Our History




Empowering and supporting educators

We began as the hope of a single librarian in Philadelphia, and September 2023 will mark Children’s Literacy Initiative’s 35-year anniversary. What started as an annual celebration of literacy and quality literature is now a nationwide educational non-profit that impacts the lives and professions of over 70,000 students and more than 3,500 teachers per year.

As a librarian, Linda Katz often encountered children who were unable to read at the appropriate grade-level and were uninterested in the books that were available to them. She did her best to share her knowledge and expertise with parents, hoping to help in any way. These initial interactions were the start of a lifetime dedicated to early literacy.

Linda, along with co-founders Pat Federman and Marcia Moon, would go on to establish Rainbow Readers, the Children’s Expo Book Fair, and Mrs. Bush Story Time, a very successful story hour radio show featuring First Lady Barbara Bush. This terrific trio worked under one guiding philosophy, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.” – John Dewey

While beneficial, each of these endeavors shed light on a much larger issue– teachers were also in dire need of these tools. Educators attending the Expo continuously expressed the need for better training on how to teach reading to their children, and an equally strong need for quality classroom book collections to do this work. Thus, Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) was born.

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“It became obvious to me that there were not enough children learning how to read at grade-level. I felt this was a national issue that required action! I simply asked myself what would I want for my own child and I knew there was more to do with children learning to read.”

– Linda Katz, Founder

CLI Annual Report 2022 - Teacher Impact Quote

Initially working with Head Start and childcare centers in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, CLI focused on bringing high-quality books into classrooms and providing teachers with training around best practices for early literacy instruction. The team quickly learned, however, that books and one-time trainings alone were not enough to create lasting change. The service model then expanded to include sustained one-on-one training in the classroom. They learned that literacy learning cannot be achieved in isolation, and instead of presenting one and done seminars and workshops, CLI worked closely with teachers focusing on building sincere bonds and honest relationships, so that teachers felt comfortable and supported and could develop the professional learning communities that create change.

CLI Annual Report 2022 - Our Vision
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“We realized our teachers needed more support. Our thinking changed and our model evolved, because we understood teachers did not need someone to evaluate them and supervise them. That wasn’t our role. They needed someone who was going to hold their hand and be supportive, coaching them on what good instruction looked like and how to plan a lesson, and become ‘think partners’ to implement great lessons.”

– Linda Katz, Founder

Children’s Literacy Initiative seeks to dismantle structural racism by providing Black and Latinx children with the anti-racist early literacy instruction, support, and advocacy needed to create equity in education.
We are working towards creating a more equitable education system, one that promotes early literacy, cultural competency, and equitable outcomes for all students, particularly Black and Latinx students who have long been disproportionately isolated from the resources to obtain the education they deserve. CLI believes that literacy is a vital pathway to create lasting social change and foster a just and equitable society.
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Growing A National Community

Through the years we have continued to grow and improve our methodologies as well as grow geographically to reach more at-risk students. We have served prekindergarten through third grade students from Denver, Chicago, Broward County Florida, Houston, Elizabeth, Passaic, and Philadelphia. At our core, we still work under those founding principles, that when teachers receive the right combination and intensity of training and coaching, they will become exemplary instructors who can transform the lives of children.

Our work is nationally recognized for its impact on student achievement. An American Institutes for Research (AIR) report on results from a three-year, randomized control study concluded, “the CLI program produces substantial effects on teachers’ classroom environment and literacy practices, which in turn, lead to measurable effects on average reading achievement in early elementary grades”. Our approach and results are now part of the prestigious What Works Clearinghouse.
In addition, in 2017 the Library of Congress awarded CLI its top honor, the David M. Rubenstein Prize, for its outstanding and measurable contribution to increasing literacy levels; and in early 2018, Charity Navigator once again awarded CLI a coveted 4-out-of-4-star rating for its accountability and transparency.
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Simply learning to read is an extraordinarily freeing act. We envision a nation where every child, regardless of socio-economic background, has the power of literacy and the opportunity for lifetime success.

For 35 years we have worked to transform and strengthen classrooms across the U.S., and for 30 years we have improved student outcomes by giving teachers high-impact instructional strategies. For the next 30 years we will continue to enable children to read at grade level and ensure that teachers have the support they need to create powerful readers, writers, and thinkers.

Interested in learning more? Connect with a CLI team member today to learn about our services, opportunities for collaboration, and to learn more about how your philanthropic investment can advance our literacy mission.

Our Case for Support

Interested in learning more about Children’s Literacy Initiative? Check out our Case for Support for an extensive overview of our work, our national impact, and the students and teachers we serve.
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