At 46, Wanda Steward was illiterate and wanting to change her lot in life. Within a year, Steward was a published children's book author.
When Southwest Philadelphia resident Wanda Steward was in high school, the then teenager was a D student who did not take her high school academics seriously. Having her first child at 18 did not help things. She had to drop out of school because there was no one to look after her child.
So, Steward left school without learning how to read. “I would just put medicine in the cup, and give it to the baby and just pray that I did it right,” said Steward, who has five children.
Her inability to read made life hard for her children. At one point, Steward was on Welfare and her home was freezing. She knew she had to change something. After working serval jobs that did not pan out, Steward got a job at Destination Maternity scanning garments.
When she had to take a written test for a new skill at the job, it was nearly impossible.
“All I could think about was, ‘I’m not getting any younger.’ I was desperate. It got to me,” said Steward.
This is when Steward reached out for help. She was directed to the nonprofit Center for Literacy where she took classes to improve her reading and writing skills. The program recommended Steward to the global literacy campaign, Project Literacy, where she turned many of her stories into the children's book The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong.
From there she met actor Idris Elba, who serves as a spokesman for Project Literacy, who narrated her book.
“He said he really believed in me,” said Steward. “He explained that he had problems reading, too. He said he really liked the book.”
Through the ups and downs, Steward's book came from pure determination and resolve.
The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong is available for download. In the mean time, enjoy storytime with Idris Elba.