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Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Creating a Culture of Reading for All

Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Creating a Culture of Reading for All

Based on Don Vu’s book, Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness, the first part of this session explores how a school’s reading culture can be developed and nurtured for everyone, with a focus on the needs of immigrant, refugee and socioeconomically disadvantaged students and families. Dr. Vu presents six conditions of culture (Commitment, Collection, Clock, Conversation, Connection, and Celebration) that must be addressed to create a school reading environment where all students can thrive. Each condition, backed by research and practical strategies, is presented so that any educator can begin to make a difference in their classroom or school.

•    Understand the 6 conditions of reading culture and take away ideas for implementation in schools and districts
•    Be inspired to use literacy as a tool to engage all students, promote equity and diversity in school communities.

This part of the session allows participants to explore a diverse book collection and what educators can do with it. We will be familiar with the term “windows and mirrors” in children’s literature and will talk about best strategies to hold up the mirror for a child to see a clear reflection of themselves as well as ways for us to help kids see diversity in the world and develop a sense of empathy for others. This is a hands-on session that highlights some of the Scholastic Rising Voices Library collections.

•    Understand the importance of a diverse book collection and how it relates to current issues in education.
•    Explore different ways to engage students in books to build critical thinking skills, resilience and sympathy: read alouds, perspective taking, compare and contrast, and connecting with the world now.

When you possess the Audacity of Equality—the idea that you have equal rights and the same protections as any American citizen—you expect more no matter where you were born. You don’t tolerate being mistreated and you don’t put your head down and ignore injustice against yourself or others. Unfortunately, for many students, especially our immigrants and refugees, the Audacity of Equality has not yet been realized. This final part will give context to the importance of this work in sharing diverse stories.

•    Learn best strategies to help instill the Audacity of Equality in all students.
•    Learn best strategies to help students develop a sense of pride for who they are and help them understand their importance in their community and country.  

Dr. Don Vu has been an elementary school teacher and principal for 25 years.

Don and his former school staff chartered a literacy campaign in 2013 to foster the love of reading in all students. In 2017, he received the Celebrate Literacy Award from the California Reading Association (CRA) for his outstanding leadership in literacy. In 2018, his school was one of five schools nationally to receive the Exemplary Reading Program Award from the International Literacy Association (ILA). In 2020, the school received the California Distinguished School Award for its work in closing the achievement gap for all kids. In 2022, Don received his second Celebrate Literacy Award from the California Reading Association for his literary contributions and advocacy in literacy.

He understands the challenges children face when learning a new language and culture, having fled Vietnam with his family in 1975. He also knows that reading can be transformative and life-changing. Don continues to spread the message that literacy can change the world through his work with state and national literacy organizations as well as his writing in publications such as Edutopia and Scholastic. He currently serves on the national advisory boards of Scholastic Book Fairs and the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program. His book, Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Scholastic), is a call to action for all educators who want to build a school culture of reading to empower all students¬– especially our immigrant and refugee children¬– as they pursue their American Dream.



  • Dr. Don Vu