Together with fellow Mom Congress delegates, Jen Barth and Renee Berry, I’m delighted to announce the official launch of Books Make it Better, our national book drive to promote early literacy! This has been quite an interesting and educational initiative and I’m so excited to get it underway. After meeting supermommas Jen and Renee at Mom Congress in April, I followed their blogs and Facebook posts about all the wonderful things they were doing in their own states. Jen had organized a community book drive in Portland, Oregon and I thought it would be wonderful to bring the idea to NJ. When I reached out to her for some tips, she had already connected with Renee. Before long, we were a national movement!
For me, this process really all began last year when I attended the Parenting magazine Mom Congress Read. Connect. Grow! event in New York City. I live about 45 minutes outside of NYC in suburban NJ. Taking a day off from my everyday life to attend an event like this is not easily accomplished and involves a complex ballet of timetables, transportation and toddlers. However this event seemed worthwhile so I made the necessary arrangements. The morning of Read. Connect. Grow! arrived and in my craziness to catch the 6:57am train, I tripped over a pile of my kids’ books as I was gathering my things. I bruised my knee, twisted my ankle and yelled out some sort of expletive! My husband came hurrying as he heard me fall (and curse!). We had a little spat about the fact that the books were taking over (they seemed to be multiplying as the days passed). I ran out of the house determined to get organized when I got back!
I managed to reach the city without further injury. The Read. Connect. Grow! program involved a number of fine speakers, all experts in early literacy and education. Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the NEA, spoke about the importance of parental involvement. Authors Brian Floca and Matthew Van Fleet spoke about growing up in literary-rich environments. I learned that 1 in 4 US children don’t read at a proficient level, 61% of US households don’t have age appropriate books and less than half of US children are read to daily. I also learned that these numbers far grimmer in low income households and communities.
It was Jumpstart’s Kim Davenport, though, who really changed my perspective that day. Kim told a story about a boy named Jeffrey. Jeffrey was a 4 year old who had attended a Read. Connect. Grow! event the previous year with his mom where each child received a free book. It was Jeffrey’s very first book.
Read. Connect. Grow! held another event a year later (just before the NYC event I was attending) And, again, Jeffrey attended with his mom. Again Jeffrey got his book. His second.
I couldn’t believe that earlier that morning I was complaining about “too many” books in our house! I was dismayed both with my own behavior and the fact that in this country where so many have so much that a child like Jeffrey could have such limited resources. I was also inspired. I was inspired by Jeffrey’s mom who took precious time off from work to take her child to a place where he would get a new book of his own, something that she couldn’t provide for him. I was inspired by the panelists that spoke so passionately about the fundamentals and monumental importance of early literacy. It all seemed to come down to one fact: children with access to books do better. I knew that I had to do something. I had to do my part. So began Books Make it Better-NJ. And, together with Jen and Renee, I’m hoping to spread the word about Books Make it Better across the country.
“In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child.” - President Barack Obama, Address to Joint Session of Congress, February 24, 2009.
Please join our campaign so that books can make it better for every child!