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1. Changing Communities with Books: The Citizen Power Project

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In November, First Book and its partners the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute presented the Citizen Power Project; a challenge to educators nationwide to identify, plan, and implement a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community.

Fifteen projects received grants to help turn big plans into big impact.

The projects represent a wide range of civic engagement – from teaching empathy and healthy habits to supporting student voices and helping the environment.

So far, the civic impact of these projects has been phenomenal.

In Framingham, Massachusetts, middle school English teacher Lori DiGisi knows her students don’t always feel empowered. “They feel like the adults rule everything and that they don’t really have choices,” she explains. “The issue I’m trying to solve is for a diverse group of students to believe that they can make a difference in their community.”

Using the First Book Marketplace, Lori and her class chose to read books about young people who did something to change the world — books with diverse characters that each student could identify with. Through stories, Lori’s students have begun to understand that they too can make a difference.

From here, Lori plans to narrow the focus onto the issue of improving working conditions. Students will interview custodians, secretaries, and cafeteria workers in their school to understand what their working conditions are like and ask the all-important question: what can we, as middle schoolers, do to make your working conditions better?

claudine-quote_editMeanwhile in Malvern, Arkansas, middle school English teacher Claudine James has used the Citizen Power Project to improve upon an already successful program. In 2011, Claudine visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and wanted to bring that experience back to her students.

That year her class studied the Holocaust and put together their own Holocaust Museum in their school and opened it to the public.

The reaction to the museum was something Claudine never expected.

“It was very well received by the community and in fact, we had an opening day reception on a Sunday afternoon and there was no room to even stand.”

Claudine has organized project-based learning initiatives like this every year since. The Malvern community has embraced them, and even come to expect them.

This year, powered by the  Citizen Power Project, Claudine and her class are planning an exhibit called, ‘Writers from Around the World’. They are reading books by authors from all over the globe. Her goal is to promote tolerance and understanding among her students and for them to promote those ideas to the community.

“When my students are presented with problems that other people from other cultures have to overcome, they see the world in a new light,” explains Claudine, “then they go home and spread the word.”

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Artwork by one student in Racheal’s class depicting the negative impacts of climate change.

In Newark, New Jersey, kindergarten teacher Racheal Safier has her young students thinking globally. “We wanted to figure out what climate change is,” she explains, “they took a really big interest in how global warming affects animals.”

Racheal has been amazed by her student’s enthusiasm for this topic and the project, but she knows where it comes from. “Books have been the launching point for so many of the ideas generated in my classroom.”

Now that ideas are being launched, Racheal wants to show her class the next step: what actions do we take?

And they have many planned. There will be brochures distributed to parents, a table at the school’s social justice fair, maybe a video, and even letters to the President.

“I want it to be their project — and some of the things they come up with, I am really blown away.”

These three projects are just a snapshot of all the important work educators are doing around the country for the Citizen Power Project. Lori, Claudine, and Racheal are shining examples of the impact that educators can have on their students and their communities.

For educators to create change though students they need access to educational resources. First Book is proud to help provide that access for the Citizen Power Project.

When these 15 projects are completed in early 2017 be sure to check the First Book blog to see videos and pictures, and read more impact stories of impact from across the United States.

 

If you’re an educator serving kids in need, please visit the First Book Marketplace to register and browse our collection of educational resources. Click here to learn more about the Citizen Power Project.

The post Changing Communities with Books: The Citizen Power Project appeared first on First Book Blog.

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2. Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite New Books of 2016

As the year comes to a close, we here at First Book like to reflect on the things we did, the people we met, and (most of all) the books we read. Here are a few of our favorite children’s books that were published in 2016!

Pre-K –K (Ages 3-6):

Love you, Hug You, Read to You! / ¡Te Amo, Te Abrazo, Leo Contigo! by Tish Rabe
“There are three things I’ll always do … love you, hug you, read to you!” The simple promise of togetherness offered in this bilingual (Spanish and English) board book is enhanced by interactive prompts throughout, encouraging parents to engage with their child while reading.

We love this book because: it has interactive prompts throughout the story that encourage listeners to really engage with it, and it helps young readers feel the joy of reading together with friends and family members.

 For 1st and 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):

9780553513370Penguin Problems written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith
Do you think life in Antarctica is a paradise? Well, the main character of this book will tell you that life isn’t all fun and games for penguins. Penguins have problems just like we do!

We love this book because: the characters are engaging and adorable. The descriptions of the penguin’s “problems” makes the title a fun read aloud. The story may seem to have pessimistic themes at first, but has an uplifting ending. We love this book so much, we dressed up like the characters for Halloween this year!

 

For 1st – 3rd grade (Ages 6-9): 

One Vote, Two Vote, I Vote, You Vote! by Bonnie Worth
The Cat in the Hat knows about a lot of things! In this book, he introduces young readers to the concept and practice of voting for the American presidency. Written in simple rhyme, readers learn the basic principles of democracy, how political parties are formed, why Election Day is held in early November, and much, much more!

We love this book because: Memorable stanzas coupled with familiar illustrations make this title a fun way to introduce kids to the American electoral system. The title’s publisher, Random House Kids Books, even held an election to encourage the book readers to vote for a cause for The Cat to donate to – and we won!

 

For 4th – 6th grade (Ages 10-12): 

As Brave As You

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind.

We love this book because: The book approaches heavy topics, but remains relate-able for young readers. Drawing from his own experiences growing up, author Jason Reynolds paints portraits of multi-dimensional characters. No matter what your background, you’ll empathize with Genie & Ernie as they get to know their grandfather and more about themselves.

Read & watch our Q&A with author Jason Reynolds.

Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+): 

March, Book 3 by John Lewis
Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

We love this book because: The “March” series tells a first-person account of an important time in American history – a story that must be told, and remembered (Find book one here, and book two here). The “March” series is a must for every classroom.

So many wonderful books were published this year – it’s so hard to pick just five! If you’d like to see the full listing of our favorite books published in 2016 that we’ve made available for children in need, please visit the First Book Marketplace!

The post Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite New Books of 2016 appeared first on First Book Blog.

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3. How Books Inspire Action: The Citizen Power Project

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All too often, young people feel they don’t have the power to fix problems in their communities.

How can books inspire students to take action and become engaged citizens?

Earlier this year, First Book, along with our partners the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, presented educators nationwide with a challenge: identify an issue and a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community. We then asked for proposals on how, with the support of books and resources from First Book, could their students take action to address that issue and show their students that they have a voice and the ability to make positive changes happen.

We called this challenge The Citizen Power Project. Funded by the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project, 15 proposals  – five each from elementary, middle and high schools – would be chosen to receive a collection of special resources to help them implement their projects and a $500 grant for use on the First Book Marketplace.

More than 920 proposals were received.

The 15 classroom projects that stood out and won the challenge addressed a wide range of issues, such as:

  • Learning about global cultural perspectives as a way to build compassion,
  • Planning a community garden to promote healthy eating,
  • Combating bullying,
  • Learning American Sign Language and
  • Building a health and wellness library.

We believe these projects, and the books and resources First Book will provide to help them flourish, will help these educators and the young leaders they teach to advance the causes they are so passionate about. And, by sharing stories about the successes of these projects, we hope to inspire others around the country to be change makers, themselves.

