Once Upon a Time club promotes reading opportunities for children

The ASU student-led club helps children in low-income communities develop reading comprehension skills at home

Many children are missing out on face-to-face experiential learning experiences with schools moving to online education, such as giving dedicated time to read. 

To keep reading accessible to all children, ASU students founded Once Upon a Time, a club that offers educational resources and support to improve reading comprehension in elementary school students. 

Research shows that children from low-income areas often have lower access to books and libraries, impacting their ability to develop essential reading skills. Now that many students are learning from home, the club is working to provide students in need with books and videos of students reading aloud. 

Sabrina Taher, a junior studying psychology and co-president of the club, said the purpose of creating Once Upon a Time was to keep students engaged with reading. 

“We want to encourage children, especially young children, to dive into a more creative side and get more involved with reading,” Taher said. 

For children to learn to read on their own time, the organization created YouTube videos on various stories, like "The Tales of Peter Rabbit."

Sahara Rahman, a junior studying biological sciences and co-president of the club, said it is developing a reading program to house more stories for parents, teachers and children to use.

“We are working on getting up other books in various categories by going by grade levels,” Rahman said. 

Rahman said volunteers from the club record themselves reading the books aloud and those recordings are uploaded to the club's website for people to access on their own time. 

“In the video as well, there are pre-questions, intermission questions and post questions that really get the kids (engaging with) the video, thinking about the problem in the story and what the book is based off on,” Rahman said. 

Valerie Flores, a lecturer at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and faculty advisor for the club, said another purpose of creating the videos was to help children manage their emotions. 

“It’s been a really hard time for kids, either being remote in their schooling or going into school with masks on and it’s kind of a confusing time,” Flores said. 

Flores said she and the team are adding more books that focus on tackling issues like diversity and race.

The club is also working on holding a book drive called Project Storybook by partnering with local organizations, such as the Changing Hands Bookstore, and collecting GoFundMe donations to raise money for books to give to children.

Flores said Once Upon a Time has raised nearly $3,000 to bring books to children and lower-income communities.

“Our main goal is to cater to populations who have little to no books access because there’s been studies that having less books at home can negatively impact your reading comprehension,” Rahman said. 

Flores said the team is in the process of building free libraries where people can exchange books within their communities. 

“This is really trying to fuel that passion for reading among children who wouldn’t necessarily have their own books that they own at home,” Flores said.

Flores said the turnaround time transitioning from in-person to virtual learning allowed the club to plan many projects.

“Since May, we have been able to put all of this together and raise money and actually make an impact on lower-income communities within the Valley,” Flores said. “I think the hope is that there’s just a little bit of a greater appreciation for books.”

Nazya Patwoary, a junior studying psychology and co-president of the organization, said working with Once Upon a Time and reading books in the videos reminds her of her own passion for literature. 

“Opening each of the books and reading the pages out loud, it really brought me back,” Patwoary said. “I feel as though I have been a bit more in a positive mood.” 

Reach the reporter at anatar12@asu.edu or follow @AnushaNat1 on Twitter.

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