Encouraging Literacy For Black Children: Take the 20-4-30 Reading Challenge For Your Child

One of the best baby shower presents I got for my first child was a lovely set of board books that included stories with characters that look like my girlpies, including The Snowy Day and Whistle For Willie, both by Ezra Jack Keats and More, More, More, Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams. I treasure those black children’s books to this day, not only because they’re incredible stories by terrific authors, but because they were the first books I read to my babies while they were still in my womb. I will never, ever, forget how my Mari wiggled in my belly as I read those beautiful words to her, and how Lila’s sweet fingers, long and lithe, looked as she turned the pages, eager to see what Willie would do next—excited to “read” along.

To this day, I read to my Lila, even at age 10. She’s a strong reader and enjoys a good book on her own, but I thank God that she still looks forward to sitting and listening intently as I read to her, acting out the parts, asking questions, relating the stories to our own lives. Just yesterday, we started reading The Diary Of Anne Frank—a pick by Lila, who has become quite fixated on the details of the Holocaust and the plight of Jews after studying World War II in her 5th grade Social Studies class. Lila was rapt as I read Anne’s musings on what it was like to be a 13-year-old Jewish girl growing up in the 1940s under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands; we laughed when Anne wrote about being forced to pen an essay about being a “chatterbox”—one of Lila’s many nicknames!—and had a discussion, too, about the similarities between the harsh restrictions Jews faced and that which blacks suffered under Jim Crow.

Indeed, I think reading to my daughter at age 10 is just as crucial—if not more—as it was filling her with the fantastic tales of Keats and Vera B. and the Pinkneys and the many incredible books we shared with the girlpies when they were little. I have not one doubt in my mind that reading to my babies from the womb on up helped make them smarter and more curious and engaged—traits that have served them well in the classroom and beyond.

I have no problems shouting that from the rooftops. Which is why today, I’m taking the 20-4-30 Story Time Challenge. The challenge, led by the adorable literacy website, Sydney’s Book Club, calls for parents to pledge to read to their children for 20 minutes a day for 30 days during the month of April—a testament to our commitment to improve literacy in our communities. Notes the book club:

The literacy rates in America are astounding and in 2012, 80 percent of households in the United States admitted to not purchasing even ONE book in the entire year! The high school dropout rates continue to fall and there is a very strong link between illiteracy and the poverty decline in our youth. The best way to combat these issues is by growing strong readers at home.

I couldn’t agree more. And so I will be reading to my Lila every day through April—and beyond!—to show my support for child literacy. We’re going to finish up The Diary of Anne Frank and then move on to The Life Of Pi. I encourage you to take the Sydney’s Book Club 20-4-30 pledge, too, by clicking here. Need books? Your local library is happy to lend great books to your children for free—support your local libraries!—or go with your child to your school’s library to find some great reads. Looking to add to your child’s library collection? My post, “Everybody Should Read Black Children’s Books” is a great resource for stapes every parent of African American children should have in their libraries.  The Brown Bookshelf is an awesome resource for finding books about children of color written by authors of color. The Happy Nappy Bookseller also has a fine backlist of book review posts for black children’s books. In the meantime, check out Sydney’s Book Club here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Happy reading!


1. EVERYBODY Should Read Black Children’s Books
2. An Awesome Multicultural Book List, Courtesy Of Reading Is Fundamental
3. Exciting New Book Provides Answer to Question: Why Don’t More Black Boys Read?
4. The North Paran Book Buzz List: Fun Summer Reads For Black Children

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Love. Love. Love. We’re reading at least 3-4 nights a week, but we’ll try to step it up for this challenge. You KNOW I will share this far and wide. And I love Anne Frank myself. One of the things I have so been looking forward to is re-reading some of my favorite books from my childhood and youth along with my daughter as she is introduced to them in school and by me and other friends, or as she finds them herself. We started with Snowy Day, too. <- a favorite from my childhood. I love this journey. Thanks so much D!

  2. I hope my new niece likes books as much as your daughter! If you haven’t already, could I suggest Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and the Bloody Jack series? The first two are children’s classics and the Bloody Jack series covers the adventures of Mary “Jack” Faber and is a very feminist choice since the real hero is a poor, orphan girl who occasionally makes bad mistakes on the way to becoming a major hero. If you can find it, I also recommend the English translation of the Moribito series. A recurring character is a bada$$ female bodyguard named Balsa who is single, nearing thirty, and very happy doing the odd good deed and beating up trained assassins for a living. My then 9-year-old cousin quite enjoyed when I would read the first book to him.

  3. Kudos to you for still reading to your ten-year-old daughter. That’s a wonderful, cozy habit that is surely mutually beneficial. Have you read Alice Ozma’s book, The Reading Promise? Her father read to her EVERY NIGHT until the day she entered college.

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