With our partners, we’ll be checking in with the inspiring projects through the end of the year to update you on their progress toward creating innovative learning environments, and the impact of the projects on their respective communities.

Stay tuned for more about the Citizen Power Challenge winners! Read more about the Citizen Power Challenge here.

The post How Books Inspire Action: The Citizen Power Project appeared first on First Book Blog.

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4. How Books Inspire Action: The Citizen Power Project

firstbook-tampa-99

All too often, young people feel they don’t have the power to fix problems in their communities.

How can books inspire students to take action and become engaged citizens?

Earlier this year, First Book, along with our partners the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, presented educators nationwide with a challenge: identify an issue and a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community. We then asked for proposals on how, with the support of books and resources from First Book, could their students take action to address that issue and show their students that they have a voice and the ability to make positive changes happen.

We called this challenge The Citizen Power Project. Funded by the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project, 15 proposals  – five each from elementary, middle and high schools – would be chosen to receive a collection of special resources to help them implement their projects and a $500 grant for use on the First Book Marketplace.

More than 920 proposals were received.

The 15 classroom projects that stood out and won the challenge addressed a wide range of issues, such as:

  • Learning about global cultural perspectives as a way to build compassion,
  • Planning a community garden to promote healthy eating,
  • Combating bullying,
  • Learning American Sign Language and
  • Building a health and wellness library.

We believe these projects, and the books and resources First Book will provide to help them flourish, will help these educators and the young leaders they teach to advance the causes they are so passionate about. And, by sharing stories about the successes of these projects, we hope to inspire others around the country to be change makers, themselves.

With our partners, we’ll be checking in with the inspiring projects through the end of the year to update you on their progress toward creating innovative learning environments, and the impact of the projects on their respective communities.

Stay tuned for more about the Citizen Power Challenge winners! Read more about the Citizen Power Challenge here.

The post How Books Inspire Action: The Citizen Power Project appeared first on First Book Blog.

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5. How One College Student is Making an Impact in Her Community

janessa-blythe-1

When Janessa Blythe discovered through a college leadership course that kids in her Waco, Texas community didn’t have access to books, she decided to act.

The junior at Baylor University is launching Waco Up & Read, a program that provides books for kids from low-income communities. “It appalled me that kids didn’t have access to stories and didn’t have access to books in general,” says Janessa, “that sent me on a little bit of a journey — what can I do about this?”

Janessa’s book drive provided each kid at Restoration Haven, a Waco community support organization, with eight books to call their own. For many, those books make up their entire home libraries. Working with Restoration Haven, Janessa is planning to provide more books through a pilot program, and establish Waco Up & Read as a nonprofit.

Her plans are ambitious, but Janessa understands the kind of impact that books can have.

janessa-blythe-2“Stories teach kids that when hard times come, or you hit a brick wall in life, that you can break through – that is a major matter you see in good stories.”

And exposing kids to good stories is important to Waco Up & Read. Janessa plans to use the First Book Marketplace to give kids access to rich and varied content.

“Obviously that includes classic children’s books, but in general I’m looking for books that teach virtue, teach empathy, that teach human issues.”

To do that though, Janessa will need to raise money for Waco Up & Read. One way she is doing that is through First Book campaigns, which makes the fundraising process simple and easy.

All across the country kids in need lack access to books and stories, but the kids in Waco communities have a champion in Janessa. Book drives, fundraising, and eventually a nonprofit organization – that can seem like a lot for a college student but it’s as simple as identifying a need, and meeting it.

And that is something we are all capable of.

 

If you serve kids in need, please visit the First Book Marketplace to explore our variety of educational resources. To raise money and make an impact in your community, start a First Book campaign to provide books to kids in need.

The post How One College Student is Making an Impact in Her Community appeared first on First Book Blog.

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6. NFL Alumni Charlie Brown Helps First Book, Operation Warm Make Impact in Chicago

michaelcourier-firstbook-cha-102216-3133_for-web

In October, First Book teamed up with Operation Warm and the Chicago Housing Authority to bring new books and new coats to kids living in Chicago’s public housing. The event promised to bring together organizations like First Book and individuals who aim to improve the lives of children and give them the tools they need to create a bright future.

Enter Charlie Brown, retired NFL player and former president of Chicago’s NFL Alumni chapter. Already a great ally of First Book, Charlie hopes to build on the success of October’s event and find new and exciting ways to work with First Book in the future. We were able to have a conversation with Charlie about the Chicago event, his plans, and even one of his favorite books.

How did you get involved with First Book and Operation Warm?

Charlie: Well I met First Book about a year ago. When we originally met I was president of the NFL alumni Chicago and I was just looking around for people who were doing stuff for kids. I’m an old Boys and Girls Club-er and I run programs with and for kids, besides being an old NFL-er. But I have run programs for kids and I have always held this need to give back and to share because for all intents and purposes I feel like I owe.

charlie-brown-quote-v3Someone mentioned First Book to me so I called them up and I said “who are you guys, what do you do?” Just hearing how they did what they did, that’s how the relationship started.

That was part of my general inquiry and so one thing lead to another and they talked about how they had done this event in Chicago and they were going to do this event again this year. Ten or twenty thousand books going to kids who are also going to get new coats. New books and a new warm coat – not a used coat! A new warm coat that you can put your name in – like this coat belongs to Jamie, you know? That’s a big deal!

Gavin: To have that ownership, absolutely.

C:  Yeah, the ownership and also it gives you a sense of, “the world cares about me so I can care back.” To see it in action and just to be involved with it was phenomenal.

I know that you were key in recruiting volunteers for that event in October, so tell me a little bit about that process and how it went.

C: Well, if you’re the president of an organization one thing you need to know is: what are the hot buttons for the members of my group? Guy A may volunteer for one thing and guy B for another. For example, I have a group of guys, we do a 5k in the spring and we do a relay so not one of us old guys has to do the whole thing. We have a great time, it lasts about five hours. But they are a group of guys who I know will come out and do that, so you start to know what kinds of things guys will do.

One of my guys, for example, Major Hazelton – he’s a former Bear but he’s an educator too – so it is not a hard pull to get him to come and do something if it involves kids and education, that’s his angle. And you kind of start to know this and you know where to put guys and sometimes you get a great match and sometimes you get not a great match based on time and emotion and that kind of stuff.

What role do you see the NFL alumni association — or some of the smaller chapters — playing with organizations like First Book or Operation Warm?

michaelcourier-firstbook-cha-102216-3095_for-webC: Well number one, I see us telling the story. I see us being either more or less visible based on the organization’s needs. For example, I did an introduction with the Bears and in part what the introduction says is: it’s no longer an organization to an organization, it’s somebody’s name to somebody’s name. It is a secondary step not a primary step to do that. I see us doing that kind of stuff. Public or private endorsements, our guys are willing to do those kinds of things. I think sometimes we have to look for and create opportunities.
I think I am a connector because I am willing to ask the question and say, “well, why not?” If we can do that and help tell the story, it makes it an even bigger story, particularly if that other organization’s byline is “caring for kids and caring for ourselves.” That’s what the NFL Alumni says and does.

