Code Read Girl with Book
Code Read: Bridging the Literacy Gap, One Book at a Time

Code Read provides new books to young people who may not have access to books at home. The organization was born out of a love of books, founded by one amazing teenager, then 15-year-old Mackenzie Krestul. The story of Code Read, in fact, is as inspiring as the work it carries out on behalf of children.

Promoting the literacy has been a focus of our small grants program from its very inception. Like a baby who must crawl before he can walk, so too, children must acquire fluency in reading, before they can learn, for example, history, geography, and STEM subjects. That makes getting books to young children, crucial. Research tells us that kids having their own books at home, is first foremost, the most effective way to get them reading, and that is exactly what Code Read is all about.

We put some questions to Code Read VP Amanda Krestul, mother of Mackenzie, to find out more about the important work of Code Read:

Kars4Kids: Tell us about your demographic. Who benefits from the work of Code Read?

Amanda Krestul: Code Read serves students in need through partnerships with Title I schools, the Department of Child and Family Services, LA-Family Housing, and the YMCA, along with many local organizations.

Child looks at book at book fair

Kars4Kids: What’s the story behind Code Read? Who founded this initiative and why?

Amanda Krestul: Code Read was founded eight years ago by Mackenzie Krestul, a student and avid bookworm with as much passion for serving their community as they have for reading. With the support of their family, they launched Code Read with the goal of bridging the literacy gap by providing new books to students with limited access. Studies show that having books at home correlates directly with reading scores, but for many families, books are a luxury, with nearly 61% of low income families having no books at all at home. We believe that books should be a right, not a privilege. All students deserve access to grade-level books at home that reflect their interests and experiences, books which will create lifelong learners with a love for reading.

MacKenzie Krestul
Mackenzie Krestul

Kars4Kids: Why is it important for kids to own books? Isn’t a membership in a public library enough?

Amanda Krestul: Many of the communities we serve lack easy access to libraries, and those libraries tend to be severely underfunded. But beyond that, we believe the experience of choosing a book to keep forever is meaningful, and has a lasting impact for our students. For many, it’s the first book of their own they’ve ever owned, and there’s always a chorus of excited gasps and when the students hear that the books are theirs, to keep forever.

Cute girl shows off book

Kars4Kids: How does Code Read work, exactly?

Amanda Krestul: The program starts with a kickoff video, where the students are chosen to be a part of Code Read’s “Super-Secret-Top-Secret Mission” to give homes to every book. Teachers assign all the new secret agents their own missions, often reading logs or other student-specific goals, through which students earn “Book Bucks” to use at our free book fair (however, “Book Bucks” are only symbolic, and the challenges, a way to engage students in the program and get them excited to read). All students, regardless of how their missions go, receive two or more new books, a book bag, and a bookmark.

Kars4Kids: Can you talk about your impact? How many books have you distributed until now?

Amanda Krestul: Since 2016 we’ve distributed over 60,000 new books to students in need, with teachers reporting that nearly 100% of their students showing improved test scores, engagement in class, and excitement for reading.

Code Read boy with book

Kars4Kids: In addition to distributing books, you give the kids book bags and bookmarks, too. Can you talk about that? Why did you decide to add these book-related items to your offerings?

Amanda Krestul: Book bags and bookmarks help create excitement and interest around books, and also give the students tools they can use beyond our program.

Krestul sister packs book bag

Kars4Kids: We understand you’re trying to raise money for a bookmobile. Can you tell us about that? What kind of vehicle are you hoping to purchase? How far are you from reaching your goal? How will the bookmobile further the work of Code Read?

Amanda Krestul: We’re hoping to purchase an electric van, and rolling bookshelves that can be attached inside and pulled out for events. Having a bookmobile would increase Code Read’s accessibility, allowing us to hold free distributions anywhere for anyone, expanding our reach to more children in need.

3 girls look at books

Kars4Kids: Code Read is clearly a family project. Tell us about that, if you would. Why is the issue of youth literacy close to the heart of the Krestul family?

Amanda Krestul: We’ve always been a family of avid readers, Mackenzie in particular has always been very passionate about books and writing. We’ve also always stressed the importance of community engagement, and when reading brought the issue of youth literacy to our attention we were immediately pulled to action. Thus, Code Read was born, with the goal of bridging the literacy gap by ensuring all students have books at home.

Kars4Kids: The Code Read motto is “Changing the world one book at a time.” Can you expand on that for us? How does one book change the world, from your perspective?

Amanda Krestul: It only takes one book with the right story to inspire creativity, curiosity, and compassion for the world around you. If even one student has walked away from our book fair set on the path of a lifelong learner, then our efforts are all worthwhile.

book fair code read

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Code Read?

Amanda Krestul: In addition to working towards our bookmobile, Code Read plans to donate over 7,000 books by the end of 2024.