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UF Lastinger Center’s New Worlds Reading Initiative distributes 5 million books

The legislatively funded program supplies books and other resources to children not yet reading on grade level

In just over two years, New Worlds Reading has shipped more than 5 million books to eligible students throughout the state. The initiative has served more than 320,000 children and, as of July 2023, has expanded to serve eligible children enrolled in Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) programs.

“This incredible achievement is a huge victory for Florida students and families,” said Phil Poekert, Ph.D., the director of the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, which is the state-appointed administrator of New Worlds Reading. “It is only possible thanks to the hard work and buy-in from families, teachers, community members, and policymakers working together to support student success. Together, we can’t wait to see even more students embrace a love of reading.”

Each month of the school year, New Worlds Reading mails free books and reading activities to eligible students in VPK through fifth grade. Children choose which books they receive and get a special package addressed to them, building their excitement about reading. Deliveries also include supplemental activities to help kids and their families strengthen literacy skills. Books and resources are available in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and braille.

New Worlds Reading was established with unanimous bipartisan support from the Florida Legislature in 2021 as part of a statewide effort to address literacy rates for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It’s like Christmas when the books come for my son. I like the paperwork attached that gives me tips and assignments to do with him when he reads or after,” said Ashley Huge, a New Worlds Reading parent. “I’m grateful for this program. We actually want to get a bookshelf and create our own little home library to foster a reading environment.”

New Worlds Reading is offered to any Florida VPK student who is not yet meeting age-appropriate standards set by the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) Star Early Literacy, or any student in kindergarten through fifth grade in a Florida public or district-sponsored charter school who is not yet reading on grade level.

“Elementary schoolers love mail anyway, but when the big envelope comes, I always hear ‘My books are here!’ from my son. He has become so excited about reading this year, our second year with [New Worlds Reading]. I think his confidence grew from last year and so did his interest in the books that came,” said Danielle Houston, an educator and New Worlds Reading parent. “By the end of this school year, he’s been bringing home three books from the school library every week and burning through them. While he struggles with state testing, as an educator myself, seeing his confidence and ability to read and grasp understanding for what he’s reading gives me more confidence in his abilities than any test will.”

While still in its early stages, New Worlds Reading has yielded positive results. Of the participating families surveyed, 90% love their books and resources and would recommend the program, 83% of caregivers are spending more time reading with their children because of the program, and 86% of children are reading more often and more confidently. Enrolled children are catching up to their non-enrolled eligible peers, closing the reading gap by as much as 56%.

“This milestone underscores our relentless dedication to partnering with communities and families to support literacy learning for children across the state of Florida,” said Shaunté Duggins, Ph.D., associate director for the New Worlds Reading Initiative at the UF Lastinger Center for Learning. “Not only have we provided over 5 million books, but books are also accompanied by literacy activities. We are committed to meeting families where they are and engaging so they have the tools and strategies.”

There are many ways to support reading proficiency for children, and New Worlds Reading is working from all angles: providing book deliveries and family resources, forming regional partnerships across the state, building a nutrition and literacy partnership with UF/IFAS Extension, and offering a teacher professional learning institute that teaches science of reading strategies.

To apply for New Worlds Reading, visit


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Media Contact:
Brittany Sylvestri

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