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By: Brian Minter,
Blog: First Book
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2010 was a big year for First Book, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks to our friends, fans, and generous supporters, we have a lot to celebrate.
Here are some of the cool things you helped make possible this past year:
We Reached the Milestone of 80 Million Books
At our annual Book Bash fund-raiser in New York City, we handed a basket of books to Round the Clock Nursery. One of the books in that basket was the 80 millionth book that First Book has distributed to kids in need since our founding in 1992.
We Shared the Stage With World Leaders
Kyle Zimmer, our president and co-founder, spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Kyle discussed the impact and importance of the First Book Marketplace as a leading model for social entrepreneurship.
We Worked in Our Local Communities
Local First Book volunteer groups (known as Advisory Boards) in cities, towns and counties nationwide helped distribute $3 million worth of new books to kids in their communities.
We Teamed Up With ‘Reading is Fundamental’
First Book and Reading is Fundamental (RIF) joined forces to provide 600,000 new books to children in RIF programs across the country.
We Added New Books to Our Marketplace
We added lots of great new titles to our online Marketplace – including authors like Eric Carle, Jeff Kinney, Susan Meddaugh, Mo Willems and many others – so teachers and program leaders have even more choices.
We Got People to See Waiting for “Superman”
First Book was excited to kick off the pledge campaign as a promotional partner for this powerful documentary film.
We Released Special Editions
First Book continued one of our favorite traditions this year, releasing several new special editions, including Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books and Eileen Spinelli’s ‘While You Are Away’.
We Distributed One Million Books With Target
To celebrate the launch of the ‘Read With Me’ campaign, Target helped us distribute one million new books to schools across the country. When a million people pledge to commit to read with a child, Target will provide another million books.
We Read a Lot of Short Stories
Volunteers from First Book’s local Advisory Boards read nearly 8,000 stories submitted through the Cheerios® New Author Contest in order to pick the top 25. That’s more than twice as many submissions as last year! (Check back in March to read the winning entry).
We Helped Kids Learn About Science and Math<
By: Bess the Book Bus,
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Bess the Book Bus is nearing the end of her second nationwide outreach that will cover 36 states and deliver 27,000 books into the hands of children who otherwise may not have been able to experience the joy of owning their very own book.
Our trip began at the end of April and will end in the middle of September. This leg of the trip has taken us to areas such as Pittsburgh and Camden, NJ, two of the most underserved areas on this trip so far. We partnered with Transitions Lenses and VSP to bring both healthy sight and free books to the Boys and Girls Clubs there. Thanks to the support of Candlewick Press, Townsend Press, and our great friends at First Book, Bess is overflowing with brand new books, all of which were free.
Throughout this trip, it has been thrilling to see the dedication of the parents, guardians, and teachers as we cross the USA. One parent walked her children two miles after seeing us on the morning news. She couldn’t believe that someone-anyone was in her neighborhood offering free eye exams, glasses with Transitions lenses, and free books. Both of her children ended up needing and receiving glasses. They also left with armloads of brand new books and ear-to-ear smiles. In fact several parents and grandparents rushed their kids to our event after hearing that we were in the neighborhood, and almost all of them needed and received glasses. Thanks to our partners at Transitions Lenses and VSP and to the doctors volunteering their time, our kids will also now have the healthy sight they deserve as each child is getting eye exams and free glasses when needed. The look on the parents’ faces was one of tangible relief. Even better, the kids came out of the mobile vision clinic full of pride, flaunting their new glasses.
Today we are in Maine, headed to Houlton where we will partner with Aid for Kids to put on a literacy fair. Thanks to First Book and the DOE, Bess will have 4,000 brand new books on board to give away in Maine alone. The kids are going to be so excited when they find out they will each receive up to five new books!
As I pack my bags and get ready to hit the road this morning I am filled with gratitude. We are happy to report that reading is alive and well in this country as is the excitement kids have for picking the just right brand new book they have been waiting for or finding that cherished favorite. I can hardly believe that this is my life; that so many great people surround me and that I have the opportunity to live my dream of spreading the joy of reading. I am also hopeful. I hope that one day all of our kids will have equal access to these very basic tools, things that they should already have and will need to succeed in school and in life.
