Chicago mom and teacher Jurema Gorham set out to start a book club for her six-year-old son. Now it’s a non-profit providing literacy support and educational programs to both parents and kids across the country. Jurema shares her tips on how to raise a reader below.
Whether your children are back on campus or entering their second semester of remote learning, school is still far from normal. Fostering a love of reading is hard enough in non-pandemic times, and nearly impossible when visiting the school library isn’t an option.
If you’re looking for support to help your child develop a love of reading, we at Raise highly recommend Burst Into Books, a non-profit offering (now virtual) reading circles, book clubs, writing workshops, educational services, and family centered events. Burst into Books was founded by Jurema Gorham and inspired by her son’s love of reading and her community’s need for access to diverse books and literacy events. Visit https://www.burstintobooks.org/home to learn more about their tutoring services, online events, and educational programs for children 6 months – 18 years. And read our interview with Jurema below to learn more about the incredible services that Burst in to Books provides.
On How It All Began
I was searching for a book club for my six-year-old son, who loves to read. When he was born, we lived in a suburb right outside of Chicago, and it had a library that offered free reading and music classes for newborns. When we moved back to the city, I noticed there wasn’t anything like that available. If we wanted to attend a reading event or community-sponsored event, we had to drive 15 minutes away. I knew plenty of families who would love to attend these types of events if they were available in our area.
When I started the book club, I just made a Facebook post, and the interest was so big. I was only going to host it for my son’s age range, but I had families with older and younger kids who wanted to join. It showed me the need for these types of programs. And, you know, I’m a teacher.
On Raising A Reader
It started from birth, me reading to him all the time. We always had books in our house. We always went to storytimes at the library, so it was just his lifestyle. He didn’t see it as homework. When they started to assign reading to him at school, he was like, “Oh, I do this anyway.”
On The Importance of Diversity In Literature
It’s so important to have diversity on your bookshelf. After we read, we have a dialogue and do activities based on the books, which allows the children to learn about each other. Not all of the the kids in my program are African American. We have children from different backgrounds. They share their perspectives, and they see other perspectives portrayed in our books.
Representation matters, but diversity extends beyond the color of the characters and authors. We’re very conscious of the storyline. Is the plot diverse? Children need the opportunity to imagine themselves in different settings. Reading a book about an engineer exposes them to the possibility that they can explore. Maybe they don’t know what engineering is, but because we read a book about a character building and making things around the house, they realize they could do that. We read books about bakers and entrepreneurship and characters opening their first bank account. We have a book with a character who is a realtor. It allows our kids to ask, “What’s a realtor? Is that something I would want to be?” It’s great to hear a child say, “That’s a career I haven’t heard of, and guess what? That person looks like me!”
On How Non-Traditional Family Structures Affect Literacy
Modern family dynamics can make it even more challenging to raise a reader. As I point out on our website, many families require both parents to be away from the home during the day to earn a living. It is not unusual to see families headed by teen parents, immigrants, grandparents, incarcerated parents, or parents in blended families. Reading education is often provided by someone other than a parent, so we work to offer support to any caregiver working to raise a reader.
Lit Talk is a monthly workshop with reading specialists who provide parents and caregivers with tips to help children develop reading and writing skills.
The Front Row is my interview series with literacy experts. We strive to inspire parents to promote literacy in their homes and realize that early literacy goes beyond reading books at bedtime.
Remixing the Narrative is our online platform with interviews from community organizers, change agents, and other stakeholders to address topics that impact our Chicago community. Our goal with the workshop is to create a stronger village.
Whether you’re local to Chicago or signing on from the coast, Burst Into Books offers inspiring resources for both children and parents. Visit their website at burstintobooks.org to become part of their virtual village.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.