Well, if keeping kids warm ain’t caring for kids, what is? Warm goes right up there with hot dogs and hamburgers. So that’s kind of where I am with all of this, it’s trying to figure out how to help make these connections.

Let me go back to the event in October, what were some of your favorite sights and sounds?

michaelcourier-firstbook-cha-102216-3031_for-webC: Well it was fun to see kids look at books and watch the expressions on their faces when they choose a book and say, “I’m interested in this, and I don’t know what this is but I am interested in it – I like the cover.” And for the kids to get five books and put them in their bags – there was this sense of satisfaction that you saw when it went from a “maybe to mine.”

That was awesome, because on a good day I am about a five-year-old – the ability to interact with kids and talk to them about what they were thinking and saying and doing and that kind of stuff is always fun for me. On a good day I think I’m about a five-year-old.

G: Oh, absolutely. You’ve got to keep your inner child!

C: Right, and that kind of stuff was fun. My most fun activities were interacting with kids and just seeing kids understand that this was their day and this day was for them. That all they had to do to qualify that day was to be a kid and be there. That was enough.

Why do you feel that education is so important for young people?

C: Education opens you to the world. Think of it this way: if you’ve never seen the Eifel Tower, but you read about it or you saw pictures of it, you could get a secondary sensation of what that was all about. You would know that that thing is real if you saw it and you understood how the lights came on at night and you could share the experience with someone who’s been there.

On the one hand it is a secondary sharing, but it can also increase aspirations, “you know, I would like to go see the Eifel Tower,” because I read about it. Reading about it is certainly better than not. Reading allows you to have a new adventure every day if you’re willing to sit down and pick up a book and read it.

So Charlie, what are some of your favorite books?

C: It is interesting to be a guy so in love with books. My favorite book that I go back to for a whole bunch of guidance and for different reasons is a very small book. It’s a book on life written by former college football coach Bear Bryant and the title of the book is Don’t Play for the Tie. This book is about 130 pages and I use it all the time. For example, I do some public speaking and when I am looking for stuff to share, whatever it is, I will go to this book and what I do is — and this is the strange part — I just open the book at random and 99% of the time I find exactly what I need. And in fact the book was a gift, as crazy as that sounds.

charlie-brown-quote-v2What are your hopes and dreams for the children who you’re able to impact? Either through First Book, Operation Warm, or any of the other organizations you’re involved with?

C: We have to make sure kids understand that it is safe to dream and that the difference between a goal and dream is a plan. That’s always my hope — that kids understand that their plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just has to be clear. And that you have to not be afraid to reach outside of yourself because there is somebody out there who is willing to help if you understand how to present yourself. Those are my dreams, and for them to understand that yeah, I kind of am my brother’s keeper.

 

If you serve kids in need, please visit the First Book Marketplace to register and browse our collection of diverse, award-winning books and educational resources. If you want to be like Charlie and help First Book make a difference, start a First Book campaign and raise funds to help bring equal access to education for your community, your school or any kid, anywhere.

The post NFL Alumni Charlie Brown Helps First Book, Operation Warm Make Impact in Chicago appeared first on First Book Blog.

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7. Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite Books for September

FIVEfaves copyOur favorite books this September feature some lovable animals and some courageous young adults. These stories about friendship and making good choices will make you laugh, cry and learn life lessons in the process.

Read on to see what books had us hooked this September!

 

 

For PreK-K (Ages 3-6):

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

the-bear-that-ate-your-sandwich

Bear meets sandwich, adventure ensues. The wonderfully told story, spectacular illustrations, and surprise ending make this Julia Sarcone-Roach’s best book to date. You’ll want to share it with your friends (and keep a close eye on your lunch). A sly classic-in-the-making for fans of Jon Klassen, Peter Brown, and Mo Willems.

 

 

For 1st & 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison
my-friend-maggiePaula and Maggie have been friends forever. Paula thinks Maggie is the best—until mean girl Veronica says otherwise. Suddenly, Paula starts to notice that Maggie is big and clumsy, and her clothes are sort of snuggish. Rather than sticking up for Maggie, Paula ignores her old friend and plays with Veronica instead. Luckily, when Veronica turns on Paula, Maggie’s true colors shine through.

 

 

For 3rd & 4th grade (Ages 8-10):

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

hereville_mirka

Welcome to Hereville, home of the first-ever wisecracking, adventure-loving, sword-wielding Orthodox Jewish heroine. A delightful mix of fantasy, adventure, cultural traditions, and preteen commotion, this fun, quirky graphic novel series will captivate middle-school readers with its exciting visuals and entertaining new heroine.

 

 

 

For 5th & 6th grade (Ages 10-12):

Booked by Kwame Alexander

booked

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.

 

 

Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+):

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

will_grayson_x_2

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, Will Grayson crosses paths with . . . Will Grayson. Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, and culminating in epic turns-of-heart and the most fabulous musical ever to grace the high school stage. Told in alternating voices from two YA superstars, this collaborative novel features a double helping of the heart and humor that have won them both legions of fans.

The post Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite Books for September appeared first on First Book Blog.

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8. Using the Power of Pizza to Transform Lives Through Literacy

Kids Reading, Pizza Hut

What could bring together teachers, community organizations and hungry friends of First Book?

Answer: Pizza!

First Book is proud to partner with Pizza Hut and excited to take part in their new 10-year campaign, Pizza Hut: The Literacy Project. When friends, families, and co-workers sit down to eat or order online from Pizza Hut they’ll be able to add a donation to First Book to enable access to books for children in need. The funds raised from each Pizza Hut location will go to local educators so they can purchase books and resources from the First Book Marketplace. The combination of this campaign’s worldwide reach and local community focus will bring the greatest impact.
The funds raised from each Pizza Hut location will go to local educators so they can purchase books and resources from the First Book Marketplace. The combination of this campaign’s worldwide reach and local community focus will bring the greatest impact.

kyle-and-artie-starrs

Kyle Zimmer and Artie Starrs

Some of the students at PS 30 in New York City got a “taste” of the Literacy Project on September 8th, when they were treated to pizza, a visit from representatives of Pizza Hut and the United Federation of Teachers. In honor of the occasion Artie Starrs, President of Pizza Hut, and Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO, First Book, read Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin and got a copy of the book to take home.

“The teachers we serve tell us that when a child discovers a love of reading, not only do they unlock their potential, but ultimately the community benefits,” said Zimmer, “But too many low-income communities simply don’t have the resources to provide children with access to books, and teachers in these classrooms and programs often spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to try to provide what students need. Pizza Hut: The Literacy Project will unlock the potential of millions of underserved children and communities.”

Each Pizza Hut location will also be organizing reading-centric events with community partners — fun things ranging from building pop-up reading nooks or bookcases to simply reading with children who are hungry to learn.

And maybe for pizza, too.

If you serve children in need, please visit theliteracyproject.pizzahut.com to learn more about the events in your community and First Book’s partnership with Pizza Hut: The Literacy Project.

The post Using the Power of Pizza to Transform Lives Through Literacy appeared first on First Book Blog.

