Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Andrea Liao is a 16-year-old sophomore at Interlake High School in Bellevue, and she won’t mind if you know that she is a complete bookworm. Reading and writing are her two favorite pastimes, and these twin passions have motivated her to dedicate admirable effort to making sure that as many children as possible can grow up in an environment with ample access to literature.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved to read, and I’ve wanted to do book drives for other kids who are in need of books. So, the summer after middle school, I started out small with local organizations, [such as] Seattle Children’s Hospital. I reached out to them and asked if they needed any books, and what age group the books would be for. And then I started to expand from there,” says Liao.
Organizing with an inspiring mission, “A book for every child, a story for every student,” Liao formally founded Book the Future in January 2018. The student-run organization’s dedication to expanding global youth literacy manifests itself through three primary programs: bimonthly book drives to collect and deliver picture books and chapter books to refugee centers, children’s hospitals, schools, orphanages and foster care homes; local events, including writers workshops and read-a-thons; and a digital-format magazine that features written pieces and visual artswork submitted by teens that explore intersections between activism, the arts and storytelling.
Liao is passionate about this work and the importance of connecting children to the life-changing joys of reading. “Speaking from personal experience, growing up I was in the library at least one or two times a week. I always wanted to have my bookshelf full of books. Last summer, I was a mentor at a summer camp specifically for literacy, and the reason that a lot of the kids were there was because they were pretty much unwilling to read, unwilling to write. At the end of the camp, I was really glad that they were more confident about their abilities,” says Liao.
Even children raised in book-loving families can be reluctant readers. How does Liao advise parents to help foster a love of reading in their children? “Set a good example. I know that today’s parents are always on their phones, so kids take after that. I think it’s important for parents to read with their children from the very beginning — just go to the library together and read every night,” she says.
Through her book drives, Liao estimates that she has curated and delivered more than 2,000 books to both local and international organizations, including amassing more than 1,000 books to start a library at a primary school in Ghana through the African Library Project. She has managed this largely on her own, but credits help from fellow Interlake student Sabine Wood and from her mother (who helps her deliver the books, since Liao is too young to drive) for the growth and success of Book the Future.
Liao finds the work to be deeply gratifying and when I ask if she plans to continue it beyond high school, she says, “It’s something that I’m definitely interested in doing later on — just dedicating my life to this cause and ensuring that more children will have access to reading resources.”
To see how your family or organization can help support Liao’s Book the Future mission, visit here.