Wyoming Reads puts books in students’ hands

Victoria O’Brien

First graders in Greybull celebrated Wyoming Reads Day on Tuesday, May 15, at the Greybull Public Library in partnership with the Greybull Elementary School Library. First graders from Mrs. Otto and Mr. Carney’s classes met at the library to listen to a story and hear about the library’s summer programming, which will be held each Wednesday in June. Afterwards, Wende Jenness, the Greybull Elementary Librarian, presented students with a book of their choice from the Wyoming Reads list and was one of many literacy celebrations occurring across the state after Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill into law in March, which marked the third Tuesday in May, “Wyoming Reads Day.” The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Art Washut, was introduced during the 2024 Wyoming Legislative budget session, at the end of the Wyoming Reads 25th Anniversary year.
The literacy program began after Sue Jorgensen died in a car crash in 1996 and left behind her husband, John, and their five young children.
“When Sue passed away, we had some memorial money left,” John told the Casper Star-Tribune in a 2018 interview. “Our five children went to Woods Learning Center and they had a really sub-standard library.” To honor his late wife, who was a literacy expert and advocate, John decided to donate money to improve Woods’s library selection.
“Judy Neal from the Woods staff helped provide some titles for us, and we gave a hardback book to each student there,” he said. “Then we thought, ‘Well, could we do it for the county?’”
Over the years, the program expanded and now provides books to every first grader in the state during its annual reading and book events at local libraries. In 2024, over 8,000 hardback books were purchased and distributed to first graders. Over 1,500 adult volunteers were expected to organize roughly 35 events across the state.