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9. Welcoming Week: Q&A with Author Anne Sibley O’Brien

Welcoming Week_I'm New Here

Welcoming Week is a special time of year. Communities across the country will come together to celebrate and raise awareness of immigrants, refugees and new Americans of all kinds. Whether it’s an event at your local art gallery or showing support on social media, the goal is to let anyone new to America know just how much they are valued and welcomed during what is likely a big transition.

And the biggest transitions are happening for the littlest people.

A new country, a new home, maybe even a new language — that would be enough for any kid — but a new school, too? That subject is exactly what author Anne Sibley O’Brien addresses in her book I’m New Here, new to the First Book Marketplace.

Marissa Wasseluk and Roxana Barillas of the First Book team had the pleasure of speaking with Anne about I’m New Here, the experiences of kids new to America, and what kids can do to help create a welcoming atmosphere.

Marissa: So, and I am sure you get this question all the time, but I’m curious — what inspired or motivated you to create I’m New Here?

It’s funny, it’s such a, “where would you start?” kind of question, but I don’t remember if anyone has ever asked me that point blank because I don’t recall ever putting together this answer before. Over the years of working in schools — especially working with Margy Burns Knight with our nonfiction books: Talking Walls; Who Belongs Here and other multi-racial, multicultural, global nonfiction books — I had a lot of encounters, a lot of discussions, a lot of experiences with immigrant students and I was very aware of the kinds of cross-cultural challenges that children and teachers can experience. For instance, Cambodian children show respect by keeping their eyes down and not looking in the eyes of an adult, especially a teacher. In Cambodian culture adults don’t ever touch children’s heads. So you can immediately imagine how those kinds of things would be quite challenging when a Cambodian child comes into a U.S. classroom and suddenly two of those cultural markers are not only gone, but the opposite is what they need to learn.

Somebody might put their hand on your head — it being out of concern and wanting to make a connection — or they might say “I need you to look at me now” and not recognize that that’s cultural inappropriate for a Cambodian child. So growing that kind of awareness of the challenges that immigrant children face — that was the original impetus for the book. Just collecting some of those stories and raising awareness of how many obstacles immigrant children face. From climate to traditions in speaking and in body language, to food, to learning a new language. Not just learning a new language in terms of how you speak and read and write, but also how you interact with people, how social norms work — they just face such enormous challenges. And there were originally six characters so it was trying to cover everything.

Marissa: The characters that are in the book, they cover a child from Guatemala, a child from Korea, and a child from Somalia — did you work with these specific immigrant communities when you were creating this book?

I spoke to individual experts, such as several Somali interpreters and family liaison experts who work for the multi-lingual, multicultural office of the Portland, ME public schools. So I had that kind of expert advice to respond to what I was writing. But the original ideas mostly came from my observations, my interactions with Somali students in the classrooms that I visited. And then with Korean students I met many, many Korean students here in the US and I had my own background to draw on there.

Marissa: Can you tell me a little bit more about these classrooms that you’ve visited? We talk with a lot of educators who work with Title I schools and they often talk about how reserved the English as a second language students can be. There is a silent phase that a lot of kids go through. Have you observed that and have you shared your book with any of these first generation immigrants?

It’s certainly been shared with many. I actually just shared it with a group of students in a summer school program — about seventy students from third to fifth grade who were from East African countries and some Middle Eastern countries. Most of the group were immigrants and I read the book and then we had a discussion about being new and being welcoming. Of all the student groups that I’ve worked with, they were actually the most effusive and had the most to share in that discussion about what it feels like to be new and what you can do to welcome someone.

Marissa: What were some of the suggestions?

They had all kinds of ideas about what you could say and do to make somebody feel like they were at home. You could take them around, go through a list and say, “this is your classroom, this is your teacher, this is your playground, this is your classmate.”

Roxana: You’re taking me back – a few years back I came to the United States when I was twelve from El Salvador, speaking no English. It hits close to home in terms of the importance of the work you are doing, not just for kids who may not always feel like they belong, but also for the kids who can actually help that process be an easier one.

Welcoming Week_Anne Sibley O'BrienThat is wonderful to hear. I was just struck that they had more suggestions than any group I’d worked with, they could hardly be contained. They had so much they wanted to say and I think it’s very fresh in their minds what welcoming looks like and maybe what did or what didn’t happen for them. So the list that they wrote: welcome to my class, say hi, wave, smile, hello, say this is my classroom, these are my friends, do you want to become friends? these are my parents, this is my family, show them around, this is my chair, this is my house, this is your school, this is my teacher, can you read with me? how’s it going? I live here, where do you live? do you need help? welcome to my school.

It was the specificity of it that I just loved.

And they said what it felt like to be new. These kids went beyond with the details so they said: scared, nervous, confused, happy, sad, lonely, shy, surprised. Which is what I get with any group that I talk to — but then they wrote: don’t know how to write, don’t know everybody, don’t know what to do, don’t know what they’re saying, don’t know what to say, don’t think you fit in, embarrassed, don’t know how to read books, don’t know what to think, don’t know how to play games, don’t know how to respond, don’t know how to use the computer. So that is a really rich, concrete list.

Marissa: What about educators, how have educators responded to your book?

It’s been pretty phenomenal. The book is in its third printing and it’s just a year old. Actually, it went into its third print run in June. That is by far the fastest that any book of mine has taken off, so there seemed to really be a hunger. There are quite a number of books about an individual immigrant’s story, but I think what people are responding to, what they found useful, is that this book is different because it’s a concept book about the experience of being new and being welcoming, and in that way it works. A particular story can make a deep connection even if your experience is quite different, you recognize things that are similar. But to have one book that outlines what the experience is like, it is very good for discussions. I’ve done more teacher conferences and appearances, especially in the TESOL community, than I did before. Normally I do a lot of schools where I talk to students, but in the past year the majority of my appearances have been for teacher conferences.

Marissa: Have any of them come up to you and told you how it’s resonated with them? Have you met any educators who are immigrants themselves?

Yes, definitely! The TESOL community is full of people who have immigrant backgrounds. I shouldn’t say full, but there is quite a healthy percentage of the TESOL community who come from that background themselves. Partly because schools often recruit someone who’s bilingual, so you tend to get a lot of wonderful richness of people’s life experiences. They might be second generation or they might not have come as a child but they definitely make a strong connection to children who have that experience. I remember, in particular, some very moving statements that people made standing in line waiting to have a book signed. Talking about how it was “their story” or people talking about and being reminded of their own students. When I talked about the book they were in tears thinking about their own students.

Marissa: Ideally, how would you like to see your book being used in a classroom or a child’s home?

I think I see it in two ways. First, for a child who has just arrived and who is in a situation where things are strange; to be able to recognize themselves and see that their experience is reflected in something that makes them feel less lonely and that there is hope. Many, many people have gone through this experience and it can be so difficult but you can get through.

And to the children who are not recent immigrants, who have been part of a community for generations; that it would spark empathy for children,  for them to imagine what it would be like if they had that experience. Starting with that universal experience of somehow being new somewhere and to recognize, “oh, I remember what that felt like” and imagine if it was not only a new school, but a new country and a new language and a new culture and new food and new religions and on and on and on. Particularly for them to imagine what they could do, concretely, to examine what the new children are doing and to see how hard they are working, the effort that they are making. And also how their classmates are responding so that the outcome is the whole group building a community together.

