My Magic Turtle Helping to Boost U.S. Literacy

In spring of 2014, students enrolled in international schools across South Korea voted for their favorite English children’s books in an annual reading competition run by the school librarians. Winner in the upper elementary category was an old Korean fairy tale, Maya and the Turtle, published by Tuttle in 2012. Without us even knowing that ours was one of the books they were voting on, their votes awarded Maya the prestigious Morning Calm Medal, among four titles in different grade levels.

This month, Maya and her reptilian pet are in another competition, a “March Madness” book tournament to help at-risk children learn to read. An American non-profit literacy agency, Read to a Child, selected 32 books, new and old, popular classics and up-and-coming titles, and pitted them against each other in a “Book Bracket Challenge,” just like the US college basketball tournament.

Maya and the Turtle, still quite new, was seeded #8, facing  #1 seed Tina Cocolina, an older book about cupcakes. Boke-Toongi took the cupcakes in stride and on March 9 won his first match, advancing to the second round, the “Sweet Sixteen.”

To win the Challenge, we need your votes on Tuesday March 21 between noon and 4:45 Eastern Standard Time. To view the bracket and support the Korean turtle just visit and write Maya and the Turtle in the comment box during the five-hour window. The winners will be announced on that page at 5 p.m. and posted on the bracket sheet.

The good news is that if Maya and the Turtle wins again you may vote for it again, each round, all the way to the championship!

To celebrate one year of reading together in 2015, students at Los Angeles’ Sunrise Elementary School pose with their adult volunteers, all members of a local law firm. (John and me in white.) The kids are smiling because Read to a Child has presented each one with a copy of Maya and the Turtle. Due to a shortage of personnel, the school library is open only one day a month. (Photo courtesy of Read to a Child.)

Read to a Child,, is a national nonprofit literacy and mentoring organization that inspires caring adults to read aloud one hour per week to at-risk children to create better opportunities for their future. Last year, the first annual “Book Bracket Challenge” raised over $100,000 for their innovative program.

Research proves that reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading and, thus, likelihood for success in school and life. Read to a Child currently partners with more than 100 corporations and institutions across the USA which provide 1,500 volunteers who read aloud to more than 1,100 at-risk students in greater Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles and Miami, as well as urban centers in Connecticut.

Chances are, if you’re a child in the U.S. and a strong reader, an adult spent time reading with you. Research also says you’re most likely from a higher-income family. Kids from lower-income families are not always so lucky. As a result, they suffer not just in school, but later in life.