When I was four years old, I was terrified of fireworks. And so, on Independence Day, when the rest of my family went off to see the local fireworks show, I stayed home with my grandmother.
After dutifully shutting every window in the house, she pulled out a stack of picture books and, in an effort to distract me from the muffled booms outside, we read.
Each time we finished a book, my grandmother traced my handprint on the inside front cover and then helped me to write my name inside of it. Babies, I Am a Bunny, The Monster at the End of this Book—book by book, finger by finger, we read and then personalized them all. By the time we had gotten through the whole stack, I was so wrapped up in the stories that I had completely forgotten about the fireworks outside. I loved having my very own books and, more importantly, I loved reading.
It would be an understatement to say that books have shaped my life. Books actually are my life. As a child, they introduced me to my first friends, drew me into new worlds, and expanded the scope of my hopes and dreams. As an adolescent, they taught me about language and relationships and the art of storytelling. Now, as an adult and, not coincidentally, a children’s book editor, books are both my passion and my livelihood. Without them, I’d be undereducated, uninspired, and, for obvious reasons, unemployed.
Sadly, a life without books is the reality for thousands of children nationwide—including San Antonio. According to the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, in low-income neighborhoods, there is typically one age-appropriate book for every 300 children, while in middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 13 books for every child. With studies confirming that the number of books in the home directly predicts a child’s academic achievement, we see how detrimental a lack of books can be to a child. That’s where First Book comes in.
Founded in 1992 with the mission of giving children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books to children in need nationwide. Volunteer advisory boards work in more than 125 cities to raise funds and provide book grants to local programs serving children from low-income families.
The results have been tremendous. Among children who have received books from First Book, the number of students demonstrating a “high interest” in reading has nearly tripled, while more than 70% of children reported increased reading at home. Simply put, when children are given new books of their own to take home and read over and over again, they get excited about reading.
A longtime fan of First Book, I moved to San Antonio from New York City earlier this year and discovered that San Antonio did not have a First Book Advisory Board. With 29% of the city’s children living in poverty (compared to a nationwide child poverty rate of 22%), First Book was sorely needed here.
Enter First Book-San Antonio. Founded by a dedicated group of book-loving volunteers, the First Book-San Antonio Advisory Board will provide book grants to local schools, daycare and tutoring programs, and any other organizations that cater to children from low-income families. Any organization that serves 70% or more children from low-income households is eligible for a book grant and qualifies to register as a First Book recipient group, a status that allows group leaders to purchase deeply discounted books via the First Book Marketplace. One of our launch goals is to register 300 new recipient groups with First Book in the next three months in order to qualify to receive a truckload of 40,000 books to distribute to the children of San Antonio.
First Book-San Antonio is currently looking for both corporate and nonprofit partnerships as well as individual volunteers. For more information on how to get involved, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To celebrate our launch in the San Antonio community, First Book-San Antonio is hosting a launch party on Monday, Nov. 4, 6- 8 p.m. at Blue Box at the Pearl Brewery. There will be happy hour specials, complimentary appetizers from Fratello’s Italian Market & Deli, and, for every $5 donated, the opportunity to win giveaway items, including a gift card to Green Vegetarian Cuisine, a Blue Box cocktail seminar, and, of course, books. The event is free and open to the public.
We hope our efforts will share the joy of reading with the children of San Antonio, providing them with a path to literacy and books that they, too, can make their own.
Kristen Depken is a children’s book editor and recent transplant to San Antonio. She is Co-Chair of the First Book-San Antonio Advisory Board. You can follow First Book-San Antonio on Facebook and on Twitter at @FirstBookSA.