Today marks the launch of a new campaign to raise awareness of the literacy needs of children from low-income families. Washington-based First Book—a nonprofit organization that partners with schools and community programs to distribute new books to needy children and teens—is preparing to give away its 100-millionth book in November.
In honor of that milestone, the organization has created a list of 10 books every child should own and is inviting supporters to vote online to determine which of those titles should be given away as the 100 millionth. Voting begins today, Oct. 31.
More than 40,000 local schools and community programs are already signed up for First Book's book-distribution program, which works in two ways. The first is the First Book Marketplace, a website where eligible programs can purchase new books from a list of 3,000 titles offered at discounted prices of up to 90 percent off retail. This distribution method is made possible by the organization's close working relationship with publishers who share its goal of reaching schools and programs that typically are unable to afford books, according to Brian Minter, First Book's director of communications, who sent written responses to questions posed by BookMarks.
The second method is the organization's National Book Bank program, the nation's only clearinghouse for book donations directly from publishers, according to Minter. Last year alone the organization was able to donate more than 9 million books through the program.
Input from teachers and program leaders is crucial for First Book's selection of titles for both distribution methods, according to Becki Last, the organization's vice president of engagement.
"We strongly believe that those closest to the children we serve know best what will get them most excited about reading and learning," Last wrote in an email. "We therefore set up both of our distribution systems to support this philosophy."
"We work with over 40,000 teachers and program leads across the country, and frequently hear from them which books and types of books they need to raise the quality of education in their classrooms and programs," Last said. Based on the input provided by these educators, paraeducators, and community program leaders, First Books has incorporated titles that deal with such themes as anti-bullying and healthy living, as well as high-interest/low-level books, books that support Common Core, and bilingual books, according to Last.
Reaching schools and programs has been the toughest challenge for the organization, according to Minter.
"It's hard work reaching all those teachers and program leaders across the country to let them know that we're here and we have books for them and their kids," Minter said. "So we encourage all educators who work with kids in need to sign up with First Book. We have books for you, too!"
Last estimates that there are more than 1.2 million programs and teachers serving kids from low-income families who could use the help that the organization provides. "So we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of serving this deserving community," Last said. "We are therefore actively trying to expand our network."
Teachers and paraeducators who work with Title I programs or Title I-eligible schools automatically qualify for First Book, according to Last, and are invited to register with the organization.
Voting for the organization's 100-millionth book title will continue through Nov. 9, and the winner will be announced Nov. 15 at Martha's Table, a Washington nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless and low-income children. First Book has a long history with Martha's Table—the founder, Kyle Zimmer, came up with the idea for First Book while volunteering there—and children at the program will receive their own copies of the winning book.
While First Book's model is slightly different from other literacy programs, it works closely with such programs as Reading Is Fundamental, Reach Out and Read, and Jumpstart to help children from low-income families. According to Zimmer, who is also the company's president and chief executive officer, they are all "soldiers in the same army," helping needy children get their hands on books of their own.
Image courtesy of First Book