Bess the Book Bus started her second annual nationwide outreach last week. The first week took us through the Florida Panhandle where we were able to give brand new books to over 200 children.
On Wednesday, our trip brought us to our first large city, the Big Easy. Not that much has been easy for the people of New Orleans lately. First Katrina, now the BP fiasco. Of course, the people of this great city have not let any of it suppress their spirit any. In fact, they seem even more committed and determined after the hardships that they have faced.
Driving through the Ninth and Lower Ninth Wards we see so many people in their yards- painting fences, mowing lawns, repairing their houses or perhaps helping neighbors rebuild. Vacant buildings sport signs imploring us to “READ”. There are still a lot of vacant buildings and a lot of devastation, but it is getting better. The READ signs are on light posts and storefronts as well. Bright colors are finding their way back to this neighborhood too.
Our first stop is the Lower Ninth Ward Village www.lower9thwardvillage.org , a community center built by Mack McClendon to give the kids here a safe place to go after school. It is a vibrant green building with an array of pastel accents. A hopeful sign welcomes us inside. We are here to help with their library. We have 933 books to deliver and Mack is on the way to meet us. While we wait, a neighbor who is painting her house next door greets us and asks how she can help. This is Dee, a long-time resident determined to see her community thrive. So determined in fact that she gives us a tour of the home she just restored. While doing so she also gives us a history of this neighborhood as she knows and loves it. She also shares her vision of what it will become for her kids and grandkids. She assures us that it will be better than ever. I believe her. Then she offers to volunteer with Bess the Book Bus on Friday. She knows two schools that need us. She wants to go too. She says that through reading, kids will be able to see what the world holds. They deserve that. And they deserve their own books. After, we visit the schools she will feed us and show us the rest of this community. We gratefully accept.
It is time for dinner, so we head to Coops Place. While there, the reason for our visit comes up in conversation. Incredibly, the people sharing our table- strangers until now- start an impromptu fundraiser for Bess. Darren and Dave start circling the restaurant with Joanie’s motorcycle helmet in hand- a business card sticking from the brim. The servers and bartender give $1. Several customers do too. Within ten minutes we have $18, which will be a great help on this trip. More importantly, the whole place is buzzing with excitement about what we are doing here. People are now chatting about their favorite books. Kids books. Curious George, Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, Charlotte’s Web, and Shel Silverstien are all discussed enthusiastically. Suddenly, this place is a community of readers. Full and happy, we start the walk back to the hotel. Coop’s has gigantic portions, so we have a sizable to go box.
En route, a young man looking to be 18 or so, almost certainly living on these very streets, offers to play us a song on his guitar for our leftovers. We gladly accept. Chad plays us a song, and then my sister Jill plays him one. He asks what we are doing in the city. He is very excited to hear of the trip and Bess’ mission. He expresses his love of books, especially the classics. He says his friends love books too, but they do not have any and they cannot get them from the library. The look on his face when I promise to bring him a box of books the next day is priceless. He quickly follows it with a hug and promises to call
We have come quite a long way since our New Orleans outreach and the mileage is only a small part of it. This leg of the trip has been a true testament to hospitality and the willingness of complete strangers to step up and pitch in. This trip is surely becoming the story of the power that reading and books have to unify people, people who otherwise may have never met.
After leaving the Big Easy we made our way toward Houston Texas. We stayed the night with a family we had met in Tampa through the Head Start program there. The Bolden family has been part of Bess’ Page Pals program since they moved to Houston last year. We have known them for four years. Seeing them was a joy.
It was a pleasure to sit around the dinner table as part of the family discussing the books that I had read to the four of them through the years and the ones they still had, and treasured. It was even more exciting to have these kids giving my sister and me advice and recommendations on great authors and thrilling reads. Dinner was wonderful. After dinner, we all went out to Bess the Book Bus so they could pick a variety of books to get them through summer. They were so excited. A couple of the books they chose finished collections they have been working on.
Our next stop was Mesa, AZ. Our author friend Sabine Goldman had set up three schools for us to visit. Peralta Trails Elementary had collected over 400 books for Bess to distribute at two less fortunate schools. Longfellow, Elem. and Four Peaks Elem. What a wonderful group of kids these were. They were so excited to show us the books they chose to donate. It was obvious that they worked very hard to help their neighbors. Again, a love of reading has a way to unite people, and kids are more powerful than most adults dare to imagine. I think our future is in good hands, especially if we allow kids to start helping now.