To learn more about I’m New Here and Anne’s perspective, watch and listen as she discusses the book and her insights into the experiences of immigrant children.

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10. The Anatomy of a Backpack

Anatomy of a Backpack

Remember shopping for school supplies? You combed the store aisle to pick out the perfect binder. You couldn’t wait to crack open that brand new box of crayons.

Getting ready for school is a lot more than checking items off of a list. It’s a rite of passage. Fresh markers, pencils, and notebooks get kids excited about learning. Compared to used or donated supplies, brand new items match the excitement of a new school year and new possibilities. When they have the tools they need, kids go to school with confidence.

If you serve kids in need, you can help instill that confidence with new supplies from the First Book Marketplace. There is more to a backpack than meets the eye — it’s not just textbooks, paper, and pencils. The anatomy of a backpack includes items like calculators, for when students run out of fingers and toes to count. It includes gluesticks, because sometimes tape just doesn’t do the trick. It includes highlighters, so students can learn how to focus on key parts of what they’re reading.

When many students’ backpacks are put on the examining table it becomes clear that some things are missing from their anatomy. Maybe they have fresh paper, but nothing to write with. Perhaps they have pencils, markers and paper, but no backpack to put them in. The First Book Marketplace offers educators and program leaders the opportunity to help fill a child’s backpack with what they need.

And if it’s the backpack itself that they need, First Book has those too.

 

Please visit the supplies section of the First Book Marketplace to find more items that make up the anatomy of a backpack.

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11. Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow

Attendance Works

September is National Attendance Awareness Month, a time when schools and programs across the country emphasize the connection between satisfactory school attendance and academic achievement.

Researchers and social scientists are always trying to figure out the secret to academic success for students. Public schools or charter schools? Is standardized testing effective? What role should technology play in schools? For every answer, more questions emerge.attendance-works

One thing the leading minds in education do know is that attendance works. If a teacher is looking for a way to help improve their students’ academic outcomes, attendance works.

Our friends at Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes better policy and practice around school attendance, have developed FREE resources in English and Spanish that help reinforce the importance of attendance for caregivers of young children.

Why Attendance Matters:

  • Early attendance helps children read and succeed later in school
  • Children from low-income families are more likely to be affected by lost school time
  • Chronic absenteeism starts early, so encourage good attendance habits now

These resources are a great way for teachers to engage with their students’ caregivers and highlight the importance of good school attendance. Teachers can use the strategies and tactics found in these downloadable materials to help caregivers ensure attendance is a priority for their young students now and in the future.

Because after all, attendance works.

If you serve kids in need, please visit the Attendance Works section of the First Book Marketplace to download FREE resources that can be used to engage caregivers and convey the importance of satisfactory school attendance.

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12. Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorites for October

First Book’s book experts picked their favorite spooky stories that will frighten and delight young readers. Don’t be afraid to pick up any of our recommended titles!picmonkey-collage-5-favs

Pre-K –K (Ages 3-6):

Ghosts in the House! written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara
At the edge of town lives a clever girl with a spooky problem: Her house is haunted! Luckily, she happens to be a witch and knows a little something about taking care of ghosts.

We love this book because: it’s got just the right amount of sweet and scary for the youngest trick-or-treaters. Fresh and charming illustrations in dynamic orange, black and white bring this resourceful heroine and these spooky ghosts to life.

For 1st and 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):

Los Gatos Black on Halloween written by Marisa Montes and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Follow los monstruos and los esqueletos to a Halloween party in a fun and frightful bilingual poem. Accompanied by illustrations that are as gorgeous as they are creepy, this is a great Halloween-themed read-aloud book that kids will want to read and re-read all year long.

We love this book because: this book introduces young readers to a spooky array of Spanish words that will open their ojos to the chilling delights of the season.

 

For 3rd & 4th grade (Ages 8-10):

Attack of the Shark-Headed Zombie by Bill Doyle
After Keats and Henry lose their bikes, they need money – fast. So the help-wanted ad at the supermarket seems ideal for them. All they have to do is weed Hallway House’s garden, find some light bulbs in the attic, sweep the garage…and battle a shark-headed zombie.

We love this book because: With an imaginative youngster as its main character, this book weaves the tale of an exciting and fun adventure that will keep kids turning pages and entertain even reluctant readers.

 

 

For 5th & 6th grade (Ages 10-12):

Ghost Fever / Mal de fantasma (Bilingual, English/Spanish) by Joe Hayes
Elena Padilla’s father didn’t believe in ghosts, and that’s a shame, because his disbelief ends up making Elena a very sick girl. The story starts in an old rundown house in a dusty little town in Arizona. Nobody will rent that house because … well, a ghost haunts it. The landlord can’t even rent it out for free! That is, not until foolish old Frank Padilla comes along thinking he can save some money.

Lucky for Elena that her grandmother knows all about the mysterious ways of ghosts. With her grandmother’s help and advice, Elena solves the mystery of the ghost girl, recuperates from her ghost fever and, in the process, learns a valuable lesson about life.

We love this book because: It’s really scary! The incredible details of this story – with English and Spanish on opposite pages – will stay with readers after the story ends. Children who enjoy a good fright will really love this book.

 

Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+):

Lockwood & Co. #1: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see—and eradicate—these supernatural foes.

We love this book because: Complex and endearing characters navigate an alternate reality wherein the dead don’t die – what’s not to love? The book’s fantastic world is sure to hook readers – even we can’t wait to pick up the next title in the series!

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13. First Book Concierge Services: A Helping Hand For Large Orders

We know how hard our members work for the kids they serve, their schools or programs, and their communities. The First Book Network strives every day to put high-quality, diverse books into the hands of kids in need — books that might encourage a reluctant reader, reveal distant worlds, or open eager minds to new ideas. Books help reinforce students’ interests and celebrate their strengths.

truckload_box_webThe Concierge Services team at First Book is here to help members who need a larger quantity of books. For events large and small, we provide the kind of high-touch, hands-on service that relieves you of the burden of logistics and allows every child you serve to find a book they love.

We are available to work with educators and program leaders to create a book list or collection that will fit your program’s needs and reflect the diversity of the population you serve. As experts in children’s books — with backgrounds in children’s literacy, education, and publishing — our team can guide you through the process.

If you are:

  • Planning a book fair
  • Building classroom libraries
  • Sending home books as part of an after-school/summer program
  • Creating a shared reading experience, or
  • Distributing school supplies or basic needs items

We can provide you with a range of book choices for any age group, create an affordable package, and track the order right to your doorstep.conciergeeeee

Over the next few months, the First Book blog will highlight some of the work Concierge Services has done to connect kids in need with stories and characters that they love. We are here to make things a little easier — to equip you with the resources you need to do the essential work of changing your students’ lives.

 

If you serve children in low-income communities and need a large quantity of books or resources at the best possible price, reach out to First Book’s Concierge Services at [email protected] or call the Member Services Team at 866.732.3669 and ask for Concierge Services.

