ENGAGE! Access Literacy Resources through First Book

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Kyle Zimmer, President and CEO of First Book

Today I am interviewing Kyle Zimmer, the President and CEO of First Book. First Book is a non-profit social enterprise founded to provide new books to children in need. First Book was founded in 1992 and has distributed more than 110 million free and low cost books in thousands of communities.

Hi Kyle and welcome to ENGAGE! Can you tell us why it’s so important for children to have books at home?

Thanks for having me.  It’s no secret that books are the critical ingredient for success – in school and in life. The London-based Institute of Education released a study not long ago showing that children who read for pleasure do significantly better in school than those who don’t – and not just in reading and spelling, but in math as well. That’s something that multiple studies have shown, and it’s something that many of us know from our own experiences as parents.

But there’s an enormous and tragic gap between middle- and upper-class children and their peers from low-income families. Kids in need simply don’t have access to books. There’s one study I often reference – one which never fails to shock – which showed that in some of the poorest communities in the US, there is one book for every 300 children.

What are some of the strategies First Book uses to get books into the communities that need them the most?

There are hundreds of thousands of heroic teachers and local program leaders out there on the front lines in communities across the country, working every day to help kids from low-income neighborhoods fulfill their potential. First Book helps them get the resources that they need – brand-new, high-quality books and classroom materials.  These books and resources allow teachers and volunteers to elevate the quality of their work and implement new curriculum and launch wonderful reading programs.

There are several ways we accomplish our work. Through one channel, we distribute about ten million new books every year that are donated by the publishing industry – we make those books available, free of charge, as we receive them. We also operate our online First Book Marketplace – where educators can purchase the books they need at deeply-discounted prices.  The First Book Marketplace currently offers more than 5200 titles for an average of $2.50 per paperback book – including shipping!

Both of these channels are available exclusively to educators and program leaders that serve children in need.

Many of our PTAs are hosting Family Reading Experiences to help families learn strategies for supporting their children’s literacy. I know First Book has really worked hard to build a platform PTAs can access at http://www.fbmarketplace.org/programs/national-pta. Can you tell us how PTAs can register with First Book so they can access all of the valuable resources you have available?

Anyone who works with kids in need can sign up to get books from First Book. We welcome both PTA leaders and members supporting schools in low income areas. Check out firstbook.org/PTA to learn more or to sign up for your school.

What about PTAs that are in communities that are not low income? How can they work with First Book to get more books into the hands of kids that need them the most?

A great question! The responsibility for getting books into the hands of kids in need lies with all of us, so we welcome PTA members from all walks of life. There are any number of ways they can get involved, including adopting a local Title I school and holding a fundraiser to help them get the books they need by setting up a First Book Virtual Book Drive. You can learn more about Virtual Book Drives and other resources at firstbook.org/PTA.

What are some other ways that First Book works with PTA?

The National PTA has created some terrific resources to help families, like the Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle. Thanks to our partnership, First Book is able to make these resources available to the 100,000+ schools and community programs we support, so that we’re able to give more families not only the books their children need, but tools and resources to help them make the best use of those books.  Visit the Family Engagement section on the First Book Marketplace to see this and other resources to support family involvement in reading.

First Book is also featured as a resource for in the National PTA Schools of Excellence, where the focus is on reading and literacy.

In addition, First Book has pioneered an initiative that we call The Stories for All Project, aimed at dramatically expanding the market for diversity in children’s literature. We’ve offered this platform and these books as ways to support PTA’s Emerging Minority Leaders, and we’re excited about exploring that opportunity.

Thank you so much for joining me today and for all the work that you do at First Book to support children’s literacy. National PTA is delighted to partner with First Book to connect more children with high quality books. If you would like more information about First Book you can find them on the web at www.firstbook.org/pta and the First Book Marketplace is at http://www.firstbook.org/first-book-story/innovation-in-publishing/marketplace.

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