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Free Florida Reading Program Partners with Local Fifth Grader and Inspiring Professionals to Boost State Literacy Rates

The New Worlds Reading Initiative is encouraging families to embrace the power of reading this National Reading Month and beyond—and more than 500,000 FL K-5 students are eligible to receive free books!


Parents and guardians can apply for their child to participate in New Worlds Reading today!

In an effort to boost the state’s literacy rates and encourage kids to explore their passions, this National Reading Month, the New Worlds Reading Initiative is giving Florida families an inside look—through the lens of one curious fifth grader—into how reading catalyzed three local professionals to follow their dreams.

In Florida, there are more than 500,000 eligible K-5th grade students in public and district-sponsored charter schools who are not yet reading on grade level. A first-of-its-kind statewide literacy program, New Worlds Reading received bipartisan support in the Florida legislature and was created to tackle this issue by delivering free books and reading activities directly to the doorsteps of eligible K-5th grade students. Enrolled students receive a book each month during the school year, with an additional three bonus books for this year! Since the launch of New Worlds Reading in October 2021, the program has shipped more than two million books. 

National Reading Month is a chance to showcase how reading shapes who we become. Launching this month, the New Worlds Reading ’Reading Shapes Passions’ series follows 10-year-old Saoirse Elizabeth from Tampa as she interviews three Florida professionals and provides an inside look into the roles reading played in their career paths. ’Reading Shapes Passions’ will show families how reading can transform lives in incredible ways. The series will kick off on March 20 with new videos posted through March 31 on the New Worlds Reading YouTubeFacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn channels. 

“Since New Worlds Reading’s launch, we’ve had the opportunity to serve over 200,000 students across Florida school districts, and we’re just getting started,” said Dr. Shaunté Duggins, Assistant Director, New Worlds Reading. “By highlighting three local professionals—an aerospace engineer, veterinary technician, and author— this National Reading Month, we can continue to inspire Florida children to explore their passions and interests through reading. We encourage more families of striving K-5th grade readers to apply for their child to participate in New Worlds Reading today!” 

The three professionals featured in the New Worlds Reading Initiative ’Reading Shapes Passions’ series include:  

  • Joan Melendez Misner, Orlando, FL: Joan is an Aerospace Integration Engineer at the Kennedy Space Center who was inspired by books to dream big. She uses her large following on Instagram and TikTok platforms to get young people excited about STEM. 
  • Regina Y. Walden, Winter Haven, FL: Regina is a children’s book author and reading and ESL instructor at Winter Haven Senior High School. Regina strives to write books kids love. 
  • Alicia Zicchino, Tampa, FL: Alicia is a certified veterinary technician. Reading nonfiction books about animals as a child encouraged Alicia to pursue her career, which led her to Quail Hollow Animal Hospital in Wesley Chapel, FL and even included zookeeping.

New Worlds Reading is designed to foster ongoing, positive connections among families, schools, and communities around a shared mission of ensuring all children learn to read. 

“I am so excited to partner with New Worlds Reading for the ’Reading Shapes Passions’ series to motivate Florida students,” said Misner. “The Magic School Bus book about outer space was my favorite as a kid and it allowed me to open my imagination. It made me realize that I can really be anything I want to be in life, even an aerospace engineer.” 

New Worlds Reading is a statewide program administered by the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, which researches, develops, and scales equitable educational innovations that put all learners on trajectories for lifelong success. Book lists are developed in collaboration with the Florida Department of Education’s Just Read! Florida office. The UF Lastinger Center has partnered with Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books. The new Scholastic warehouse in Sanford, Florida supports the UF Lastinger Center by procuring and delivering free books to Florida students – students like seven-year-old Langston Harvey from the Tampa-area who is enrolled in New Worlds Reading. 

“This program has just enhanced his joy for reading and learning,” said Naja Harvey, Langston’s mom. “He gets excited when a package comes for him in the mail. The program has provided another great way to amplify family bonding.” 

For more information and to apply, visit Watch the ’Reading Shapes Passions’ videos on YouTube and follow the program on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or LinkedIn to follow the series.

About The New Worlds Reading Initiative

The New Worlds Reading Initiative is Florida’s free at-home literacy program for K-5 students in public and charter schools who are not yet reading on grade level. Each month, eligible kids receive a free book tailored to their interests with resources and activities for caregivers and children to engage with books together to bolster literacy skills, build reading confidence, and foster a lifelong love of reading. The UF Lastinger Center for Learning administers the program and selected Scholastic as a partner. Books are selected in collaboration with the Florida Department of Education, and are available in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and braille. For more information, visit

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