Today, September 8, is International Literacy Day. People all over the world are celebrating the power of literacy and raising awareness of the negative impact that poor literacy skills can have on people’s lives and well-being.
UNESCO has stated that literacy is a human right. It is essential to personal empowerment, future employment and opportunity, poverty reduction, and sustainable living. However, according to a Literacy Matters report issued by TD last year, “slightly more than 60% of Aboriginal Canadians do not have the literacy skills necessary to participate fully in the current knowledge-based economy.”  The report goes on to state that, “[f]our out of ten Aboriginal children score poorly in early development instruments in the areas of language and communication skills. [...] In addition, less than half of First Nations children in Canada read a book every day. Discouragingly, these statistics suggest that many Aboriginal children are held back straight out of the gate when it comes to overcoming literacy barriers.” 
Research shows that children who have even a few books at home are more likely to have stronger literacy skills than those who don’t.  Access to (and ownership of) books is at the heart of the Books With Wings project. Kids are also more likely to pick up those books if they connect with them in some way. This is why the letters are important. We learn about the children and are able to send material that corresponds to their interests. As a bonus, writing the letters offers them another chance to develop their writing skills.
This International Literacy Day, we are in the process of preparing the first shipments of books and letters for the coming academic year. We are looking forward to continuing correspondence with the kids (and teachers!) we already know, and to developing some new relationships in a new partner school. Stay with us for updates, news, and more wonderful letters!
 Sonya Gulati, Literacy Matters: Unlocking the Literacy Potential of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, 20 June, 2013, p. 3.
 Gulati, p. 4. The report also points out low literacy levels are one factor that leads to “less than half of First Nations youth graduat[ing] from high school compared to 80% in the non-Aboriginal population.” (p. 21)
 Mariah Evans, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: books and schooling in 27 nations”, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Vol. 28: 2, June 2010, pp. 171–197.
Thanks to Paula Banks of Catchlight Canada Photography for image permissions.