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.