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14. #ReadUP: A Non-Partisan Call-to-Action for Education and Literacy

readupFirst Book and Pearson, the world’s learning company, are encouraging America to #ReadUP as part of their campaign dedicated to raising the importance of literacy in the week leading up to Election Day. The campaign will unlock funds for new books to children in need and promote informed decision-making as Election Day draws closer.

For every use of the #ReadUP hashtag through November 8, 2016, First Book will donate a book to a child in need, with funding from Pearson, of up to $10,000.

“Among the many issues discussed in this year’s election season, the importance of an informed electorate has taken center stage,” said Kyle Zimmer, First Book president and CEO. “But key to the growth of an educated public is the ability to read and think. Raising the next generation of voters is dependent on the equitable and widespread distribution of books and educational resources. This is the mission to which First Book has dedicated itself for nearly 25 years.”

boys-with-books

Jennifer Young, Director of Social Impact Programs at Pearson, said, “Literacy is the foundation for learning. Without literacy, people can’t access education, are more likely to experience poverty, and are unable to participate fully in society. That’s why Pearson founded and convened Project Literacy, a global campaign to close the literacy gap by 2030 – a gap that stands at one out of every tenth person on this planet who is locked out of the opportunities that literacy can bring. Pearson is very proud to be supporting the great work of First Book to help thousands of children start their journey towards a life of literacy and lifelong learning.”

Even if it is tough to imagine, the wide-eyed and curious children of today will become the voters of tomorrow. Having an informed electorate doesn’t happen overnight. The #ReadUP campaign aims to help give children the resources they need to explore their curiosities, ask important questions, and ultimately become well-informed voters.

And who knows, it might just be one of those children who we’re voting for  in the future.

Education is the foundation of our future. Use the hashtag #ReadUP on social media to promote literacy and provide a new book to a child in need. Visit First Book’s social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to join in the conversation. 

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15. Cathy Was My Best Friend. Here’s How I Honored Her.

Judy and Cathy 2

Judy Willner is an educator and writing skills teacher for elementary school students in Philadelphia. When she lost her closest friend Cathy earlier this year, Judy decided the best way to honor her would be to set up a First Book campaign. She wanted to celebrate their shared love of reading and children.

Judy wanted to share Cathy’s story in her own words:

Dear Reader,

June 29 would have been my Cathy’s 60th birthday. I had already started planning for it this time last year. We did that kind of stuff for each other – big parties, cards sent sixty days in advance.

Cathy was my best friend. We met in middle school, survived high school as nerdy late-bloomers, and traversed around Mexico together after graduation. I remember how the “older folks” who shared our tour bus loved her so much, how her smile and charm were infectious.

She was a reader, a card-sender, the queen of Facebook, and above all else, the most generous and kind-hearted person anyone could ever hope to be their best friend. I am so happy that for forty-five years I was privileged enough to call Cathy my best friend.

To celebrate and honor Cathy I decided to create a First Book Campaign in her name.

Cathy never had children of her own, but children had a very special place in her heart. Getting books to kids in her hometown of Philadelphia would have sent her over the moon. There would have been pictures all over Facebook of kids with their books!

Now, more than 500 books are going to be put in the hands of students in my classes and other classes across Philadelphia.

Cathy did that. And you can too.

Here’s to Cathy,

Judy Willner
Teacher and Book Lover
Philadelphia, PA

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16. Take Your Imagination On Vacation

imagination on vacation

Children don’t need planes, trains and automobiles to be transported to different countries, different worlds or even different points of view. All it takes is an engaged imagination and the right resources and they can explore the far-off corners of their active and growing minds.

First Book offers books and resources that will stimulate children’s creativity this summer and take their imaginations on vacations!

Imaginative Play

Children can fly to outer space, perform surgery, put out an inferno, explore uncharted territories and do it all before lunch with the help of fun role playing costumes. When children imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a doctor their world expands and they begin to dream bigger. In this section you’ll also find puppets, building blocks and even a toy taco!

imagination on vacation

Fairy and Folk Tales

This section is filled with old classics as well as exciting new titles that will keep young minds captivated. These stories, legends and myths from different cultures all over the globe will give children endless worlds full of princesses, monsters and giant beanstalks to explore.

imagination on vacation

Fantasy and Sci-Fi

Books and stories from different dimensions and galaxies! Free from the rules of space and time, the books and stories in this section will help children think beyond what seems possible and imagine freely. Children can go to the beach in another galaxy or visit an amusement park in the future…the imagination vacation possibilities go on and on with these engaging books.

imagination on vacation

Arts and Crafts

All of the beautiful paintings or paper planes children dream up can’t come to life without the tools and resources they need. This section features a wide variety of kits and activities that will help children turn their creative ideas into fantastic works of art or fun puppets.

imagination on vacation

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17. One Campaign. A Lasting Culture of Reading.

Cottage Kids Read

Six years ago, Sue Resnick and Liz Frankel started the Cottage Kids Read program at the Pleasantville Cottage School. While volunteering at the school they noticed something that struck them. There weren’t any books for pleasure in the cottages where the students lived.

Located in Pleasantville, NY, the residential treatment facility serves kids who have been neglected, abused, or whose families are unable to care for them.

Sue and Liz knew books could be a solace for kids who may lack a source of calm in their daily lives. Reading stories or poems that interest them could open up new worlds. After they identified the issue, Sue and Liz went to the school’s Therapeutic Arts Director, Dee Hanbury, to find a solution.

Three years ago Dee, Sue and Liz discovered First Book campaigns. Since then, volunteers and staff have had great success raising the money they need to purchase books through First Book. They’ve used First Book campaigns to not only fill the cottages with books, but to expose kids to new ideas and help them dream big.

Now, when kids see Sue and Liz on campus, they ask for books by name. The kids have their favorite authors. Liz and Sue have created a culture of reading that not only helps kids grow, but has therapeutic benefits as some work through complex emotional challenges.

“They say that reading gives them an escape when they need to get away from bad memories or from their peers to get some space,” says Dee.

The volunteers and staff see the impact books have on kids’ lives — it’s why they work tirelessly to raise more money each year. And with First Book campaigns, their work can go even further.

Start your work today.

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18. Welcome Back to School

backtoschool

There are still a few weeks of summer left, but now is the time to find everything you need to build an enriching environment for the kids in your school, class or program. First Book’s Back to School Hub is your source for great books and resources that will help turn a successful first day of school into a successful school year.

The Back to School Hub includes:

  • School suppliesschools_first_day
  • Learning games and activities
  • Books celebrating diversity and inclusion
  • FREE ebooks and more!

The first day of school can be a little stressful for students, teachers, staff…and even the school itself! Help ease those first day jitters by reading the charming School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex with illustrations by Christian Robinson, available on the First Book Marketplace.

 

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19. Educators and Families: A Powerful Partnership

Estrella

Looking for ways to get families more involved with your classroom or program? Or for resources to send home with them? The First Book Marketplace is the place to go!

Visit us for great family read alouds, resource collections for kids ages 0-12 and tips to arm caregivers with the skills they need. When educators and families are on the same page and pulling in the same direction it gives kids the confidence they need to keep building skills.

