The Children’s Literacy Initiative is Sowing the Seeds of Literacy

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Liberating, Innovating & Transforming Education: Children’s Literacy Initiative

Teaching a child to read is like planting a tree. At first, it may seem small and fragile, but with nurturing care, it takes root, branching out with knowledge and wisdom that grows stronger with each passing year.

In Philadelphia, the seeds of the Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) were sown 35 years ago by a librarian named Linda Katz. Seeing children lagging in reading and lacking enthusiasm for available books spurred Katz to transform how children and educators approach literacy. The initiative then expanded to Chicago in the early 2000s.

The First Seed

What started as an annual celebration of literacy and quality literature is now a nationwide educational non-profit that impacts the lives and professions of over 70,000 students and more than 3,500 teachers annually.

As a librarian, Katz often encountered children who were unable to read at the appropriate grade level. She shared her knowledge and expertise with parents and tried to help in any way she could. It was a series of small steps and interactions, but they led her to a lifetime dedicated to early literacy.

Katz didn’t just aim to foster a love for reading but recognized a larger issue: the need to equip teachers with the right tools. Along with co-founders Pat Federman and Marcia Moon, Katz would go on to establish Rainbow Readers, the Children’s Expo Book Fair, and Mrs. Bush Story Time, a very successful story hour radio show featuring First Lady Barbara Bush. The start of the CLI took their mission to a new level, involving educators in a way that would foster a love of reading in every student.

Photo © Courtesy of Children's Literacy Initiative

CLI ensures teachers are equipped with high-impact, culturally responsive instructional strategies by providing one-on-one coaching, leadership development, and high-quality classroom materials. This holistic strategy improves literacy outcomes and fosters an environment where children see reading as a powerful act of affirmation, identity, and joy.

“At our core, we still work under those founding principles, that when teachers receive the right combination and intensity of training and coaching, they will become exemplary instructors who can transform the lives of children,” they shared.

Reading for All

Diverse literacy instruction provides children with mirrors into themselves and windows into worlds of possibility. CLI is firmly committed to creating a world where all children have access to equitable education and opportunities and are empowered to become transformative thinkers and world-changers.

Through its core service model and Framework for Teaching and Learning, CLI seeks to dismantle structural racism by providing Black and Latinx children with the anti-racist early literacy instruction, support, and advocacy needed to create equity in education.

“We are working towards creating a more equitable education system, one that promotes early literacy, cultural competency, and equitable outcomes for all students, particularly Black and Latinx students who have long been disproportionately isolated from the resources to obtain the education they deserve,” the organization shared. “We believe literacy is vital to creating lasting social change and fostering a just and equitable society.”

Their meaningful approach has garnered national recognition—the American Institutes for Research (AIR) reported that the CLI’s substantial impact on students, teachers, and the learning environment “leads to measurable effects on average reading achievement in early elementary grades.”

The CLI was also awarded the David M. Rubenstein Prize from the Library of Congress for its outstanding and measurable contribution to increasing literacy levels and maintains an impressive four-star rating from Charity Navigator, as well as a perfect 100 percent score in 2023 for its accountability and transparency.

The Future of Literacy

With the re-establishment of its advisory board and strategic partnerships, CLI is poised to make an even greater impact in Chicago and beyond. By harnessing collective expertise and resources, CLI aims to address unique community challenges and amplify the reach of its literacy programs.

Literacy is the foundation of lifelong learning and a powerful tool for understanding and questioning the world around us. If we don’t educate our children, we risk our democracy and our ability to live up to our country’s potential. CLI builds lasting capacity in teachers and principals that endures over time by helping educators learn high-impact instructional strategies and nurturing dynamic professional learning communities.

You can support the CLI’s crucial work by learning more and donating at CLI.org/give

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Children’s Literacy Initiative has been an innovator in early literacy instruction for more than 30 years and we couldn’t do it without you. As a CLI supporter, you are part of a passionate community who wants to see thousands of students across the country become strong readers, writers and thinkers. 

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