Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner

Raising A Reader

Carol Welsh Gray, executive director
San Mateo, California

Since 2001, Raising A Reader has filled a critical niche in the spectrum of national early literacy programs, providing a low-cost, scalable method for communities to foster read-aloud routines in the homes of low-income families. Today, Raising A Reader is serving over 100,000 children annually across 32 states and 150 communities.

Each week, every child in the Raising A Reader program brings home a sturdy red bag filled with four high-quality, developmentally-appropriate, multi-cultural children’s books. Over several months, they are exposed to a wide range of stories, providing them with both a mirror reflecting their own world and a window to the world beyond. Through initial training and ongoing support, parents learn how to engage their children in storytelling with picture books—even if they themselves struggle with reading. The program includes an introduction to the local public library, setting up families for a lifetime of book enjoyment.

Raising A Reader is cost-effective because the bags and books remain the property of the agency delivering the program and can be used year after year. The average cost per child served over a five-year period is less than $35.

Theory of Change: The Raising a Reader theory of change involves five anchor behaviors that lead to the desired outcomes of family bonding, early brain development and school readiness.


  • Children drive the process and the red book bags and books become a favorite toy;
  • Program professionals learn how to train parents in interactive read-aloud strategies and early brain development;
  • Parents learn and engage in read-aloud strategies and develop a regular routine of book cuddling;
  • The weekly book bag delivery system is turnkey -- a simple, sustainable routine that is easily managed in a number of diverse settings; and
  • Families start to use their local library for an additional source of high-quality reading materials;

Then children in the program will benefit from healthy brain development, family bonding, and increased early literacy skills. They enter kindergarten with a love of books, ready to learn to read.

Mission: Raising A Reader fosters healthy brain development, parent-child bonding and early literacy by engaging parents in daily read-aloud with their children from birth to age five.

How it Works: Raising A Reader operates through a diverse national network of community affiliates (e.g., school systems, libraries, or United Way). These affiliates reach low-income families through preschools, home-visiting programs, adult education centers, family childcare homes—any place where parents and children routinely gather.

Results: A dozen independent evaluations have validated Raising A Reader’s theory of change. Notably,

  • There was a 471% increase in the percentage of low-income parents sharing books with their children five or more times each week. (San Francisco, 2004)
  • Head Start children participating in Raising A Reader for eight months tested at least twice as high as the national norms for Head Start children in school readiness skills of book knowledge, print concepts and story comprehension. (Santa Clara County, 2001)
  • There was a 337% growth in the percentage of Spanish-speaking parents taking their children to the library at least once a month. (Santa Clara County, 2001)

Future plans: By 2010, Raising A Reader plans to increase its impact by 150%, reaching 250,000 children annually.