An Illiterate Life – What does it look like?

family literacy programsReading. For many of us it is like breathing – we’re sitting here doing both, thinking about neither one.

What would life be like if I didn’t know how to read?

I have been giving that question a lot of thought, lately.

I don’t mean picking up a book for pleasure, I am talking about everyday reading.

An Experiment

For several days I tried go about my day, consciously working not to read. It was hard, very hard. My default is to read, in part, because it is a natural part of who I am. Here is what I discovered when I tried “not reading” for a couple of days.

  • I had no idea how many ibuprofen pills to take – or how soon I could take the next dose.
  • There was nothing new on the menu. I only cooked meals I knew by heart or could eat straight out of the box (think cereal).
  • I spent more time watching television so that I could get news.

That is just a day in the life of illiterate adult me. What about the illiterate parent me?

  • Did the teacher’s note on my child’s report card praise her or express concern?
  • My son wants me to help him with his 4th grade math word problems.
  • My daughter was invited to a birthday party in a different part of town. Does she RSVP “no” because I don’t know how to get there and can’t read the directions?

An Illiterate Reality

Trying to walk in the shoes of someone who cannot read is not easy. The best I could do was to be alert and restrain myself from the physical act of reading. What was hard for me in trying NOT to read must be what it feels like when you’re trying hard TO read. Even with that, mimicking the emotions of frustration, embarrassment, low self esteem are beyond a ‘pretender’s reach. Given how broad my world is, it is hard to imagine just how closed and limiting it would be if I could not read.

links for illiterate parentsThe reality is that 1 in 5 adults struggle to read anything more complex than a picture book. It was true in 2003 when they did a survey; and it was the same in 2013 when they did the survey again. Ten years and nearly identical results. When I shared that observation with a friend, her comment was “at least it hasn’t gotten worse.” That is true. A lot of people have devoted countless hours, hard work, and passion to helping illiterate adults and children.

In those same ten years, the Reading Tub has compiled lots of great parent-friendly articles about raising readers. But how does a non-reader know to pick out 10 Ways to Boost your Preschooler’s Literacy or Ten Ways to Involve the Whole Family in Reading Aloud from what looks like an overwhelming list? Heck, how does a non-reader even find them?

The Next Step

Technology is giving us an opportunity to take a new approach to crack the stagnant statistics. Smartphone use crosses all demographics, making it the ideal means of bridging the literacy gap.

The Family Literacy Integration Project (FLIP) is built on the foundation that literacy is a family issue, not an “adult problem” or a “child problem.” Making the FLIP App the best it can be required us to think about users and their needs in very concrete terms. A big part of our research is going beyond the statistical demographics to try walking in very uncomfortable shoes.

Our first goal for the FLIP App is that it must be free to use.

Second, it must provide relevant, actionable tools for parents, caregivers, and educators in a way that leaves no one behind.

  • Confidence Tools to help children succeed and reach literacy milestones.
  • Relevant Tools that can be incorporated into family life.
  • On-the-Go Tools that don’t require transportation, appointments, or extra services.

We are designing FLIP to give struggling reader and illiterate parents access to the tools many of us take for granted … but in a way that is meaningful to them. Through audio and video, the FLIP app guides them with tips, activities, and recommendations that many of us rely on regularly.

Learn more about #FLIPforLiteracy and how you can help.


Madam President by Lane Smith a Picture Book for #TBT

Looking for a little fun and inspiration this election season? Look no further than Lane Smith’s Madam President. We found it to be a wonderful way to introduce hard-to-explain concepts. For example, kids understand that they need to say only kind things, but they don’t generally say “I’m being diplomatic.” Madam President explains diplomacy in a way that parallels a child’s experiences.

We’d love to add your review of Madam President to our Throwback Thursday review … after all, what’s a republic without discussion and sharing ideas?

madam president by lane smithMadam President

written and illustrated by Lane Smith
Hyperion Books for Children, 2008

A president’s work is never done. Follow along with a young girl as she handles all of her duties: meeting with her cabinet; solving problems big and small; making decisions; and leading by example. This picture book story explains what the president does … and reminds girls they can be whatever they want!

Reading Tub book review of Madam President: October 2008

Why a Throwback Thursday for Book Reviews?

Those of us who blog about books are a community. We read lots of books, we write lots of reviews, and we share those reviews with fellow book lovers and those in search of books for children and teens on our blogs, websites, and via social media.

