As I sit down to write this, I’m surrounded by seemingly endless stacks of books that my 4 ½ year old daughters have scattered around my office. Madeline. A Weekend With Wendell. My Name is Not Isabella. Knuffle Bunny. The list goes on. I glance across the hall and see dozens more in their overflowing bookshelf, and think of the nightly questions we encounter, without fail: Who gets to choose a book first? How many stories can we have? Can I take books into bed after lights out?
Until earlier this year, I assumed that the “bedtime book battle” was one that every family faces. Attending Mom Congress in April, though, opened my eyes to the massive divide between what our family experiences, and so many others do not. Meeting with organizations like Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Jumpstart, National Headstart Association, and Reach Out and Read, we learned that 2/3 of America’s children living in poverty don’t have a single book at home, and that the ratio of children to books in low-income neighborhoods is 300 to 1. Wow.
So What is Books Make it Better, Anyway?
Books Make t Better began with a discussion over dinner at Mom Congress; several of us knew that we wanted to do something to support early literacy efforts, but weren’t quite sure where to begin.
In the following weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I had learned, and organized a local grassroots book drive in Portland, Oregon. We gathered over 700 kids books and started a “take-one-home” library for income families at a local health center, along with with copies of KinderCare’s “Today I Will Get Lost In a Book: A Guide to Reading With Your Child.”
Over the summer, I connected with fellow Delegates Renee Berry (WA), Meghan Lynch (NJ) who were eager to collaborate and help take this idea to the next level. We began reaching out to other delegates, too, for their input. It didn’t take long for “Books Make t Better” to take shape!
Today, our goal is twofold:
- Support early literacy efforts for kids in need in our communities
- Create an easy and flexible framework for families, schools, and community groups to create dialogue and engage kids in activities that promote more compassion, empathy, and awareness of others around them.
How Can You Get Involved? Five Easy Ways
1. Educate yourself on why Early Literacy Matters. Research shows us that language skills — the foundation for reading ability and school readiness — are based primarily on language exposure, and yet only 36% of low-income kids in our communities are read to daily. A great place to start is “The Early Literacy Crisis: A Mom Congress Special Report”, and on our Books Make t Better site here.
2. Take Action Today With Our Easy Toolkit! You can download our “Getting Started” Toolkit, Sample Press Releases and Marketing Tools, Social Media Tips, Community Partner Resources, and more on the Mom Congress Resource Center here. (http://www.parenting.com/mom-congress-member-resource-center).
3. Support our Virtual Book Drive! We have partnered with Reach Out and Read, an organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms by giving books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Dr. Robert Needlman joined us at Mom Congress to share the history of this incredible program; the children they serve enter kindergarten with a six-month developmental edge due to the increased access to reading, vocabulary, and language skills. Why not make a donation on behalf of your child — and spread the word to others — about our Virtual Book Drive today?
4. Talk to Your Kids. One of the most powerful takeaways of my Spring drive was the opportunity it gave me to start a dialogue with my own daughters about the importance of giving back at any age. Our Toolkit (http://www.parenting.com/mom-congress-member-resource-center) also includes a “Framework for Family Dialogue”, with discussion points, activities, and reading lists to encourage kids of all ages to learn about the importance of helping others. My daughters now know that, twice a year, we’ll be cleaning out our bookshelves for local kids in need. That’s a powerful message that I’m proud to be sending.
among your networks and communities. If you are a blogger and would like to interview any of the participating Mom Congress delegates for a blog or podcast, we’d love to tell you more. We’ve started hearing from moms across the country who are getting programs underway, and will be featuring updates on our Facebook Page, Twitter, and on BooksMakeitBetter.org. If you have questions, feel free to contact us anytime!
We’re excited to see the impact we can make between now and the end of the year through Books Make It Better, and will be sharing updates in January about the impact of our Fall Drives. How many books can we collect? How many cities, states, and volunteers can we engage? How many children and families can we serve? We can’t wait to find out and hope you will join us!
Jen is Oregon's 2011 Mom Congress delegate, and lives in Portland, OR. As a passionate preschool parent to identical (yet nothing alike) twin daughters, she is an active volunteer with several local community organizations who support early literacy, student health & hunger relief, and arts education efforts. Through her small business marketing firm, Big Small Brands, Jen also provides pro-bono services for education nonprofits; Connect with her at 1OregonMom.org, on Twitter @1OregonMom and @BooksBetter, and in "Reflections of An Oregon Mom".