Marquette Bookshelf: “Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six”

By Maya Payne Smart, affiliated faculty in educational policy and leadership, College of Education

Maya Payne Smart and her book cover for "Reading for our Lives"
“Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Play from Birth to Six” is available Tuesday, Aug. 2, from Avery.

“Reading for Our Lives” challenges the bath-book-bed mantra and the idea that reading aloud to our kids is enough to ensure school readiness. Instead, it gives parents easy, immediate, and accessible ways to nurture language and literacy development from the start. Through personal stories, historical accounts, scholarly research and practical tips, this book presents the life-and-death urgency of literacy, investigates inequity in reading achievement and illuminates a path to a true, transformative education for all.

Learn more or purchase this book at Amazon

Maya Payne Smart answered some questions about her new book, including her favorite part of the writing process, the origins of the idea for “Reading for Our Lives” and how it complements her work with childhood literacy.

How would you describe the book in one sentence?

“Reading for Our Lives” makes the case to parents that raising a thriving reader isn’t a given—and shows them exactly how to do it, based on the latest, cutting-edge science.

What was your favorite part of the writing/editing process?

I enjoyed the challenge of translating lots of dense academic research into compelling stories, clear insights and specific advice for parents. Discovering and sharing what really matters for children’s learning trajectories is a joy.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

When I was a new mom, I was dismayed by news reports of cripplingly low reading achievement among Black students. Coverage described vast numbers of children who were labeled “behind” from the moment they arrived in school and considered beyond help by the end of elementary school. That didn’t sit well with me, so I got curious about what exactly needed to happen to help parents set kids up for success. What I learned made me realize how badly this message needs to get out to all parents.

Is this your first book? What is your publishing history?

I’ve worked in business and education journalism for 20 years, penning hundreds of articles for local and global audiences. “Reading for Our Lives,” my first book, gave me the opportunity to reveal an urgent national literacy crisis to parents and document the critical role they can play in turning it around. I’m excited to share its message of responsibility, capability and hope.

What do you hope to accomplish with this book?

Resolving America’s reading crisis will require transformation at the personal and policy levels. Individual parents must grow their knowledge, patience, and consistency to impart the early skills and experiences kids need to thrive. Government, in turn, must bolster investment in families in the pivotal early years of kids’ life and learning. I hope “Reading for Our Lives” will equip parents to nurture their children’s reading from the start and inspire them to advocate for major public investment in families, too. Exceptional paid parental leave after childbirth, tax credits for families with young children and the provision of high-quality, affordable childcare won’t materialize unless parents and their allies demand it. And those are the kinds of policies that make it possible for every family to raise readers.

How does this book advance or complement your research and/or teaching?

There’s a notorious years-long time lag between when a finding is generally accepted among the scientific community and when related practices are widely implemented by teachers (let alone parents). My work focuses on translating reading research for lay audiences so that families can do what the evidence supports now—before it’s too late for a generation of kids. My website,, publishes new book lists, literacy activities and other free family resources weekly to help parents play their dual roles as children’s first teachers and educational advocates.

If you have recently published a book, or if you have one coming out, we would like to feature your publication in an upcoming Marquette Bookshelf feature. More information on the submission process is available online.

Book Details

  • Publisher:Avery (August 2, 2022)
  • Language:English
  • Hardcover:240 pages
  • ISBN-10:0593332172
  • ISBN-13:978-0593332177