 

The family book

Build Strong Families with Stories

The books in this section model habits that families can adopt to grow stronger together. Each title is paired with a FREE downloadable reading guide designed for parents and caregivers. It includes activities, discussion prompts, and key ideas to take away from the story.

Tools to Get Families Involved

First Book proudly partners with content experts to provide easy-to-use tools to help you engage with families around subjects like healthy living, developing early literacy skills and building strong character. Our Family Engagement section includes 12 unique categories of books paired with free downloadable tip sheets, many in both English and Spanish.

 

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20. Chromebooks Are Here!

It has always been First Book’s mission to provide access to new books for children in need.

When children today grow up they will depend not only on their reading skills, but also their skills with technology. That is why First Book is proud to offer new Chromebooks on its marketplace along with other great devices teachers can use to incorporate technology in their classrooms and lessons.

boy with laptop small image

There is no wrong way for a child to become a reader. Whether it’s through one imaginative picture book or the thousands of stories available online, when a child is able to access rich and varied content they improve their skills and flourish as readers.

These kinds of resources also offer children the opportunity to explore what fascinates them about their favorite books and stories, a chance they might not have otherwise. Many of the children First Book serves do not have consistent access to computers or the internet at home. By having Chromebooks or other devices in the classroom they can learn to do their own research to answer questions like, “how much do caterpillars really eat?” or “does the moon need to sleep?”

chromebook_j5_front_facing

In First Book’s quest to ensure that every child has access to high-quality books and resources, technology resources like Chromebooks and tablets are the next frontier.

Visit the Devices section on the First Book Marketplace to learn more about Chromebooks and discover all of First Book’s newest technology offerings. Don’t hesitate though, certain resources are only available while supplies last!

 

 

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21. Sit, Stay, Read: Kids & Canines Learning Literacy Skills Together

Girl with dog

The canine volunteers at Sit, Stay, Read visit classrooms in some of Chicago’s most troubled neighborhoods. The elementary school students they meet often juggle more responsibilities than most kids their age, so learning to read can seem like an extra chore.

“If you feel stressed about reading, like some of our little guys do, reading to a dog makes them feel more comfortable, more ready, and more open to the experience of reading,” says Kate McIlvain, Program Director at Sit, Stay, Read.

That is why volunteer dogs like Tilly come to classrooms and listen to students read. The canine companions enjoy any book, but dog-themed titles like Go, Dog, Go or Because of Winn-Dixie are popular choices. Tilly is happy to give her undivided attention and doesn’t mind if her reading partner stumbles on a word or two. Experiencing that kind of support and unconditional love while they read helps kids build confidence in their own literacy skills.

Often they’re having so much fun interacting with their new furry friends that they forget they’re learning.

“We’re really excited that we get to bring our program into schools and provide additional support on top of what the teachers are already doing to help make a fun, safe, comfortable, caring learning environment for our kids,” says Kate.

When the school year ends, Sit, Stay, Read holds a “Keep Reading Celebration” at every school they visit. At the party, the kids receive books and school supplies to bring home to encourage them to continue building their literacy skills throughout the summer.

Boy with dog

This year, thanks to support from long-time First Book partner KPMG, Sit, Stay, Read was able to use the First Book Marketplace to increase the number of books that kids took home over summer break.

Unfortunately, the dogs can’t go home with the kids, too. But they will always remember their four-legged reading buddy and the excitement and the confidence-building they felt reading with them every time they pick up their books.

 

Sit, Stay, Read was able to receive books through First Book’s partnership with KPMG & KPMG’s Family for Literacy – a unique employee engagement program featuring volunteer opportunities, book distributions, celebration events and fundraising efforts that provide books for First Book programs in KPMG communities. If you work with children in need, you can access books and resources for your classroom through the First Book Marketplace.

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22. Sneak Peek: Resources For Social & Emotional Development

kids with disney books_web

Books are not only a great resource for developing reading skills, they are also a fantastic way to help kids develop healthy feelings and relationships. In the coming weeks, the First Book Marketplace will feature a collection of hand-picked books that address key aspects of social and emotional development.

In addition to the books, First Book has partnered with Molina Healthcare to provide helpful resources that teachers and parents can use to tie these engaging stories to healthy living. Teaching kids how to interact with others and manage their own emotions is an essential part of their development, just as important as their intellectual or physical development. These carefully curated books and resources are designed to do just that.

Here’s a sneak peek of the kinds of books and tips you can expect in the collection!

ICanHelpI Can Help by David Hyde Costello

A little duck gets lost until a helpful monkey comes along to lend a hand.

Brainstorm a number of situations that children may find themselves experiencing in which they need to ask for help. Next, identify who are the appropriate people in their family, school or community to ask for help in those situations. Examples could include calling 911 for firefighters in the case of a fire, talking with a teacher or parent for homework help, and visiting a doctor or school nurse if they are sick. This activity can be extended by role-playing. For example, one child can pretend to see a fire and call a firefighter for help. Then another group of children can pretend to be firefighters who come and put out the fire.

MyFriendMaggie

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison

Paula knows Maggie is a great friend, but when Veronica says mean things about Maggie, Paula doesn’t stand up for her.

Letter writing, even when one doesn’t plan to give the letter to the addressee, can be a great tool for processing feelings and thinking through how to handle a conflict. Have the children write a letter from one of this story’s characters to another (such as from Maggie to Paula), explaining how that character’s actions made her feel. Encourage students to try letter writing (even without giving the letters) when they face conflicts with their friends to help them express their feelings and think through how they would like the situation to be resolved.

For more books and resources from First Book and Molina Healthcare, please visit the health and wellness section on the First Book Marketplace.

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23. Q&A with Author Jason Reynolds

Author Jason Reynolds’ books start the conversations about the difficult issues facing kids today. His experiences, as told through the characters in his stories, are very much like those of the children we serve – which is why we feel it’s so important for them to hear Jason’s voice.

We had the opportunity to talk with Jason about his experiences, his journey to becoming an author, and how he’s seen his books affect young readers.

 

Q. Were you an avid reader as a child?

A. Absolutely not. I actually didn’t read much at all, though I had books all around me. Most of them were classics. Canonical literature. But to a kid growing up in the midst of the hip-hop generation, a time where most young people of color were exposed to the hardships of drugs and violence, I gravitated more toward the storytelling of rap music, than I did the dense and seemingly disconnected narrative arc of books (during that time).

 

Q. What stories or poetry did you connect with as a young person? Did you have trouble connecting with stories as a child?

A. I had a really hard time connecting with stories as a child, especially within the confines of a book. But I was introduced to poetry by reading the lyrics of Queen Latifah, Tupac, Slick Rick, and lots of other rappers. From there, I started to make connections between their lyrics and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. But eventually I began reading more traditional narratives, the first being Black Boy, by Richard Wright. It changed my life.

 

Q. Are there books you’ve read today that you wish you’d been exposed to as a child or young adult?

A. All of Walter Dean Myers’s work. Also, I wish there would’ve been as much focus on graphic novels back then, as there is now. That would’ve been extremely valuable to me.

 

Q. We first met you as a writer through your poetry in My Name is Jason. Why did you make the transition into writing novels? And how is your process for writing poetry different than writing novels?

