Maya Smart launches book to educate parents about teaching literacy to young children

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- She's a mother, wife, literacy advocate, and now author who's debuting a new book about how to help parents teach their children literacy at an early age. Tuesday night, Aug. 2, the Maya Smart's book -- titled "Get Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six" -- will launch in Milwaukee.

CBS 58 Anchor Amanda Porterfield sat down with Maya Smart to talk about the book and how it will make an impact on people right here in our hometown.

"This book has been a long time coming," said Smart.

Smart's book is 10 years in the making. It started when her daughter, Zora, was a baby and like most parents, Smart wanted to be the best mother she could be.

"When my daughter was born 10 years ago, I was so fascinated with articles I read about reading disparities among different populations of children. Between Black children and white children, lower socioeconomic children and more well-off children -- digging into that, asking a lot of questions. Excited to be at the point where I have compiled all of that research so that I can compile it in a neat package for other people," said Smart.

The book is just that. It gives concrete examples of simple things parents can do to help their children become active readers, writers and express themselves thoroughly.

"One concrete thing I mention in the book is not just talking to the child, or at the child. One piece of advice when my daughter was a baby was narrate everything, talk about the groceries you're buying, or the food that's on the table, the grass that's outside, all of those things are important. I want people to know that raising a reader isn't just about reading to your child every day, it's also about the conversations you have around those books and it's also about the conversations you have when there are no books in the space," said Smart.

Smart is doing that with her family by her side. Her husband, Shaka Smart, is the head men's basketball coach at Marquette University. Together, the family has been traveling from campus to campus making their dreams come true. They landed in Milwaukee and Maya Smart wrote the book while the family was in lockdown during the pandemic.

"My husband has just been tremendously supportive when I have created those boundaries and say, 'I need this time for me to do this and work on this project.' He has been able to adapt and pick out some of the things I was doing previously…I am very fortunate to have the world's most supportive husband," Smart said.

Smart considers herself to be a literacy advocate and sits on boards supporting the concept, working on educational policy at Marquette's College of Education, where she read the intro to her book which is dedicated to her late father.

"My favorite part of this book is probably the introduction. The introduction, we talk a bit about my dad who passed away when I was pregnant with my daughter. So I had the opportunity to tell him that I was going to have a child but he didn't have the opportunity to meet her," said Smart.

After the launch, the book will be on sale all over the country and available on audiobook, educating new parents everywhere about one of the most important subjects a person can learn -- making her father undoubtedly proud.

"I think he would be extraordinarily proud of me. I have always wanted to be a writer, I have always wanted to write a book it just took me a little longer than I anticipated," Smart said. "The topic was also something I wouldn't have 20 years ago thought I would be writing a book about early literacy, that I would be writing a book for parents. I would have thought that I would be writing a book like a novelist. I was named after Maya Angelou, I named my daughter Zora after Zora Neal Hurston. There may still be a novel in my future but I think there is something really important about raising public awareness."

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