By GUY LAMOLINARA
Every year, the more than 80 organizations that make up the reading promotion partnership network of the Center for the Book gather in Washington at the Library to relate what they have been doing during the past year, to exchange ideas and to find new avenues for collaboration among their partners in reading and literacy promotion.
And they get only about 10 minutes to do so.
Such is the popularity and usefulness of these one-day meetings that nearly 40 diverse organizations sent representatives to the Library for this “idea exchange” on March 9. Participants came from as close as Washington, D.C., and as far away as California.
John Y. Cole, the center’s director, opened the meeting and told participants about the new Young Readers Center (YRC) that the Center for the Book will oversee. The YRC marks the first time in the Library of Congress’s 209-year history that it will have a special room for young readers. The YRC will officially open sometime this fall, and the partners were given a tour of the new facility in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
The first participant to speak about her organization was Brenda Randolph of Africa Access, which is “working to expand perspectives on Africa in various ways.” Randolph noted that Africa Access has reviews of more than 1,000 children’s books on its website, as well as an Africa-oriented book club. The organization also works with the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association in announcing the winners of the Children’s Africana Book Awards.
The Children’s Book Council (CBC) “is trying to stay ahead of the times,” said Robin Adelson, who proved her point by demonstrating the council’s new website. The CBC is a co-sponsor of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program (www.childrensbookambassador.com/) with the Center for the Book. She called it a “brilliant partnership between the CBC and the Center for the Book,” and added, “I am sad to say that in December 2009, Jon Scieszka’s term will be up, but I am thrilled to say that in January 2010 we will have a new ambassador.”
Rebecca Snider of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) discussed a book, published by the APH this year, which is a “great resource for teachers, counselors, parents, children and libraries. It explains common eye diseases and their causes in a child-friendly language. … It helps us promote the independence of individuals who are blind and visually impaired. You might say that removing roadblocks is our business.” APH activities complement the work of the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Reading Is Fundamental’s Rebecca Chrystal-Armstrong said one of the most exciting RIF programs is called Book a Brighter Future, “a multicultural initiative funded by Macy’s for the past two years that lets people buy a coupon for $3 that is good for $10 off in merchandise.” According to Chrystal-Armstrong, the program raised more than $3 million in 2008. RIF targets underserved populations, in particular Native-American, African-American and Hispanic communities.
Pamela Michael then provided an update on a “project with which the Center for the Book is closely involved,” said Cole. “It’s called River of Words.”
“River of Words [www.riverofwords.org] was founded almost in this room, when Robert Hass was appointed Poet Laureate in 1995,” Michael said. “He and I got together to develop a program for K-12 students that would address not only literacy issues, but also the shocking disconnect that children in the modern world have with their own home ground.” The program is based on local watersheds “because we believe water usage is one of the critical issues of our time.” This program, which encourages students to write a poem or create a piece of art based on their local watersheds, is active in 22 countries.
Rozlyn Beitler of The Reading Connection brought a quilt for her discussion. The quilt celebrates the organization’s 20th anniversary after its founding by an Arlington, Va., teacher to serve at-risk families in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. In one project, 150 volunteers read to more than 700 children. “We also offer workshops for parents to model for them how to share books with their children. Many of them lack the confidence to read to their children,” said Beitler.
Mary Brigid Barrett of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, which is an organization of authors and illustrators, said, “We had an eight-year project that finally came to fruition in September. … ‘Our White House: Looking In. Looking Out’ is everything we wanted. A history book based on the White House that is multicultural and multidisciplinary in nature, which was full of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and great original art.” Barrett made special note of all the partners in the room that had helped with the success of the book, which was featured at the 2008 National Book Festival. (See Information Bulletin, November 2008.)
Linda Lancaster of First Book said, “I love this meeting because it has worked so well for First Book in building new partnerships. We are a national literacy organization whose only mission is to put new books in the hands of children from low-income families.” In the 17 years of its existence, First Book has distributed more than 65 million books “with the help of most of you sitting at this table.”
Anita Merina from the National Education Association spoke about its Read Across America program, which for the past 12 years “has celebrated the joy of reading. The accompanying website (www.nea.org/grants/886.htm) offers free downloads of four Dr. Seuss books. “We just took the Cat in the Hat on tour, reading to 300 to 700 kids on each stop of the tour.”
Her final comment was a fitting close for the meeting: “We love our partners. Thank you for making our programs such a success.”
Guy Lamolinara is the communications officer for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.