Using Adventure to Promote Literacy

May 4, 2015 | Education, Features, Philanthropy Journal

Through the Youth Exploration Society and Travels with Gannon & Wyatt, Keith Hemstreet and Patti Wheeler encourage young people to read and write with confidence, while teaching valuable lessons about world geography, cultures and the environment.

By Jordan Smith

Keith Hemstreet and Patti Wheeler, co-founders of the Youth Exploration Society (Y.E.S.) and co-authors of Travels with Gannon & Wyatt, emphasize adventure to promote literacy. The impact of Y.E.S. and Travels with Gannon & Wyatt stems from the connection that a child feels with a great adventure story: “If a child truly connects with a book, the author has the ability to pass on valuable knowledge to the reader by adding, in a subtle way, an educational component to the story,” says Hemstreet. Their mission is to encourage young people to read and write with confidence, drawing them in with the adventure theme while teaching children valuable lessons about world geography, cultures and the environment.

Both Hemstreet and Wheeler were influenced by journaling from a young age. Hemstreet read the works of famous explorers while Wheeler’s mother, an avid traveler, chronicled her own travels for 80 years. Many of the famous explorers that Hemstreet read about were members of the Royal Geographical Society, a society founded in 1830 whose early focus was on colonial exploration and geographical education.  It was this society that gave the co-authors the idea to create a similar fictitious entity in their adventure series, Y.E.S. Travels with Gannon and Wyatt

In March, they launched Ireland, their fifth installment of Travels with Gannon & Wyatt, an educational series for elementary and middle-school aged children that Hemstreet describes as “the Hardy Boys meets Indiana Jones.” Y.E.S. was originally imagined as a fictitious entity within the Travels with Gannon & Wyatt series. This version of Y.E.S. was an organization that the story’s explorers could submit their field notes to and then host lectures at upon their return. Membership in Y.E.S. would lend credibility to the fictional explorers within the series. After having a friend design a logo to include in the books, the concept of Y.E.S. became real. Hemstreet and Wheeler decided this fictitious entity could do a lot of good for young people as a real world nonprofit.

The primary goal of the Youth Exploration Society is to encourage young people to begin their own global journey of learning and self-discovery that will help unveil a child’s passions and inspire them to do their part to make the world a better place.

In their dedication to literacy, Y.E.S. has donated 15,000 books to children nation-wide so far. They will continue their literacy campaign which not only donates books, but also arranges authors to visits schools and libraries. In addition, their flagship program is the Y.E.S. Passport Reading Program for elementary schools. This curriculum will distribute passports to elementary school students who can then add stickers that look like stamps as they finish different reading and writing challenges.

Y.E.S. is still a relatively new nonprofit having just launched the first phase of their website,, which currently contains photos from around the world, inspirational quotes, and information on every country in the world organized by their flags.

Hemstreet and Wheeler are also developing a blog, more photos, and a list of books Y.E.S. wants to share with their young readers. Hemstreet and Wheeler quote Mark Twain to sum up why it is important that young people experience adventure through travel narratives, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” They believe a good book can have a similar impact to actually traveling, exposing children to other countries, while educating and inspiring them to become champions of conservation and to grow up with an understanding and tolerance of other people and cultures.

Jordan Smith is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at NC State.

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