By Pam Leo

“We embrace the belief that every child, no matter their income level, zip code or the education level of their parents, has the right to learn to read.” – The Dyslexia Project

This summer Maine’s children need some “reading magic”! Let’s help the children “with” lots of books in their homes help the children “without” any books in their homes. I have learned that there IS no shortage of available, free, gently-read children’s books! There’s only a shortage of book fairies to distribute them. What if one of your family’s end-of-school-year projects could be to collect 20 new or gently-read children’s books for another family? Participating in our early literacy equity project creates an opportunity for your family to stand up for social justice by donating a free, 20-book “mini-library” to a family that needs books.

Supporting literacy by donating their outgrown books is a social justice movement in which children of all ages can participate. Many children who have always had books in their homes are shocked to learn that there are children who live in homes without books. Yet, “According to the US Department of Education, up to 61 percent of low-income families do not have any books for their kids at home.

”Why collect 20 books? There are two reasons. The first is:

“Children growing up in homes with at least twenty books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parent’s education, occupation, and class.” – Mariah Evans

The second reason is that Maine is not well prepared for our first summer in 23 years without Raising Readers providing free books to our children. I have learned that there will be no free books at well-child visits for all Maine’s children until Reach Out and Read has enough funding. There will be no free books coming in the mail from Imagination Library, for Maine’s birth through age 5 children, until there is co-funding for their area of Maine. This summer, Maine’s children in need, need free books more than ever before.

Book Fairy Pantry Project has been receiving requests from elementary schools and summer programs asking for help to provide books for their families with few or no books. We are doing our grassroots best to honor these requests. The more that the families in the community who have books can help us, the more we can do to get books into the homes of the families without books.

Creating a 20-book library is not difficult. Besides finding books to donate from your own home, you can find very inexpensive, gently-read books at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. Bull Moose bookstores have .50 book tables and many transfer stations (dumps) have free books. You could also check with your local area bookstores to see if they have any to donate. Print Book Store in Portland has been very generous to our project. Since you won’t know the ages of the children who will receive your mini-library, it’s best to include all categories of children’s books. Providing board books, picture books, early readers, and chapter books will ensure there will be books for everyone.

Every summer we worry about “summer slide”, which is defined as students losing ground in reading because of the lack of reading over the summer. The last few summers we had the double whammy of COVID slide and summer slide. This summer, Maine’s children who are living in poverty will have less access to books than in previous decades unless we all do something to increase their access to free books.

What about the libraries you say? They have books to read for free. Yes, our libraries are absolutely a great source of free reading, for families, year-round. They also offer special summer reading incentive programs for all children. However, not all families have the same ability to access this free resource. FREE doesn’t always mean no barrier. Home libraries are essential to literacy equity. We can donate children’s books to all Little Free Libraries. The summer free lunch programs always welcome our free books so they can feed children’s bodies and minds. Also on my list of places to bring donated children’s books are the laundromats, food pantries, farmers’ markets, and community family events. Let’s make sure we are providing free books wherever children will be this summer.

“Preventing summer slide is most effective when community organizations—including schools, public libraries, community centers, parent groups, social service agencies, and others—work together to encourage kids to read, make reading fun, and to reach families about the importance of reading over the summer.”

-Colorado Department of Education

We cannot afford to be complacent about the loss of Raising Readers.” Until enough early literacy program funding is found for the two new programs, we are officially in DIY mode for providing free books to families. We will still “Grow Book Babies” and we will continue to raise readers because we are Mainers who name roads “Finda Way”!

 

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."