Author discusses importance of global literacy

(Pam Allyn is the founder of LitWorld, a literacy initiative that stretches to over 60 countries. Photo by Amanda Martin)

Pam Allyn wrote her first story, “Thunder: a Horse” at six years old. She said it was actually a completely plagiarized version of “Black Beauty,” a novel that her first grade teacher had been reading to the class – but of course, at the time, she didn’t realize that.

“I loved the way the book started. I wanted to write it just as it was. … I wanted to own it, I wanted it to be mine,” said Allyn. She went through and changed just a few details – instead of Black Beauty being black, Thunder was a “bay gelding, of some sort.”

Now, Allyn, who is a literacy expert who founded LitWorld, a global literacy initiative that serves children across the world, is the author of two novels – “Be Core Ready” and “Every Child a Super Reader.”

Allyn was the keynote speaker at Alpha Upsilon Alpha’s initiation ceremony held in the Forum on Nov. 1.

Allyn spoke about her paternal grandmother, who became a second-grade teacher at the same time Allyn was going into second grade. Her grandmother would make her worksheets, send them to her mother in the mail and Allyn would complete them and mail them back to her grandmother to be graded.

“It was always just perfect. … Hearts and stars and A+++,” said Allyn.

Allyn said literacy is “human kind’s greatest innovation,” and the way a child learns best is in a safe space. She said the innovations around literacy are going to change, but literacy is “the greatest thing you can give to a child.”

Allyn’s job takes her to over 60 countries in which LitWorld is involved. According to their website, LitWorld’s mission is to “strengthen kids and communities through the power of their own stories.”

She said, “Everywhere I’ve been in the world … mothers, fathers and grandparents want their children to read.”

Allyn added there are places around the world where women aren’t allowed to go to school. Women put their babies in her arms and ask her to bring them back with her to the United States.

Allyn traveled to Haiti after the first big earthquake in 2010 and asked the mothers, “What do you need most right now?” According to Allyn, they asked her to let their children go back to school.

To Allyn, that was the sign of a good teacher.

She discussed the importance of teaching, and how it’s “the seeing of what’s already there.”

Allyn said seeing into the “heart of a child” will give a teacher “so many wonderful classes, and wonderful knowledge will flow through you.”

Allyn also talked about poverty, and how it “steals literacy from children.”

She said it isn’t poverty that causes illiteracy, but that it “steals it,” and that “every child has the right to literacy.”

Every child should have equal access to books and well-trained teachers, said Allyn. To her, it’s a human right.

“Literacy frees you. … It’s why Malala [Yousafazi] was shot on a bus going to school. Because it’s dangerous to teach people how to read,” said Allyn.