Getting Books into the Hands of Children: Part Two of Three
Dr. Sam Bommarito
“In many low-income households, the priorities are feeding the children and heating the home. Buying books for children is a luxury that few can afford. In the average middle-income neighborhood there are thirteen books for every child. In the average low-income neighborhood there is one book for every 300 children.” taken from the Ready to Learn Website
Last week I left off with the question of how we were introduced to Ready To Learn. Elise Tierney (Executive Director of RTL) and I met when Ready To Learn came to my elementary building while I was teaching in the St. Louis Public schools. After I retired from full time teaching I was reintroduced to Ready To Learn when my local ILA group rented space at the Color Art warehouse in St. Louis. Our ILA group and Ready To Learn were “neighbors” at that warehouse. They gave us many tips that helped us with our Read and Feed project and later with our project centered on distributing “gently used” books. They gladly shared their expertise on how to doctor gently used books into a new life. Here are some pictures highlighting the work of Ready to Learn.
Over the last 6 years, Ready to Learn has distributed over 205,000 books (update- as of Nov 2018 that number is now 1/4 million) to Title 1 qualified schools in the St. Louis area. The first time they came, they gave my building a large stuffed animal, based on the school mascot. That was displayed in the library. That was part of their book buddies program. In that program, students from Pre-K through third grade are each given a book paired with a stuffed animal representing the main character of the book they received. The teachers in my building found that Book Buddies really helped to engage students who have had little or no reading experience. They provided that important first step into the exciting world of books and reading. Reading with their Book Buddies, helped to bring the story to life for our kids.
The Ready to Learn program did not end there. In our building, Elise and her group came back giving children books to all students in my building as part of her Book Day program. She also provided the school with a bookshelf that she promised to keep stocked with books. She did that. Hundreds and hundreds of books were taken home by our students. Every student got at least 6 books during the course of the year. Those books became part of the home libraries for our students. They became the foundation of our work with parents to encourage them to read with and read to their children.
During the book distributions, she also made classroom teachers aware that she could accommodate student needs for students reading well above or well below their grade level placement. Part of my job as the reading specialist in the building was to coordinate the communication between Elise’s group and the classroom teachers. Elise always had adult volunteers who help students as they “book shopped”.
Overall this project is a reading teacher’s dream. If you want to “read more about it” here are links to the Facebook page of Ready To Learn.
Facebook = @readytolearnstl
There is the other St. Louis area organization I want to talk about is the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature. Julius B. Anthony is the president. We first learned of this group through Dr. Betty Porter Walls, an associate professor of reading at Harris Stowe University. Betty is a long time ILA member and a member of both our state and local ILA boards. Because of that contact, Julius and his group presented at one of our local ILA meetings. He also helped this spring at the semi-annual “read-in” held at Harris Stowe University’s preschool.
Being at the November ILA meeting was an amazing experience. Each of the authors talked about their books. The most compelling story of the night was from Mikey Wren, an elementary student, who has sold over 1000 copies of his self-published book. He is slated to receive the Black-Tie Community Award this April for his work as a young entrepreneur. You can read all about him and the work of the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Books Initiative. You’ll find all this and more at their website and Facebook page. I’m also giving you a link to an interview of Julius that appears in the latest issue of the Missouri Reader. 2019 update: Be sure to look at what Julius and his group are doing with the Believe project. The initial site for it was at the Ferguson community center, it has grown considerably since then. Kudos to Julius and the St. Louis Black Authors! Also take a look at this video where Julius is interviewed on our local T.V. station. St. Louis is so blessed to have Julius, his group, and the wonderful work they do. https://www.ksdk.com/article/news/the-believe-project-inspires-children-to-read-more-books-with-diverse-characters/63-acde5bed-f113-4f31-b649-f9e7d1ed9df2
Website = http://stlblackauthors.com/
Facebook = @STLBlackAuthors
Link to Julius B. Anthony’s interview in the Missouri Reader: https://joom.ag/8cML
So…, a lot is happening in Missouri. I hope the example of what is going on in my city and state will give readers of this blog some ideas of things they might try in their own states. Ideas about how to get books. Ideas about how to get them into the hands of the students, especially students in Title 1 buildings. Most importantly, I hope you get ideas on how to motivate students to read. As I said at the outset, I also know there are things like this happening all around the country. I would love to hear from my readers about that. I would love to get comments about what’s going on (and push-back if merited!).
Next time this blog will tackle the issue of research supporting the use of wide reading as an instructional tool.
Happy Reading and Writing
Dr. B (AKA, the book doctor)