For immediate release | April 2, 2024

Wendy Gassaway receives AASL Innovative Reading Grant

CHICAGO – Wendy Gassaway, school librarian at Alder Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, is the recipient of the 2024 American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Innovative Reading Grant. Sponsored by Capstone, the $2,500 grant supports the planning and implementation of a unique and innovative program for children that motivates and encourages reading, especially with struggling readers.

Gassaway’s project, “Making Audiobooks Count for Reading,” will address the high number of students unable to read grade-level texts and introduce them to the joy of good literature. At Alder Elementary, a school with over 20 different languages spoken and data showing only 5% of students are reading at or above grade level, Gassaway will use the grant funds to connect the youngest readers with books at their level and build excitement about reading. As Gassaway notes, “Research shows that audiobooks build background knowledge and vocabulary, model fluent reading, and increase comprehension. Listening to audiobooks also gives the benefits of traditional reading, such as expanding empathy and emotional intelligence, as well as welcoming students into the community of readers.”

“The committee was struck by the consideration, application, and replicability of this project,” said Cynthia Zervos, committee chair. “Gassaway, who had already jump-started this project by purchasing devices using personal funds, is addressing a critical need by providing students with portable devices that don’t require connectivity, something many families are not able to afford.” Zervos continues, “initially focusing on a targeted group, collecting data pre- and post-implementation, and connecting students to the public library the committee is excited to see the results and for Wendy to share this project so that other school librarians can replicate with their struggling readers.”

“School librarians have the opportunity to look for solutions outside the classroom curriculum to address learning needs in the school. Gassaway saw a growing literacy need in her elementary building and found a way through making special resources available in their school library to not only build literacy skills but to encourage a love of reading," said AASL President Courtney Pentland. “To see a need and not only seek out a solution but to thoughtfully prepare a proposal based on specific demographics in the school shows exactly how powerful a resource and advocate for learners a certified school librarian can be.”

The AASL award winners will be recognized during the 2025 AASL National Conference taking place October 16-19 in St. Louis, Missouri.

The American Association of School Librarians,, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.

Capstone is the nation’s leading educational publisher of K-5 digital solutions, children’s books, and literacy programs for school libraries, classrooms, and at-home reading. Through print books, interactive eBooks, or the curriculum-connected learning tool PebbleGo™, Capstone has a passion for inspiring students to learn and their communities to thrive. As a publisher of content for children, Capstone embraces the responsibility to celebrate and share the diverse voices and perspectives of our readers and communities. Capstone supports great teaching and learning with engaging content that values the work that educators do every day—helping students succeed. #LearningIsForEveryone


Allison Cline

Deputy Executive Director

American Association of School Librarians (AASL)