Monday, April 5, 2021

The Book Love Foundation

 Penny Kittle teaches freshman composition at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire and has logged a few decades in public school as a reading teacher and literacy coach. She's picked up some NCTE awards, written some books, and generally done pretty well professionally. But for my money, one of the coolest things she has done starts with this story:

I stood in a most perfect bookstore in the Memphis airport one evening smelling the strong scent of Bar-B-Q that permeates the place as I waited for my flight.

Under maple bookshelves lit softly by spotlights, I came upon a collection of animal books, not just The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron, but Cassius: The True Story of a Courageous Police Dog by Gordon Thorburn, which explores the scenting capabilities of police dogs that help solve crimes.

There were books about training birds, the history of zoos, and endangered species. I could imagine current students who would enjoy each title. This was an intriguing collection placed directly across from classics recommended by those who work in the store. There was a shelf of new fiction, one of psychology and self-discovery, and a section for business books. The store went on and on. You know: a book for anyone who might wander through this place. It’s hard not to pick lovely books up, hard not to stuff my suitcase even fuller. (I did, in fact.)

But I also twirled around the room for a moment and imagined clearing out the center shelves in the store and putting in tables, writing notebooks, and students. My classroom should be such a celebration of reading. We need a book for every reader, recommended by readers, shelved by interests and inviting browsing.

When I speak to teachers about leading readers they want this place, and I want it for them. Many have contacted me after bargaining with their principals and colleagues to set up classroom libraries and support independent reading.

But the truth is, as budgets have shrunk, books and libraries and school librarians have been cut in far too many schools. Books can have an incredible effect on children’s lives, yet there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S. Students need books - the right books that they can connect with.

It has been almost a decade since she started to do something about it, that "something" being the Book Love Foundation. Since launching, the Foundation has awarded over $600,000 in grants used to fund classroom libraries in K-12 schools all across the US and Canada--and the list of grantees gets bigger every year. The success stories are pretty cool. If you're a classroom teacher, you know the power of being able to turn to a student and, in the moment, hand them a book while saying, "I think this is something you would enjoy." 

The organization is busy (they have podcasts and everything), yet charmingly unslick (parts of their website are still unfinished). But what great work to do. What excellent goals-- to get exciting books, books that students want to read, into classrooms with teachers who can ignite a passion for reading. 

Nobody's getting rich here; the website says 100% of donations fund classroom libraries, and the 990 forms that I looked up confirm that. Nobody is selling their personally branded proprietary reading scheme here. Just getting books into classrooms and pushing a love for reading, as well as building a supportive community for teachers doing the work (plus plenty of resources and research).

I've only recently discovered the group--wish I'd known about them when I was still in the classroom. But I can still chip in to help out. This is work worth doing. 

No comments:

Post a Comment