December 08, 2015

First Book delivers joy to young readers

Author: Liza Frenette
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Caption: Plattsburgh Teachers Association members Kari Herkalo (left) and Beth O'Neil at NYSUT headquarters in Latham to help gear up for the Frist Book giveaway. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

first bookTeachers huddled around boxes and pallets of books at NYSUT headquarters this past weekend, ooohing and aaahing and stashing and stockpiling books for their students. A truckload of 42,000 free books came from First Book, Inc., which, in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers and NYSUT, provides books at no cost to students at schools in need.

Each time 2,000 NYSUT members qualify and sign up for First Book, a truckload of books is sent out to locations throughout the state. Staff, volunteers and teachers and librarians help sort the books, which are available to registered schools and community groups.

Teachers from Saranac, Saranac Lake, Plattsburgh, Hudson, Mohonasen, Schenectady, Johnstown, Fort Plain, Salmon River and Troy volunteered their time to come pick up books for their students. Many came with their teacher association sisters and brothers. Some will give them away at parent-teacher nights; others at school concerts; and some at school functions. Titles available included picture books, graphic novels, young adult series, fantasy, adventure, middle grade novels and even cookbooks.

"A lot of kids in our district are really underpriviledged," said Janet Brust, high school English teacher and member of the Hudson TA, as she chose books to load up for her students. "To get a free book is really tremendous. These are high-quality books they can treasure. We are appreciative of NYSUT's ability to do this for us."

In Hudson, she said, "What we lack in finances we make up for in spirit."

Hudson high school teacher Janet Lento said she was choosing books for the school's resource room.

"I have a lot of reluctant readers. I'm looking for something to captivate them," she said.

Danielle Granier, who has been teaching at Mohonasen for nine years, said she hands out the books to individuals and uses them for her classroom library. She was able to get First Books last year from NYSUT as well, which she described as "wonderful."

"I had four books signed out from the classroom library just today!" she said. "They're just excited."

The timing of this truckload was important, "so locals can give books to kids and communities before the holidays. There are so many kids in need. In poor households, parents don't have the resources to buy books because if there's a choice between food and books, it's food," said Paul Webster, NYSUT community liaison.

Groups that benfitted from NYSUT's outreach efforts this week through First Book are the Albany Police Department's gang violence prevention unit; Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Inc.; United Way; Girls, Inc; the Martin Luther King labor committee; and many churches in the Capital Region who have families in need in their parish.

"NYSUT created a community faith and labor alliance in the fall, and a lot of the groups we've been working with show up for books," said Webster.

The Night Before First Book

first book 

'Twas the weeks before Christmas
when all through the labor house
every creature was stirring
even Shakespeare and Faust.

The books were assembled
on pallets with care
in hopes that the teachers
would soon be there.

The stories were nestled
all snug inside books
with visions of readers
sitting in nooks.

Then teachers from Saranac
and several from Troy
picked out First Books
for each girl and boy.

Filling their boxes
they made such a clatter
but all NYSUT staff
knew what was the matter!

Away to their cars
they flew in a flash
with loads of books
for a Schenectady bash

The schools would be
filled with stories galore
from picture books to fairy tales
and young adult lore.

When what to their
wondering eyes should appear:
the children are given
many books to hold dear.

To Mohonasen and Plattsburgh,
Saranac Lake and back
from Salmon River to Hudson
across a railroad track;

free books are handed
to children by name;
and for many their lives
will never be the same.

Now Sophia, now Grace,
now Johnny, and Mike
come choose from your teachers
a free book that you like.

The unions are helping
provide pictures and words
through First Book and teachers
and volunteers who are stirred.

As hordes of autumn leaves
before the wild snow flies,
went 42,000 books
with strong literacy ties.

They came by truck
to NYSUTs delivery station
where teachers picked out books
to help children's imagination.

Students who lack
their own books at home
now have a chance to read
a special story or poem.

In Utica and Johnstown
in houses in Fort Plain
the children will be reading
with so much to gain.

So when in a twinkling
you hear noise on the roof
It's a gift that keeps giving
and reading is proof.

Poem by Liza Frenette