I am so proud to tell you that “Maine ranks in the top 5 U.S. states where parents read most often to their children!” And since parents cannot read to their children unless they have books in the home, we can and must thank Raising Readers and the Libra Foundation for the 3 million books they have provided to Maine’s babies and young children.
The Libra Foundation has been Maine’s early literacy benefactor and the sole funder of Maine’s Raising Readers program for 23 years. Every literacy program in Maine rests on the early literacy foundation brilliantly and generously built by the Libra Foundation’s “baby”, the Raising Readers program. In collaboration with Maine’s hospitals, midwives, and doctor’s offices; statewide, they have created a Maine tradition of welcoming ALL babies born in Maine with a tote bag of free books on the very day of their birth.
For those who may not know, EVERY child “living” in Maine, who goes to their annual well-child visit, also receives a free, beautiful, age-appropriate book at every wellchild visit through their fifth birthday. Those parents who already know and love Raising Readers tell me how very much their children love receiving their free new book. The brilliance of this program is that it is a no-barrier program that promotes the literacy of ALL Maine children. The books are simply handed to families, by their care provider, (a trusted messenger) at places they will be anyway. There is no registration and no income restrictions. The structure of this program has assured literacy equity for all of Maine’s babies and young children and it has become Maine children’s greatest treasure.
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 Please Read To Me by Pam Leo
Sad news…I’m heartbroken to tell you that, at this writing, this vital statewide earlyliteracy program is scheduled to end in March 2024 unless another funder steps up to continue it. The state “is” working to launch a different and also wonderful early-literacy program, my beloved Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. However; at this point, there is no guarantee that the necessary affiliate funders will be found to cosponsor the program with the state in all areas of Maine by March 2024, when the free books from Raising Readers, at birth and on birthdays, are now scheduled to end.
I have written a letter to the Libra Foundation, and am encouraging others to do the same, to thank them for their 23 years of beyond generous funding of their magical Raising Readers program. Their program has changed the reading trajectory of Maine’s children forever for the better. In my letter, I asked them to consider continuing with a reimagined version of the Raising Readers program. As a one-year, birth-through-first birthday program, babies would still receive their tote bag of 3 books at birth and a book at each of their five first-year well-child visits. This would still set them solidly on the road to literacy, and give them time, “with” books
in the home, to get registered for Imagination Library.
If plan A isn’t funded by someone, then my proposed plan B would be to continue the Maine tradition of welcoming babies with a tote bag of books at birth, so that all Maine parents still have a good chance at raising readers. If plan B isn’t funded by someone, I have a plan C. My plan C is you and me, doing everything we can to get board books into the hands of as many new parents as we can, as early as we possibly can. This means giving board books at baby showers and organizing community baby showers for families who may not otherwise have a baby shower. It means donating (especially your gentlyloved outgrown board books) to Book Fairy Pantry Project or your local food pantry, so we can distribute them to parents who have none.
Ironically, so many of the board books that we have distributed, to WIC, Early Headstart, and food pantries have been Raising Reader board books that children donated when they outgrew them. If this program does not continue, in some form, all of those beautiful gently-loved, board books will no longer be part of our donations. Every week I shop for board books at the Goodwills, to supplement donations. They are the books we need the most but they are also the books that are often not “gently” loved by teething toddlers.
Our babies deserve the best possible chance at literacy. Whether or not children learn to read will affect their quality of life and their standard of living forever. Illiteracy is a disease of poverty. The way out of poverty is literacy. The currency of literacy is children’s
books. The Libra Foundation is leaving us with “big” shoes to fill. If we all do all we can to make it happen, welcoming Maine’s babies with books at birth will continue to be a Maine tradition that we can all be proud of …always.
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."