(CNN)When Selah Thompson came home from her first day of kindergarten in 2017, she was sad that a portion of her classmates did not know how to read. She immediately knew she needed to do something.
This 8-year-old is on a mission to give away 2 million books to underprivileged kids
"She said that a lot of her new friends at school didn't know their ABCs," Selah's father, Khalil Thompson, told CNN. "We used it as a teachable moment to explain that different kids come from different backgrounds."
This is when Selah, then 5 years old, challenged her father and mother, Nicole Thompson, with a proposal they could not turn down. She requested that they give away 2 million books to children.
So her parents began to do some research to find out the root of the problem and the ways they could best help.
They soon discovered the literacy epidemic that exists here in America as they shared statistics found from the nonprofit organization Literacy Inc. that said 85% of juveniles in the juvenile prison system were functionally illiterate and that two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
"All these crazy statistics for literacy blew our minds," said Khalil Thompson. "The statistics said some prisons forecast the number of prison cells they are going to build in the future based off of third grade reading test scores."
Selah, now 8 years old, and her family created The Empowered Readers Literacy Project, a non-profit aimed at helping families build strong reading rituals and getting kids excited about books.
In 2018, more than 2,400 children and parents attended the project's first event, a march for literacy in Atlanta.
"We realized that a lot of people felt this way," said Khalil Thompson. "Illiteracy was the origin point of so many problems and if we could just focus on fixing that, then we could have a real impact."
They defined the main issue was that very little representation of characters of color are in children's books.
"Children are not excited about reading when they do not see themselves on the pages of the book," Nicole Thompson told CNN. "That is when that representation component really came in for us."
Selah had been noticing that hardly any characters in the stories she was reading looked like her and had started developing "Penelope the Pirate Princess," where the main character looked like her and shared her passion for learning about outer space and science.
Most parents would not believe that a young child was serious about publishing a book, but Selah persisted and her parents began to realize the impact a story like this would have