This Year Resolve to Read Woke

Posted Jan 11, 2021

Join Shorewood Public Library’s Virtual Read Woke challenge.Sound interesting but you’re not sure what Read Woke means? Read Woke is a national reading challenge created by Cecily Lewis, a high school librarian in Georgia. Lewis wanted her students to see themselves reflected in the books they read. She also wanted to expose students to the experiences of often marginalized people. In her own words, Read Woke “is a feeling. A Form of education. A call to action and our right as lifelong learners. It means arming yourself with the knowledge to protect your rights. Learning about others so you treat people with respect and dignity no matter their religion, race, creed, or color.”

Lewis defines a Read Woke book as one that

  • Challenges a social norm
  • Gives voice to the voiceless
  • Provides information about a group that has been disenfranchised
  • Seeks to challenge the status quo
  • Has a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group

What began as one librarian’s attempt to make reading more relevant to her students has become a national literary movement. Schools and libraries across the country are encouraging people to "Read Woke.” Shorewood Library’s virtual Read Woke Challenge runs from January 4 – August 31, 2021. The challenge has four age levels – Read With Me for families with children ages preschool – grade 3, Tweens (grades 4 – 6) Teens (grades 7 – 12) and Adult. Register and track your reading here. 

Participants are asked to read books from these ten categories – African American Voices, Asian Voices, Diverse Abilities, Female Voices, Latinx Voices, Immigration, LGBTQ+ Voices, Native American Voices, Social Injustice, Poverty and Homelessness. For each category, readers can earn a badge and raffle entry for gift cards to local bookstores. Learn more about Shorewood’s challenge and view our recommended book lists here.

The benefits of Read Woke go well beyond a possible gift card or expanding literary horizons. We live in a very diverse and divided society. Examples of social injustice dominate our news, our communities, and sometimes, our daily lives. Reading can be an important tool for understanding some of those complex issues. That is especially true for children with more limited life experiences. Books serve as both a mirror and a window, allowing those who have been marginalized to see their lives and experiences validated. Books also allow us to witness the experiences of those whose lives are different than our own. They open our eyes, minds, and hopefully, hearts to “other” worlds. That can be a crucial first step in developing understanding, empathy, acceptance and respect.

This is true for all of us – even the youngest children. We know that racial and cultural biases develop very early in a child’s life. Confronting those biases before they become deeply entrenched helps a child’s social and emotional development. Research indicates that as children are exposed to multiple viewpoints, they become more flexible in their ideas and judgements. They are much less likely to adopt a “my way is the only right way” attitude. That flexibility also builds resilience, allowing children to better deal with our complex world and tolerate changes in their own lives. Parents can also use the Read Woke Challenge to launch important discussions about social injustices. Even if you choose not to participate in the challenge, please explore some of the many books on our Read Woke book lists.

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