“Here’s Booking at You, Kid!”

By Riley Kinum February 19, 2021

After returning from her first day of kindergarten, Selah told her father that many of her classmates did not know their ABCs. Selah, a lover of books, was saddened that her classmates were unaware of the joys of reading. After doing some research, Selah’s parents learned that literacy is much more than just being able to read. Rather, it is a market of future success.  According to Literacy Inc, 85% of minors in the juvenile prison system are illiterate. Further, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. According to Selah’s father, Khalil Thompson, “some prisons forecast the number of prison cells they are going to build in the future based off of third grade reading test scores.” The Thompson family decided to take on systemic illiteracy and its negative impacts.

In 2018, with her parent’s help, Selah launched her own nonprofit, the Empowered Readers Literacy Project. Its goals are to help families build strong reading rituals and spark an enthusiasm around books. Selah and her parent’s organization has seen immediate success. At their first official event, which took place in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2018, 2,400 kids and their parents participated in the march for literacy. In addition to activism, the Empowered Readers Literacy Project runs an adventure time readers club. They also have an initiative called the 500 books project, a book drive dedicated to providing children with books.

Further, Selah and her family realized another possible barrier to learning to read. In addition to elevating reading frequency, exposure to characters that children identify with is also essential. Selah’s mother, Nicole Thomspon, stated, “Children are not excited about reading when they do not see themselves on the pages of the book.” There needs to be more diverse representation in children’s books.

Accordingly, Selah and her younger sister Syrai published “Penelope the Pirate Princess” in 2019. Penelope looks like Selah and shares a love for science and outer space. Inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, Selah published the second book in the series this past December titled “Penelope the Pirate Princess: A Bad Case of Glitter Spot Dots.” When speaking about the book, Selah articulated, “Covid is like glitter, It spreads everywhere, and it doesn’t stop.” Just like glitter, this little girl’s intelligence and compassion sparkles.

To date, Empowered Readers Literacy Project has donated 8,000 books, including the books authored by Selah and her sister. Selah is well on her way to achieving her goal of donating 2 million books. Along the way, she is doing much more than spreading a love of reading. She is inspiring us all, young and old, to see the importance of representation and diversity on children’s empowerment.  Further, she is showcasing that if an 8-year-old can commit to making positive change in this world, so can we.