by Lydia Zhang
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Grossman
She started an organization called “Spread the Words,” which helps others start libraries. She has collected thousands of books from the community and stands as a role model for a generation that aspires to be more literate and educated.
Sophomore Tatiana Grossman is the first adolescent from the United States to be named a finalist for the International Children’s Peace Prize. The peace prize nominates four finalists each year and is, according to Grossman, like a version of the Nobel Peace Prize that specifically rewards young people for the charity that they do. Chris Bradshaw, the founder of African Library Project (AFP), nominated Grossman for the renowned prize. “When Tatiana did her book drive, she started more libraries than any other individual book drive organizers that we have ever had,” Bradshaw said. “This included adults, and she was only 12 at the time. We thought that was pretty amazing.”
Her involvement started in middle school, when Grossman had begun to donate books as a part of her Bat Mitzvah. “I was really shy in seventh grade and I didn’t have many friends, so it was a big step out of my comfort zone to ask people for help,” Grossman said. Grossman, despite her shyness, set up a book stand for people to donate books, and then collected and shipped all of the books received. “Right now I go to the Friends of Palo Alto Library Book Sale,” Grossman said. “They have a lot of books for really cheap so I go and come out with bags of books.”
Since then, Grossman has collected books to make libraries in Africa, and has been inspiring others to do so as well. “For the past three years, her room has been full of books headed to Africa,” Bradshaw said. She has been working with the AFP, which partners prospective organizers with specific libraries and deals with sending the books to the partners in other countries.
After contributing enough books to serve two libraries in Botswana and one in Lesotho, Grossman was welcomed by the children who visited the libraries often. “I went to Africa in eighth grade to go visit the libraries that I helped make, and they were both in schools, and they were really happy to see me and they were using their books every day and going to the library after school,” Grossman said. “I saw that in some of their classrooms they didn’t have any books except for the ones that I had shipped. I actually recognized some of the books that I have shipped.” Grossman’s work inspired others, who created more libraries that are spread over different countries. “During the course of her book drive, she inspired a lot of others to start their own book drives,” Bradshaw said. “She got a lot of press.”
While in Africa, Grossman also spoke at the International Literacy Conference to emphasize the importance of literacy in a country’s growth and sucess. During her speech, she moved much of the audience. “She almost brought them to tears,” Bradshaw said.
Her passion for collecting books sprouts from her own love of reading. Grossman believes that it changes countries for the better. “I know how important it is to everyone, but without literacy there is no education and there are no jobs,” Grossman said. “Because of my efforts, maybe some of the kids will be able to graduate and get good jobs, whereas they couldn’t have before.”
Grossman hopes to expand her efforts even further. “I can see myself continuing to collect books for libraries and maybe continue even more work in other areas,” she said. “I’m not quite sure but I’m definitely going to have this as a part of my future.”
Grossman encourages others to create an impact on the world for the better, believing that even students can make a difference in their communities and elsewhere. “I encourage people to do whatever they can for the world,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be about literacy, just whatever you feel strongly about that affects the world in a good way.” Bradshaw agrees. “Most kids have no clue how powerful their voices are when they’re working on behalf on others,” she said. “But Tatiana’s work is tremendously touching.”
People that would like to help out can talk to Grossman or visit http://spreadthewords.us/Home.html.