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What Kids Are Reading: 2019 Edition released today!

Ignite a reading passion that takes kids lands away

By Dr. Malbert Smith, CEO, president, and co-founder of MetaMetrics

Each year I enjoy reading Renaissance’s What Kids Are Reading report. As the CEO of a company focused on literacy and an avid bibliophile, I love to see not only what our country’s students are reading, but analytics on how much they are reading. While What Kids Are Reading is a must-read for me in my professional capacity, it also is a great resource for me as a grandfather of four children who are 5, 9, 10, and 14 years of age. I’m able to see at a glance the books they and their peers are reading, which helps me stay connected to them. I hope that it makes them think their grandfather is “cool” for knowing what they are reading!

Reading is a core foundational skill that undergirds the entire educational system. Parents and educators recognize the critical importance in teaching our children not only how to read, but also instilling a love of reading. The power, value, and magic of reading are beautifully conveyed in the poem by Emily Dickinson:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul –

As Dickinson’s poem notes, reading allows us to travel through time and space and feeds our intellectual curiosities so that we can explore whatever interests and passions we have. I’ve often said that I wish our Declaration of Independence had stated, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of literacy.” For without literacy, one’s options for life, liberty, and happiness are extremely restricted if not completely foreclosed. A host of economic, health, civic, and emotional benefits are strongly correlated with literacy. Just as food fuels our body, reading fuels our brains.


I was fortunate to have parents as well as teachers who inspired my love of reading. I still fondly remember that every Thursday my mother drove me to the public library, where we both checked out books that we were interested in. That same ritual of reading books every week has continued throughout my life.

I have recently enjoyed watching my three oldest grandchildren become enamored with Broadway’s Hamilton: An American Musical. The musical has sparked their interest for diving deeper into this chapter of our country’s history. Collectively, they have now read over 25 books about Alexander Hamilton, and their interest has triggered their parents’ interest. Now that I have seen the musical, I, too, will be reading more about Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It gives me great pleasure that my children are continuing my mother’s example by allowing their children to pursue their reading passions.

My goal as a researcher, CEO, father, and grandfather is for everyone to get the endorphin rush of reading. Let’s take this report as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to igniting the passion in our children. Helping our own children and the children of our country to become all that they can be starts with literacy!

To download the report, head over to the What Kids Are Reading website. While there, be sure to check out the Custom Report Builder tool. You can create custom book lists for individual students or reading groups using What Kids Are Reading data. The tool features filters such as state, grade, difficulty level, and more.

Dr. Malbert Smith, CEO, president, and co-founder of MetaMetrics
Dr. Malbert Smith, CEO, president, and co-founder of MetaMetrics
Dr. Malbert Smith co-founded MetaMetrics along with Dr. A. Jackson Stenner. Malbert has worked on a number of prestigious research projects with the National Center for Education Statistics, the Gates Foundation, and others to study a myriad of issues such as summer reading loss, the effectiveness of the NAEP assessments, and English language learning. Malbert has taught graduate seminars at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he received the Distinguished Alumni Award. He has also been named a research professor at UNC’s School of Education, focusing on psychological and human development studies.

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