer functioning, WePAC volunteers have worked tirelessly to revive these spaces and bring stories to life for children that are too often left falling behind. This award from the National Book Foundation underscores the importance and value of reading for all children, and we are grateful to be this year’s recipient.”
—Anisha Sinha, Executive Director of WePAC.
With a focus on supporting literacy development, closing the gap between the resources available to Philadelphia public school students and those in neighboring districts, and sharing the joy of reading through the offering of high-quality books and programs, WePAC approaches each school library reopening with the goal of providing regular, sustainable library access for students. Working in under-resourced schools, WePAC coordinates the stocking of library books, the staffing of each location with committed volunteers, and the programming of special events that connect kids with authors, illustrators, local professionals, and others able to speak to the excitement and power of reading, highlighting the importance of literacy skills for future success.
“Access to great books and literacy resources is an imperative, but one that is too often not met. West Philadelphia Alliance for Children saw a need in the community and stepped up, throwing remarkable efforts behind a simple belief: that kids deserve access to school libraries. The passion that staff and volunteers bring to their work is making a difference in the lives of thousands of young people, and we are honored to award WePAC with this year’s Innovations in Reading Prize.”
—David Steinberger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation
Applications for the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize comprised a wide range of programs working to build and fortify strong literary communities, and this year’s honorable mentions reflect those efforts. Oakland International High School (OIHS), whose student body is made up entirely of newly arrived immigrant and refugee students, partners its junior class with local elementary school students for a specialized reading curriculum that encourages the critical analysis of texts while also providing a comfortable space for high school students to sharpen their English, reading, and comprehension skills. Seven Stories Institute’s Word Up Community Bookshop is a volunteer-run, multilingual community bookshop and arts space in Washington Heights, New York City that works through literature to spark dialogue, cultivate education, and inspire community in neighborhoods without easy access to books.
Past winners of the Innovations in Reading Prize include Little Free Library, Barbershop Books, and, most recently, the Teach This Poem, program of the Academy of American Poets.