Not all great books are hard to read.

Who: Story Shares is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that was created to engage and support the millions of students who struggle with reading in middle school and high school. These students don’t have enough of the right kinds of books to read; their lower literacy levels mean that the books they can access are written for younger children, while the books they want to read are too difficult. Imagine, for example, that you’re 14 years old but reading at a 2nd grade level. You need to practice, but you don’t want to read books written for 2nd graders. Stories like Curious George are not only uninteresting but embarrassing. So what do you read? Chances are, you will find yourself feeling frustrated or unmotivated and you may stop reading altogether.

Given the daily importance of reading, this impacts everything from academic performance to communication. It also creates a vicious cycle: without literacy skills, it is hard to stay informed, to participate fully in society, to continue to learn, and to raise your own children as readers. Unfortunately, for more than 90 million teens and adults in America who lack crucial literacy skills, this is their reality. We're here to change this.

What: We've created a new genre of books for those readers who've been left behind: stories that are “Easy to Read, but Hard to Put Down.” These original books meet readers at their individual intersections of interest level and reading ability. Our digital library currently holds hundreds of books, with several hundreds more being edited from our archives. These books have already been read more than 100,000 times, & recent data shows up to 20,000 unique site visits each month.

To accompany these books, our platform offers built-in progress tracking tools, a visual glossary, audio options, printable stories, and paperback versions of select titles. We also offer a book creation tool and opportunities for creative assessments, where students can write and publish their own prequels or sequels based on books they have read and loved. We are currently serving over 20,000 students across all 50 states and more than 80 countries -- providing overlooked readers with their own shelf in the library.

How: We have developed a new approach to generating content, in order to build this new category of literature and fill this gap for struggling readers and their teachers. We tap into the already existing population of writers and crowd-source our collection of books. We provide our writers with guidelines, tools, incentives, and contests to support and inspire them to create the just right books our readers need. Our crowdsourcing method enables us to streamline the process and engage the community in improving literacy outcomes. The resulting stories are giving students and teachers engaging choices to inspire reading practice, change attitudes about reading, and improve literacy skills.

Why: Literacy is a fundamental life skill. The ability to read and write is, in itself, a portal to knowledge. Strong reading and writing skills impact success across all fields of study, with higher literacy levels enabling greater successes: better career opportunities, improved health, and stronger community participation. Lacking these crucial skills can lead to a lifetime of diminished opportunities.

Unfortunately, in the United States alone, 90 million+ teens and young adults lack critical literacy skills. A startling 70% of all high school students need some form of reading remediation. Approximately 20% of high school graduates haven't developed even basic reading proficiency by the time they don their cap and gown.

This literacy landscape is especially challenging for African American and Hispanic-American students, who often show different educational outcomes. Take this staggering statistic as one example: only 13% of African-American and 16% of Hispanic-American fourth graders score at the proficient level. Students living in poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities also suffer disproportionately from low literacy skills. In a society where income and race are often linked to educational opportunity, these students have less access to the support and resources they need, and they continue to fall further and further behind.

This is only a glimpse, however, of an even larger problem. On a global scale, illiteracy affects 774 million adults aged 15 or older. It is a key influence in universal rates of incarceration, health problems, poverty, teen pregnancy, and gender inequality, among many other issues plaguing the global sphere. Strong reading and writing skills, on the other hand, have been proven to promote the very reverse: a lifetime of enhanced opportunities that range from improved academic success, a greater ability to communicate, better careers, improved health, and stronger community participation, to name only a few.

With our program, we are working to disrupt the literacy landscape by removing the gaps that currently exist in classrooms and on library shelves. We are creating a new category of literature for the millions who need it: books that are accessible and engaging for older struggling readers; books that are diverse and culturally relevant for a wide and varied audience. We are turning hesitant and doubtful readers into fluid ones, and in doing so, providing a critical skill that not only allows for individual, but communal, self-sufficiency.

We are encouraged by early traction and recognition, and are excited to take this work to the next level.

How You Can Help:

  • Donate. Our organization is currently funded through grants and the generosity of individuals like you. 100% of financial gifts received go toward developing our solution to engage struggling readers.
  • Buy a book. Our initial collection of paperback books are available for purchase here. All proceeds from book sales support our work and mission.
  • Write. Our library depends upon the imagination and efforts of our authors. If you've never written a book before and/or are unsure how to create the specific type of content that our readers need, don't worry! We've put together some helpful guidelines here, and you can always reach out to our team members for more assistance at storysharesteam@gmail.com!
  • Spread the word! Tell your friends, family members, neighbors, local school districts, etc. about the resources we offer. Word of mouth is an invaluable tool for bringing Story Shares to the struggling readers who need our help.
Louise Baigelman