A. I never wanted to write novels, so you can blame Christopher Myers for that. He’s the one who challenged me to give it a shot. My plan was to be only a poet. But there was something in Walter Dean Myers’s stories — a permission to be myself on the page I hadn’t felt before. So I let myself be myself, let my language live freely on the page without the pretense and pressure of the academy or some phantom scholarship. And turns out, it worked! Now, the poetry was a big help mainly because as a poet I valued the importance of beginning and ending, which has lent itself to my work tremendously.

 

Q. You toured extensively with Brendan Kiely for All American Boys. Can you recount a few of the most powerful moments you had with students and/or with adults while on tour?

There were so many. One thing that was interesting was, everywhere we went we would ask the students the same two questions:all_american_boys
1.) How many of you know about police brutality? They’d all raise their hands. And,
2.) How many of you have spoken to your friends about it? Ninety percent of the hands went down.
We realized that kids knew about it but weren’t discussing it, but we also deduced that it wasn’t because they didn’t want to talk about it, but instead was because they didn’t have the framework or the safe space to do so. By the end of our presentation, everyone always had questions and comments, ready for the hard conversation. Some other interesting moments . . . We met a man in Cincinnati, a white man raising two black boys. He came over to us and explained that All American Boys had helped him understand what his sons might be facing outside of his home, and that he needed to be as open as possible and as emotionally and mentally equipped so that he could serve as not only their father, but as their ally. He even said reading the book helped him feel more whole. I also had a student come to me, a young black girl in Philly, who wanted to know if I ever wished I could change the color of my skin, just because she was afraid of the fear other people have of it. She was in the seventh grade, and in that moment I got to pour into her. Tell her that she was perfect the way she was. I have tons of these stories. Mexican kids in Texas who wondered what their role is. Wealthy white boys in Baltimore forming cultural sensitivity groups in their schools. Even recently watching a group of students perform the theatrical version of All American Boys in Brooklyn. Young people are ready to talk. And they’re ready to act. We (adults) just have to arm them.

 

Q. Do you see your teenage self in any of your novels? If so, which one(s) and in what ways?

A. I’m in all of them. Each and every one of them. I like to pull from actual stories from my teenage years, like Ali and the MoMo party in, When I Was The Greatest, or Matt Miller and his mother’s cancer in, The Boy in The Black Suit. I’m always the protagonist, at least parts of me. Writing is cathartic for me, and a way to process parts of my life that I’ve either worked hard to hold on to, or have desperately tried to forget.

 

Q. How important was it to have a co-author for Quinn’s voice in All American Boys?

A. It was paramount. The truth is, I might’ve been able to write a decent book, based around Rashad’s narrative, but what Brendan brings to the story with Quinn is, to me, the most important part of the story. It’s the part we don’t hear about, and the part most necessary to sit with and dissect when it comes to making change. It’s something I’m not sure I could’ve written with the same authenticity as Brendan, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on that project.

 

Q. Why do you feel it’s important for kids of varied backgrounds to read the stories you write?

A. You know, I think about this often, and I think ultimately what I hope is that they read my books and feel cared for. Feel less alone. There’s an impenetrable power to simple acknowledgement.

 

Q.Why is it important for kids, especially kids from low-income communities, to have access to brand-new books?

 A. It’s important for kids from low-income communities to have brand-new anything. But if it could be a book, let alone a book that speaks directly to their experiences, then it’s a double-win.

 

Watch the video below for more insights from Jason:

Thanks to the support of Jason Reynolds’ publisher, Simon & Schuster, 20,000 of Reynolds’ young adult and middle grade titles will be distributed to children in need through First Book.

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24. A Library Full of Books & Happiness

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“Will they still be here tomorrow?” students often ask Morgan VanClief, the librarian at P.A. Shaw Elementary School in Dorchester, MA.

They’re asking about the brand new books that Morgan has been able to bring to the school’s library through generous grants and access to the First Book Marketplace. Many of her students simply aren’t used to having resources available to them on a consistent basis, so they get nervous that the fun and exciting books they see today might not be there tomorrow.

Thanks to Morgan and funding partners like KPMG, they can be confident that the books they love will be available to them day in, day out.

“I think it helps show them that they do deserve to have these resources at school, just like any other kid,” Morgan says.

In just two years as the school’s librarian, Morgan has turned the library into a vibrant and engaging place where students can explore their interests — but it hasn’t always been that way.

“It was literally just an empty room,” Morgan says of the library, “now we have shelves full of books, computers, and even a little theatre area.”

Students are becoming more comfortable using the library regularly and in turn, more comfortable at school. Just by coming to the library every day kids are opening up, advancing reading levels and most importantly, they’re happier.

“One student who was in kindergarten two years ago—he was very reserved, kind of withdrawn, almost sad at school,” Morgan says, “but after two years of constantly coming to the library, he enjoys school now and his family says he is happier at home too.”

For many students, questions about whether or not the books will be available have been replaced by other questions. Questions about a book’s characters, or the setting of their favorite story–questions that will help them learn and grow.

Morgan VanClief’s library was able to receive books through First Book’s partnership with KPMG. If you work with children in need, you can access books and resources for your classroom through the First Book Marketplace.

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25. ‘Link to Libraries’ Connects Education With Basic Needs

Since 2008, nonprofit organization Link to Libraries has served kids in need all across Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. President and Co-Founder Susan Jaye-Kaplan helped start the organization to give kids opportunities to explore our world through books and expand their horizons.

Recently it has become so much more.

Link to Libraries is making use of the basic needs items on the First Book Marketplace and supporting kids beyond providing access to books.

“Link to Libraries is known primarily as a book donation and distribution organization,” says Susan, “but we give far more to our target audience — students in need. We distribute combs, dental hygiene kits, bilingual bookmarks, and more.”

Link to LibrariesThough books and educational materials are important, basic needs items are also essential for students if they hope to make the most of their education.

One student who participates with Link to Libraries had to miss time at school because of dental surgery, time that can be critical to their development.

“The fact is, this child’s teeth impacted their ability to go to school and learn. If they had had all the dental care products they needed, maybe this doesn’t happen” says Susan.

The basic needs items available through the First Book Marketplace all have an effect on a child’s education. Coats are essential for getting to and from school during winter months. Non-perishable food items prevent kids from losing focus when they get hungry. New t-shirts mean children can play during recess and not worry about a stretch here or a stain there.

Susan knows just how far these kinds of items can go for a child in need. She grew up in a difficult environment and situation herself. She wants to pay forward the kindness that she received as a child growing up in Boston.

“I was fortunate to have had Mrs. Bolton, an assistant librarian at the Boston Public Library, as a child,” Susan, now in her 70s, recalls, “she would bring me all the new books that came into the children’s room and on occasion an apple or carton of milk. My siblings and I sat there after school for many years as it was a safe and warm place to go. We were able to travel the world by reading those wonderful books and yet we never left that couch in the library.”

Thanks to Link to Libraries, many kids will see the world through books and have everything they need for the adventure.

Susan and Link to Libraries are doing impactful work using basic needs items and if you serve children in need, you can too. Please visit the basic needs section of the First Book Marketplace to learn more.

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