People | February 1, 2024

Partner Spotlight: The Black Book Project


According to one Nashville nonprofit, looking into a book should be akin to looking into a mirror – especially for young readers of color. This is supported by research, which demonstrates that incorporating cultural representation not only enhances children’s learning but also fosters positive self-worth and a strong sense of identity.

According to Meredith McKinney, Founder of The Black Book Project, when children see themselves and their experiences within the pages, they’re more likely to deeply engage in the content and the process of reading. “If I see a book cover with a girl with hair like mine, that’s something that is going to draw me in,” McKinney shared. “I want to grab that book because this girl looks like me and I can relate to her.”

McKinney recently joined forces with Worldreader to leverage a library of highly diverse stories spanning multiple countries and cultures, which are also available in multiple languages. Even better, it is delivered through Worldreader’s BookSmart free app, connecting diverse young readers with stories that represent them anywhere, anytime, and on any device.

McKinney notes that BookSmart’s accessibility provides an additional advantage in helping kids and families develop a daily habit of reading.

BookSmart has been a game changer. For children who don’t have access to literature in their homes, having an array of digital resources has truly made an impactful difference.

Meredith McKinney, Founder of The Black Book Project

She reflected on the story of a young girl in Nashville who loved to read but had outgrown the books in her home. “This little girl loves BookSmart because she can type her age range and interest into the search function and it gives her access to chapter books,” she said, adding that the young girl was even more excited to read because the online platform was a fun way to interact with books because it made it feel like a game. 

Worldreader estimates that 96% of families have access to mobile phones and nearly 20% of children have a phone by age 8. Further, mobile reading in the US is on the rise. Reading apps have over 100 million downloads.

Based on our data, an alarming number of children don’t have books at home, or someone who reads with them. In many instances, the only time children interact with books is at school. With BookSmart, they can access a plethora of books about things they’re interested in, with characters who look like them.

Meredith McKinney

The Black Book Project is one of 27 agencies across the country that received Worldreader’s Let’s Get Children Reading Grant in 2023 to promote family reading and build the reading confidence of parents and caregivers to support their child’s learning. To accomplish this, grantees were also given access to the BookSmart app to share with the families they serve. 

In addition to diverse characters, diverse content is critical too, McKinney stressed. Using BookSmart, she can connect young readers with stories about things that interest them. “If there are 30 books on a shelf but none of them are about what a child likes, whether it’s basketball or baking, they are likely not going to choose to read,” she explained. Working with children to gauge their interests and what they find entertaining, Meredith then uses the app to connect them with an age and culturally-appropriate book that will get them excited to read. 

Developing a strong foundation to both begin reading at a young age and to normalize reading at home is another of McKinney’s objectives because oftentimes families consider reading to be a school activity. “Any academic skill is a partnership and engaging families in the children’s learning process bonds them and reinforces literacy skills across the board,” Meredith said. “It is a generational, whole household movement that can change how literacy and education are involved in the home.”

A woman who McKinney encountered during her work with The Black Book Project expressed her gratitude recently, sharing that as an adult, she cannot read very well, because it was not a priority when she was a child. “My child reads to me every night,” the woman shared. “My mom never read with me and I am trying to break that cycle because I do not want her to live like I did.”

“Her story is a perfect testimony to how making reading a priority at a young age paves the way for generational change for families,” McKinney said.

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