Real Men Read Storytime and Mentoring, Winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize

The Real Men Read Storytime and Mentoring program was created and developed in September 2007 by Inger Upchurch, manager of Cornelia Crenshaw Memorial Library, one of eighteen branches of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center in Memphis, Tennessee. The program targets children between the ages of three and five who are enrolled in urban child care centers in Memphis, and is designed to engage these children in the joy and excitement of reading with the goal of helping them become lifelong readers. Real Men Read is also designed to foster positive self-esteem in African-American children. African-American men from both blue- and white-collar professions read to the children and serve as positive role models and mentors.

Initially, from 2007 to 2008, the program consisted of two librarians who rotated every other month, with one of four guest readers visiting four child care centers and reaching thirty to fifty children. Today, the program has grown by leaps and bounds. Two librarians still facilitate the program, but now each librarian goes out weekly with one of twenty-five guest readers, visiting seven child care centers twice a week and reaching 160 to 257 children a month.

Street Books, Winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize

Street Books is a bicycle-powered mobile library serving people who live outside in Portland, Oregon. Founded in June 2011, the street library offers a means to check out books for patrons who are unable to do so from regular libraries because they lack identification or proof of address. In nearly a year of operation, hundreds of patrons have been served, many of them becoming regulars who return weekly to the shift to return books and check out new ones. Patrons are invited to be photographed with their books of choice, and contribute their own reviews or stories from the road. These stories can be viewed at

Street Books is committed to providing good literature, and conversations about literature, for those who are often pushed to the margins. Patrons have checked out hundreds of paperbacks in all genres, from sci-fi to romance to memoir, by authors ranging from James Patterson and Jeannette Walls to Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King. Street Books has created a greater engagement between its patrons and the larger housed community, and built a bridge with literature between the two. The Street Books project has been featured in national and international media, including Library Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Newstalk Radio in Ireland.

2014 Update:

Why is reading vital?

Reading is a powerful act and can be a way to transport oneself out of bad circumstances, a ladder on which to climb out of oppression. In reading, we can lose ourselves in a great story, but we can also experience the sensation of discovering the truths we have in common with one another.

Tell us about some accomplishments or successes you’ve had since winning the prize:

Since Street Books came to NYC in 2012, we have continued to grow and develop. We have received grants and fellowships from the Collins Foundation and the Awesome Foundation. We have been featured in the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times, as well as many Oregon magazines and newspapers. Street Books has expanded to run three library shifts per week in different parts of Portland, including the Workers’ Center, where we provide laborers with books in Spanish. We have a board of directors that includes one of our former library patrons, Ben Hodgson, who now has an apartment, and we are officially a 501(c)3 nonprofit. This summer will be our fifth season loaning books to people who live outside. [We want to thank the National Book Foundation for recognizing us back in 2012 – it was huge to receive the Innovations in Reading award during a particularly rainy season, and it gave us the momentum to carry through to the next season.

Reading Against the Odds, Winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize

Literacy Chicago’s Reading Against the Odds (RAO) reading discussion group was started in 2007 by Jaye Jones with the support of Literacy Chicago staff member June Porter, and funded by an American Association of University Women (AAUW) Community Action grant in its inaugural year. From the beginning, RAO was committed to enhancing the reading and critical thinking skills of adult literacy learners by introducing them to books that were intellectually challenging and encouraged discussion around a range of personal and sociopolitical concerns. Classroom activities were further supplemented by cultural events that both reinforced key literary themes and allowed learners to interface with the larger creative community.

By using a variety of instructional supports, a diverse group of learners has read and discussed close to fifteen works of literature―from The Bluest Eye to “Hamlet”―and attended numerous plays, speaking engagements, and museums in neighborhoods across Chicago. The benefits of RAO include documented gains in learners’ reading and comprehension skills, and increased confidence in their abilities to tackle new reading materials. Furthermore, since learners keep the books they read, many have created personal libraries with books they read again and share with family and friends. With a committed group of adult learners and dedicated staff and volunteers, RAO has continued to thrive against the odds in the hope that all students can echo the words of one learner who proudly stated, “Every book I read…inspires me to read.”

Lilli Leight, Winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Lilli Leight as a winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize.

When Lilli Leight started volunteering at Chapman Partnership, a nonprofit safe haven for families facing housing and job setbacks, three years ago, she worked in the Family Resource Center (FRC), the place where children gather after school and on weekends. In the FRC, she noticed that when children finished their homework all attention promptly turned to video games or television. She realized that there were no books available to the children, and that no one ever thought to ask for a book. While Lilli had always considered reading a solitary activity, she thought she could share her love of reading and develop a “reading ecosystem” in her community.

Lilli began by collecting used books from friends, schools, and local organizations, and new books from the local bookstore, Books & Books, to amass an appealing “giving library” at Chapman. As a result of this effort, today every child has books at his or her fingertips, and when leaving Chapman each child can take as many books as he or she wants.

Lilli also started a teen book club, called iRead, to provide her peers with opportunities to discuss books, meet authors, and volunteer at Chapman. Books & Books, the local bookstore where the club meets monthly, donates books to the giving library, and in return Lilli writes book reviews that are posted in the store as “shelf talkers.” As Lilli’s high school and other schools learned more about her project, they encouraged their students to volunteer at Chapman as homework helpers.

Lilli has greatly enjoyed working in her community to promote literacy and the value of books, and she is proud that her peers can now share their passion for reading with children who are less fortunate. “While I am only fifteen years old,” she says, “this experience has made me feel empowered to help change the world―even if it is just one child at a time.


Why is reading vital?

Reading is vital because it is an incredible way for people to connect with each other. When individuals read a book, an automatic connection is made with all of the other individuals who read the book before them. In addition, reading is the ultimate means to help people expand their horizons. With each book an individual reads he or she learns something new about a different time, world, situation, or person.

Tell us about some accomplishments or successes you’ve had since winning the prize:

Since winning the National Book Award for Innovations in Reading, I have been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, and I have expanded my “Giving Library” to a second homeless shelter.

Bookends, Winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Bookends as a winner of the 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize.

Take two Teen Services Librarians from the Poudre River Public Library District, Diane Tuccillo and Sue-Ellen Jones; one Director & Video Production Coordinator from the Poudre School District’s Channel 10, Herb Saperstone (plus his trusty assistant, Matt Gohl, Video Producer); add a group of teens from the Interesting Reader Society (IRS) library teen advisory group; and what do you get? A television program called Bookends.

Bookends started in 1999 and has since evolved to its current format, which documents reading-related information and activities for viewers of Channel 10 and also via the Internet (Teen Lounge, PSD Bookends, YouTube). The lively IRS Bookends shows, hosted and presented by the teens themselves, allow teens to share reviews of favorite books and interview local YA authors. The aim of the IRS Bookends shows is to promote reading among their peers through a forum to which fellow teens can relate. Parents, teachers, librarians, and other adults can also learn what teens are reading through the show and use it to promote teen reading in schools and beyond.