The Gift That Lasts More Than a Lifetime
By Pam Leo, Family Literacy Activist
“Read to me, please read to me, right from the very start. Just as good food grows my body, good stories grow my brain and heart.” - Excerpt from Please Read To Me

Five years ago, when I read the statistic that 2/3 of the 15.5 million children living in poverty in this country do not own even one book, I realized that meant 10 million children were going to bed every night without a bedtime story. That was unacceptable to me. Even though I knew one person couldn’t do a lot about poverty, I knew I could find a way to get books into the homes of those children. Now, thanks to readers like you, together, we are doing that in Maine every day!

I am beyond excited to announce that 12,300 copies of my new board book, Please Read To Me are being printed just for Maine babies! This could not have happened without a generous grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, the fabulous illustrations donated by Maine illustrators and designers and the support of the WIC program. The books will be distributed through the WIC program, at no cost to families of new babies born in Maine.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This board book has been one of my dreams since I wrote the poem,” Please Read To Me,” five years ago. The board book dream is actually part of a much larger dream. That dream is, that the parents of every new baby in Maine (and someday parents worldwide) will have books to read to their babies so they can give their babies the gift of literacy right from the very start.

It is well documented that babies who are read to from birth have the best foundation for becoming a reader and babies who are not read to are at risk for illiteracy. Illiteracy is a disease of poverty. The way out of poverty is literacy. The currency of literacy is children’s books. If we want babies to be read to, parents need books to read to them. I’m excited that the Book Fairy Pantry Project/Please Read to Me Campaign is now joining the ranks of early literacy programs, like Raising Readers in Maine and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library programs worldwide, by providing brand new books to families from the very beginning.
Learning to read is a human right. In our culture, children who cannot read cannot thrive. Their future standard of living and quality of life will depend on their ability to read. When young children who do have books donate their outgrown, gently-used books to the children who have no books, they are doing social justice work. Children owning their own books should be a right, not a privilege. The mission of the Book Fairy Pantry Project continues to be finding ways to get no-longer-needed books to families who need them, so we can begin to end illiteracy for free.

Our new “Please Read To Me” campaign is yet another way of getting books to families for free and you can help. All royalties from the online sale of Please Read To Me books will be used to print more books each year so that we can continue to supply them to families once the granted-funded books have all been given out. This means that every time you purchase a copy of Please Read To Me, to give as a shower or new baby gift, you will be contributing to making it possible for other babies born in Maine to also receive your everlasting gift of love and literacy.

Though I am the author of the poem, “Please Read To Me,” and it was my dream to see it become a board book, this book has far exceeded that dream and has become a reality through the love, support and generosity of many people. The eight Maine illustrators, some well known, and some soon to be well known, created and donated art that so exquisitely captured the book’s message, this could be a wordless book. Parents who don’t read English will be able to read the pictures. For those parents who may struggle with reading to their babies, we chose a special Dyslexie font to reduce reading barriers.

Please Read To Me contains a special dedication to the “crown jewel of literacy,” Dolly Parton, in recognition of the millions of books she has provided free to children worldwide through her Imagination Library program. Dolly is my role model and a shining example that the love and caring of one person can change the world. When you give books to children you change their lives for good, and when you give board books to the parents of newborns you empower them to raise a reader.

The first copies of Please Read to Me should be arriving in Maine by early October from Pint Size Productions, the only printer of board books in the US. It is our hope that you will join our Please Read To Me campaign by helping us get books to every baby in Maine, because “...only children who can read can thrive and only children who have books can read.”

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."