St. Louis is blessed with many non-profit organizations whose goal is to help families and individuals with the most need. Among those organizations is Operation Food Search. According to their website https://www.operationfoodsearch.org/ they distribute more than 35 million dollars’ worth of food and necessities to 330 community partners in 31 Missouri and Illinois counties. They feed 8,500 school age children in the St. Louis region. Our local and state ILA groups first found out about this organization through local media and from our friends at Ready To Learn http://readytolearnstl.org/our-programs/. One thing led to another and we contacted Operation Food Search to see if they would be interested in distributing books for children. We thought that food trucks going into neighborhood in North St. Louis could bring along books for the kids as well as food for the families. Staff at Operation Food Search agreed this would be an innovative idea. This month our state and local ILA groups donated two full pallets of gently used children’s books to OFS. Volunteers from OFS learned the tricks of becoming “book doctors”. As a result, this summer those books will be in the hands of children in North St. Louis.
The statistics comparing availability of books in the poorest urban areas are grim. In earlier blog posts I pointed out that the website for Ready To Learn reported a huge disparity between the number of books in the homes of children in the poorest area and those in more affluent areas. They said:
“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.”
I also reported that several organizations in St. Louis are working on this problem. The St. Louis Black Authors Initiative http://stlblackauthors.com/ has the goal of distributing 1000 book boxes to families in the St. Louis region. Over the past few years Ready to Learn has distributed over 200,000 books to children in St. Louis. Our local and state ILA groups have distributed thousands more to children in Title One schools throughout the region. The recent donation to Operation Food Search is the latest chapter in that saga.
This coming Monday Glenda Nugent co-editor of the Missouri Reader and myself are attending the OFS Summer Launch. Glenda will talk briefly about the importance of reading and how to help families make literacy a part of their everyday lives. Here is the current draft of what she will have to say. She begins with a quote from the world-renowned children’s author Mem Fox. She then talks about the benefits of wide reading and gives some tips on how to help parents support their child’s literacy efforts.
“When I say to a parent, “read to a child”, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.”
Mem Fox is a world-renowned children’s author, who has written books for children of all ages. Her advice about reading is well worth considering. Why is reading so important for our children? How can we help to make reading something children want to do rather than something they have to do? How can we encourage our children to become life-long readers and learners? Let’s talk briefly about the answers to these questions
There are many experts in the field of reading who extol the benefits of wide reading. Mary Howard, Laura Robb, Evan Robb and Dr. Molly Ness are among them. All of them indicate that these benefits are most likely to come when we provide children a variety of books and give them the choice of the books they select. Citing current research, Beers and Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking outline what some of these benefits are. They found students:
- Build Knowledge
- Improve Achievement
- Increase Motivation
- Increase Writing
- Develop Empathy
- Develop Personal Identity
How much reading is enough to make a difference? Burkins and Yaris found as little as 10 minutes more reading a day can make significant differences. See the details about all this in the informational handouts we are providing for this gathering.
What can we do to help parents help their children become better readers? We are providing you with some handouts with tips for parents. These include:
- Have regular reading times (the bedtime story!)
- Talk to your children about books they read.
- Encourage them to shop authors and shop topics. Let them choose books based on their interests.
- Provide books for them and bring them to their local libraries. Take advantage of the summer reading programs at local libraries
- Don’t be afraid to read aloud to them, and to share reading aloud with them.
When it comes to caring, parents from urban areas are no different from any other parents. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the work of the Village of Moms. Village of Moms is a new organization in St. Louis. It focuses on literacy empowerment and educational success in our African American community in the Saint Louis region. They established The Reading Village. The Reading Village will provide a safe place to learn and grow. It will make a variety of books available to our St. Louis children. Members of our state & local ILA will be attending their kickoff event in June. We will provide almost 1000 gently used books for their project.
It truly does take the whole village to raise the child. St. Louis is so fortunate to have organizations like our International Literacy Association groups, the St. Louis Black Authors Initiative, Ready to Learn and Village of Moms. All of them are serious about getting books into the hands of our children. We are so excited the Operation Food Search has decided to join in that effort as well. I hope this brief presentation helps you to see why reading is so important.
Last week in this blog Dr. Kerns talked about the importance of collaboration. The various organizations in St. Louis are learning about the importance and benefits of collaboration every day. I know the St. Louis region in not alone in such work. I would love to hear about other places and about how other regions are promoting literacy and getting more books into the hands of children. Until next time this is Dr. Sam signing off!
Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. literacy supporter who gets by with a little help from his friends)
Link to handouts mentioned in this presentation: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Z89U3kGVz4Q7RGioKeE3Iq7wlU1bWF78
The graphic by Trish Hutchings is used with permission. I gratefully acknowledge her willingness to share her graphic.