headshot of Kari Kurjiaka

Kari Kurjiaka Named Project Director for Diverse Books for All Coalition; Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Joins the Coalition

WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 25, 2023) – Kari Kurjiaka has been named project director for the national Diverse Books for All Coalition. Most recently, Kurjiaka served as senior manager of literacy & external affairs for Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, a founding member of the coalition. In addition, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), a membership organization supporting more than 23,000 children’s book authors, illustrators, and translators in more than 27 countries, has formally joined the coalition.

Launched in October 2022 and spearheaded by the nonprofit social enterprise First Book, the Diverse Books for All Coalition is a collaboration of more than 25 nonprofits and membership organizations from across the U.S. that are working together to tackle the lack of high-quality, affordable children’s books by and about diverse races and cultures. To support educational and racial equity, the Diverse Books for All Coalition is developing collective action designed to double the number of affordable, quality children’s books by and about diverse cultures and races over the next five years. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded First Book with a $1 million, 18-month grant towards the initiative. 

“I’m energized by today’s announcements and what they mean for the coalition,” said Kyle Zimmer, First Book president and CEO. “Kari has been involved with the coalition since day one, co-leading one of the working groups and actively contributing to the coalition’s overall design and development through Reach Out and Read Greater New York. Kari will be instrumental in advancing the work of the coalition, and what will become a new model for collaboration in the social sector.

“It is also particularly meaningful to welcome SCBWI as a formal member of the coalition. Authors,  illustrators, and translators create the wonderful stories that help our children see themselves and others in books, and SCBWI has developed a powerful community of talented members and resources that enable aspiring writers, illustrators , and translators to develop their work, and connect with literary agents and publishers. These are precisely the elements that lead to published works from new voices. It is wonderful to have SCBWI add their support, experience, and ideas.”

Kurjiaka, who started in her new position on Jan. 9, is based at First Book. In her new role, Kurjiaka will guide the coalition’s three working groups, which are focused on collective purchasing to unify and leverage the market power of nonprofits and membership organizations serving children in low-income communities; framing a narrative to promote the importance of diverse books; and ensuring that parents/caregivers have a voice in defining and promoting diverse books and providing educators with support and resources to advocate for diverse books. She will also be responsible for documenting coalition learnings, guiding fundraising strategies, providing grant and project management, and supporting coalition alignment, and impact assessment.

Kurjiaka’s experience includes serving as a program associate with Too Small to Fail, as an AmeriCorps VISTA and executive assistant at United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, and as a preschool and elementary school learning support teacher. She has a degree in early childhood and special education from Elizabethtown College and a master’s in early childhood policy from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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About the Diverse Books for All Coalition

The Diverse Books for All Coalition is a national consortium of nonprofits and membership organizations working together to increase access to affordable, diverse children’s books. The consortium’s priorities include collective purchasing, narrative/message development to underscore the value and benefits of diverse and inclusive representation in books, and resource development to enable educators and parents/caregivers to transform how children, educators and communities access, engage with and benefit from diverse books. 

Coalition members are:  First Book, American Academy of Pediatrics-CA3, Book Harvest, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Heart of America, Home Grown, Jumpstart, The Leaders Readers Network, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Black Child Development Institute, ParentChild+, Parents as Teachers, Raising a Reader, Reach Out and Read, Inc., Reach Out and Read Greater New York, Reach Out and Read Rhode Island, Read On Arizona, Reading Is Fundamental, Room to Read, Save the Children, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Start Early, The American Federation of Teachers, The Patterson Foundation, Too Small to Fail, UnidosUS, We Need Diverse Books, and Zero to Three. 

About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 30-year history, First Book has distributed more than 225 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 550,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books. For more information about First Book, please visit www.firstbook.org.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work, and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.