We write so many reviews that, over time, they get buried by other, newer reviews. BUT! that book we read three years ago will always be new to some reader, somewhere. So why not share that review with a new audience?

Everyone is welcome! Here are the participation guidelines:

  • If you reviewed this graphic novel, add your permalink to the original review on the Reading Tub website or in the InLinkz Linkup above.
  • Want to (re)share a review you posted in October 2009 but which isn’t our featured book? Add your permalink in the InLinkz Linkup or comments. [No, it doesn’t have to be a book you loved; but it does have to be a review you take a lot of pride in.]
  • Add any notes about the review in the comments, please.

The spammers have been having a blast with our Throwback Thursday posts … now its your turn to take back blogging from those nuisances. Add your reviews to our InLinkz linkup above or the comments section below.

Too late for our Madam President #TBT review?

Our InLinkz linkup is open for one week from this post’s publication date. If you didn’t find this post in time, no worries! Add your review on our review page at the Reading Tub.

NOTES: The cover image for Madam President by Lane Smith links to The Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. 100% of any income from this source is used for our literacy mission.

Holiday Shopping: Time to Unplug

holiday shopping screen freeI have been thinking a lot about the impact of screens on children lately. From sleep and screen-addiction issues to motor skills and the ability to recognize emotions in others.

It started when Carol Rasco shared an Education News story about a bedtime math story app. Most recently, it was the new Common Sense Media study about media use by tweens and teens.

These aren’t the only ones, though. Here is a sampling of what I’ve been reading. [Image Source: The Guardian, 2013, ONOKY/Photononstop/Alamy]

Lots to think about, a lot rattling around in my brain … especially now, as many of us are gearing up for holiday shopping. This year, rather than opting for an iTunes gift card, a new video game, or even a screen-based educational product, let’s go screen free.

Can we make 2015 the No Batteries Required Holiday Shopping Season?

To help you with that goal, we’ve published a Gift of Literacy Pinterest board, and put together a list of holiday shopping tips and suggestions (below). These are gift ideas that offer great alternatives to the electronic babysitter. I bet you’ll find it easier than waiting for your phone to power up!


Happy Holidays from the Reading TubI know what you’re thinking, it is a lot easier to find a batteries-free gift for a third grader than an eight grader. Maybe, maybe not.

With younger kids, we tend to look at the kinds of things they like. It is pretty concrete: dinosaurs, superheroes, animals, et al.

With tweens and teens, our default answer is “they like their screen.” Yes, yes they do. So, one question isn’t enough.

We have to ask a second question: what do they like to DO with their screen time? Answer that and Poof! You have a gift idea.


Toddlers and Preschoolers (18 months to 4 years)

Think hands on, creative play and gifts that push their imaginations.

  • Building sets offer endless play and can be done independently. If there are multiple pieces, include a plastic tote with a lid.
  • Costumes are not just for Halloween! Kids love todress up and pretend.
  • Games are a wonderful toy/tool for teaching all kinds of things: cooperation, waiting, rules, critical thinking and analysis, just to name a few.
  • Puzzles help with fine motor skills and spatial thinking. They are a great choice when you want a solo and/or quiet activity.

Elementary and Preteens (5 years to 12 years)

Hands on, creative gifts still work! Tap into the things a child likes and pull gift ideas from those interests.

  • Building sets, games, and puzzles have similar appeal for this group, group, too.
  • Experimental Kits. Whether your child loves CSI or spying, dinosaurs (archaeology), space (astronomy), or fancies herself a mad scientist, there’s a kit for that!
  • Experiences. Tickets to a basketball game for the sports lover; a kid’s cooking class or behind-the-scenes tour of a restaurant for the chef.
  • Subscriptions. Magazines for kids are a great way to give a gift that celebrates their interest in a topic and keeps giving all year long.

Teens (13 to 19)

Time to get creative. Kits, experiences, and subscriptions are options. We’re probably fighting serious tech use, so we’re going to switch to the “Read Alike” model for teen holiday shopping ideas.

If they like …

Still stuck for holiday shopping ideas?

Add a comment below to get ideas from other readers; or send me an email thereadingtub [at] gmail [dot] com and I’m happy to brainstorm with you!

The Bibliography

NOTE: Our Holiday Shopping links go to We have an affiliate relationship with and use 100% of funds that might be generated from purchases to support The Reading Tub, a 501(c)(3) family literacy charity.