The kids at Longfellow and Four Peaks were wonderful. We were able to meet over 1,000 very enthusiastic young readers. They were beaming as they waiting in line to get on the bus and were all anxious to tell us how much they read and what their favorite books are. One boy inquired as to the price of the books. “How much are the books?” he asked. When we told him they were free his face lit up. “Whew, because I don’t have any money and my mom doesn’t get paid till next week” he exclaimed. I wish we could have given him 100 books.
Next, we had an event at Changing Hands Books in Tempe, Az. What an incredible store. I think I could spend a week in there. Brandi and the staff had done a book drive that collected over 600 books for Bess. They also honored Bess as a special story time guest and invited three schools to come get free books. Kids never cease to amaze me with their enthusiasm for a good story and a book to keep.
That night we were invited to participate in a poetry slam at Queens Pizza in downtown Mesa. It was my first, and the crowd was full of pros. I made it through three rounds coming in 4th of 4! What an honor as I was quite out of my league. As the The Klute, the MC for the slam had made announcement about Bess the Book Bus prior to the event and explained that as the reason a non-local was allowed to compete, Bill- the winner, decided to give the pot to us! He insisted that we use the money ($11 that had been collected in a Kool Aid Man pitcher)to put towards our food costs. Thanks Bill! This was the second impromptu fundraiser in a week for Bess. Reading really is the great unifier.
Friday was to be our final night in town. Much to our amazement Evermore Nevermore one of the coolest stores I have b
Bess the Book Bus is officially at the halfway point of her nationwide outreach. We find ourselves in beautiful Portland, Oregon preparing for tomorrow’s outreach in Albany. It has been an eventful couple of weeks that have brought us through the Navajo Nation where we were able to give books to the kids at Montezuma Creek and Bluff Elementary Schools. Our travels also brought us through Utah and Nevada and into the Sacramento Valley of California. We have given away 10,600 books so far and could not be more grateful for overwhelmingly positive response from the communities we are visiting.
In each area, as in previous communities, individuals have stepped up to make this outreach a success. The garage we stopped at in Utah refused to charge us for our tire rotation, insisting we spend the money on books instead. Several hotels have given us deep discounts to help offset expenses. Many of the people hosting our events have also provided us with meals and a place to sleep. All of this kindness equates to the most important thing- more books in the hands of our kids.
For every dollar we save we can provide up to three new books from the First National Book Book Bank. In Reno, Zoe Miller and our friends at Grassroots Books gave away two books for every one book we gave away from the book bus. They also loaded us with hundreds of brand new books for middle readers when they heard we were running low and may not have enough books by the time we arrived in Detroit. The event at Grassroots Books was an energized book bonanza with face painting, games, a bounce house, and Bess the Book Bus. The kids had a blast. They each got five books to take home. I think the parents had just as much fun. Several parents came back by to tell us how much their kids loved the books and Bess. In these challenging times it is important to remember that families can have fun enriching experiences for little to no cost. As business owners and community members, it is important for each of us to consider what we can do to be a part of the solution.
Memorial Day weekend brought us to the beautiful Sutter Buttes where a friend we met on Facebook hosted us at her families almond farm. Janet is a counselor for special needs kids at Hiram Johnson High in Sacramento. She found us through our author friend Sabine Goldman who arranged and hosted our trip in Mesa, Arizona. We all spent the weekend sharing stories about the kids we work with and planning ways we could collaborate in the future to get more books into their homes, including a literacy outreach aspect for their Teen Parenting Program. It was a fantastic few days that made us all more committed than ever to our programs and gave us some great ideas for combining our efforts. Janet took several hundred books back for her kids. Our friend Seena Hawley also met us out there. She is a bus driver in the Berkeley area who gives her kids books to take home through Bess’ Page Pals program. We have been mailing books to her for the last year, but finally had the chance to meet her. She is another true inspiration. She also took several hundred books to bring to the kids in her summer programs. I hope we can meet the kids next year.
Reading is alive and well and individuals all over the country are pitching in to share their love of books. From kids who want to share the story of their favorite books and authors to the adults and businesses that are making this summer’s outreach so successful, we are seeing proof everywhere.