By Pam Leo

I once met a sparkly bright one-and-a-half-year-old girl whose grandmother, my new neighbor, told me that her granddaughter takes a board book to bed with her every night instead of a stuffie. As I got to know her, I became enchanted with that wee “reader” and her giant love of books. Soon I was giving her grandmother board books for her. I would always ask, “How’s that book baby of yours?” Book baby, a term of my affection for her, became my special name for her. She has since moved away but her special name stayed with me. Now, whenever I give out a board book to parents and their baby or toddler immediately reaches for the book and begins turning pages, I know I’ve met another “book baby.”

If we are going to continue raising readers in Maine without the benefit of the Raising Readers free tote bags of books at birth, we must find as many ways as we can, to provide as many parents as we can, with free board books. Why? Because book babies become readers. Whenever I say to parents, “Oh, I see you have a book baby!” without exception, they proudly say, “Oh yes, he l-o-v-e-s his books, we’ve been reading to him every day since he was born.” And THAT is precisely how we grow book babies. It is that simple. We give them lots of board books and we read to them for a “minimum” of five minutes every day from the beginning. However, since parents can only grow book babies if they have books to read to them, it is imperative that we make sure they have books from the beginning.

Featured BookIt Takes a Village

Every Child Needs A Librarian In Their Life.

– Unknown

For the last 23 years, EVERY parent in Maine was handed a Raising Readers tote bag of free board books the day their baby was born. Every baby had a chance to begin life on the road to literacy. That golden era of free, new board books at birth, that created Maine’s amazing literacy equity, is gone. It is now up to all of us, the people of Maine, to step up and provide the expectant parents of our future readers and leaders with free board books “before” their babies are born.

Beginning April 1st, thanks to the caring and generosity of another grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, Book Fairy Pantry Project will be able to continue to supply all the WIC offices statewide with my board book, Please Read To Me. Only now it will be given to all their expectant parents prenatally so their babies will still have at least one new board book to come home to. Also beginning April first, any family enrolling a baby in a Head Start child care facility in Franklin and Oxford counties, who hasn’t already received it, will receive a Please Read To Me board book. 

For the last 23 years, EVERY parent in Maine was handed a Raising Readers tote bag of free board books the day their baby was born. Every baby had a chance to begin life on the road to literacy. That golden era of free, new board books at birth, that created Maine’s amazing literacy equity, is gone. It is now up to all of us, the people of Maine, to step up and provide the expectant parents of our future readers and leaders with free board books “before” their babies are born.

Please take me to the library, they have books to read for free. We can take home lots of them, some for you and some for me.

 - Pam Leo, excerpt Please Read To Me

Since only about 50% of babies born in Maine receive WIC services, we still needed a plan to reach as many of the other 50% of families, as possible, before the birth. The only system I could think of, that could reach families statewide, is our libraries. I put out some requests for help and my prayers were immediately answered by my old friend, and new community-supported literacy partner, Deanna McNamara, Youth Services Manager at Scarborough Library. We set up a meeting, we brainstormed ideas, and we hatched a two-part growing-book-babies plan! Drum roll, please!  

In May, we will jointly host a Read-Aloud Parenting Story Hour to introduce parents, grandparents, and caregivers to the joys and benefits of bonding with babies through reading to babies. In June, we will jointly host the first-ever “Book Baby Shower” for local expectant and new parents. With event support and board book donations from the local community, we will “shower” expectant parents with beautiful new and gently-loved board books so that our brilliant Maine tradition of welcoming new babies with new books will continue.  

We are keeping a detailed log of how we do this event so we can offer it to every other library that wants to support their new families in this beautiful way. There are so many parts that I love about our plan. First and best is that it need never end due to an end of funding! This plan requires no funding. These book baby showers will be all donation, all volunteer, semiannual events. Whole communities can be involved in supporting their local libraries in collecting, cleaning, and gift wrapping the board books.  

New families will get to feel the love and caring of their community when they come to their library’s book baby shower and are showered with books for their new babies. This early introduction to their library will promote an early start to attending story hours and borrowing books. The early literacy parent support and the free board books, that once came from our care providers, will now come from our librarians, who are, after all, the masters of all things books. 

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new book, 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."