Bring books to children who speak their language

“I’ve never had a book of my own before.”

When Deetress Peoples heard these words from a first-grader at a toy drive in Amarillo, Texas, her dedication to her volunteer work was cemented.

“She held these books in her arms and grabbed her dad’s hand and said ‘I’m so excited to read,'” Ms Peoples recalled.

Ms Peoples, 35, works with her son, Rashar Steward, 14, to promote literacy in Texas and surrounding states in schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

“The most gratifying thing is seeing the photos and videos of kids who received books, who never took a book home,” said Rashar, who goes by the name Ray. “I don’t think I can imagine living without books.”

Ray became a student ambassador for the Leaders Readers Network, a non-profit organization that provides books, supplies and initiatives to support early literacy. He and his mother volunteer to bring materials to students that they feel are relevant, through an initiative called the Black Is Beautiful Book Project.

“I remember my first book with a black character. ‘Amazing Grace’ was the first book I received as a child that had a black character in it,” Ms Peoples said. “It made me very excited to read a book. And so for my son, I wanted him to have that same experience where he can be excited to see someone who looks like him.

The Black Is Beautiful Book Project is one of many Leaders Readers Network projects to promote literacy through performance, an issue driven by the teachers the organization works with. The network has collaborated with New York Times Neediest Cases Fund recipient First Book on the First Book’s Stories for All project, which promotes the publication and sale of a variety of titles.

“Sometimes publishers wouldn’t make these books to begin with, and we might come in and say we have teachers asking for these books,” First Book spokesman Ian Kenison said in reference to the books. with color protagonists and bilingual works. “It shows publishers just how sought after these books are.”

Leaders Readers Network has received $20,000 in most-needy cash as part of a matching grant through First Book to support projects that highlight topics such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the Little Rock Nine, and An additional $30,000 for this school year.

“Literacy equity is so important for students to develop that love of reading,” said Chris McGilvery, Founder and Executive Director of Leaders Readers Network. “There was a need for students to learn about other students’ cultures, and a need for students to see themselves.”

Veronica Liu, the founder of Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights, has heard loud and clear the calls for bilingual books and stories with diverse protagonists.

“What comes up a lot is the kind of access to things that the community wants to read,” Ms. Liu said.

Ms. Liu stores multilingual books related to issues in her community, which is predominantly black and Latino. Her store is one of the local bookstores from which Children’s Aid, another Fund recipient, purchased books this year for its annual Reading on the Rug series. Word Up is run by a neighborhood collective and other purchases have been made from minority-owned stores.

When Children’s Aid’s Early Years Programs team found in December that children aged 2 to 4 were struggling with language and literacy, they kicked off the new year with targeted programming, and their series annual Reading on the Rug in March has been incorporated into the effort.

The series began in 2017, directed by Adriana Alba, who works on early years programs at Children’s Aid. Ms. Alba considers reading and language skills essential to the work of the team, and the series reinforces this by bringing underrepresented authors and illustrators to the centers she runs in Harlem, the South Bronx and Washington. Heights, as well as Staten Island.

“Our population is very immigrant. We are in neighborhoods struggling with poverty and systemic racism,” Ms. Alba said. “Finding a way to introduce kids to people who looked like them and stories that validated the things they were going through on a daily basis was something that was really important to me.”

This year, Children’s Aid purchased copies of the books featured in the programming for each child, using $11,136 in money from the most needy cases. He also launched a lending library and worked closely with parents to promote best reading practices.

So when Nelly López’s daughter, Norismar, 4, started bringing books home, Ms. López was both prepared and excited. Ms. López, who moved to Washington Heights from the Dominican Republic in 2019 with her husband and two daughters, speaks Spanish.

While unable to read the English books herself, Ms López, 41, had taken a virtual bilingual course with Children’s Aid and knew how to engage her daughter.

“They were very illustrated books with a lot of symbolism,” she said, adding that she felt she could help Norismar with the books.

In May, Children’s Aid said children enrolled in the program had improved significantly to meet national language and literacy standards.

Akia Wells, whose daughter also participated in the programme, credits the children’s aid campaign for her daughter’s rapid development. Ms Wells said her daughter, Akianti, 4, can now do more than use the pictures to read. “She actually reads the words,” said Ms Wells, 44.

Ms. Wells was able to watch at home as Akianti and some classmates chatted with their teachers and guest speakers through the virtual lessons (others were in person). Akianti’s lessons included a reading by writer and photographer Charles Smith Jr. of his book “I Am America.

“The author was able to read his book and express himself,” Ms. Wells said, “and it made it possible for the children to be able to do the same.”

Donations to the Most Needy Fund can be made online or by check.

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