September 05, 2019

NYSUT grant provides educators and students access to thousands of books

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
First Book readers

Hundreds of new public school educators teaching in low-income districts in New York will be receiving new books for their classrooms, courtesy of a $100,000 grant NYSUT has received from First Book, Inc.

The grant awarded to NYSUT is being distributed as part of a $4.7 million award designated to applicants in 33 states as determined by the nonprofit First Book, Inc. The organization was chosen by state attorneys general to distribute the funds as part of a court settlement with major publishers whom the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York determined were colluding to fix prices on e-books.

The NYSUT grant will allow new teachers in approximately three dozen small and large local teacher unions across the state to receive a gift code they can use to order books through First Book’s Marketplace ( It should equate to about 20,000 books.

“We had new teacher orientation last week with 55 new teachers and they each got a code for $50 to spend on First Book,” said Laura Franz, president of the 980-member Albany Public School Teachers Association, who noted also that every new teacher joined the union. “This means they can stock their classroom libraries to get a running start on the school year and order books they can specify to their grade level, subject area, reading level and student interest.”

Read a Book Day!

Friday, Sep. 6 is National Read a Book Day! Looking for books for your classroom? NEA's Read Across America and the AFT have partnered with First Book to offer books featured in their 2018–19 calendar at reduced rates to educators who serve kids in need.

You can order books online at

“This is a rare opportunity that will result in helping both teachers and students, and in introducing new teachers to the union and to our partners in First Book, Inc. and the American Federation of Teachers,” said Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer. He noted the average teacher spends about $500 a year on classroom supplies – including books, which some students otherwise would not have access to.

“A child’s potential is compromised by the absence of resources, but there are educators working to put good books in the right places. Inspiring a life-long love of reading is essential, and that means creating regular access to books that kids want to read,” said Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO, and cofounder of First Book. The organization’s grant distribution program is called OMG Books, or Offering More Great Books.

Franz, who said she loves to read, noted that books available on the marketplace are low cost. Poetry, historical fiction, contemporary stories, classics, culturally diverse books are available on play-aways or book form.

“Who Was Frida Kahlo?” “Wonder,” “The Girl With More Than One Heart,” “Leo the Late Bloomer,” “Brown Girl Dreaming,” “She Persisted,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of WWII” and “The Pigeon Needs a Bath” are a small sampling of available books.

First Book is available to Title I schools who have low-income families. Some students have never owned a book. Some are unable to access public libraries. Others have parents who may be illiterate or who primarily speak a language other than English. First Book Marketplace provides many multicultural books.

“Poverty is connected to literacy,” said Paul Webster, NYSUT community liaison who handles First Book outreach. Local unions have provided thousands of books to students in New York through First Book events.

The vision is to get youngsters to enjoy reading. “Kids shouldn’t associate touching a book with a test,” Webster said.

NYSUT will also be providing books from First Book for families attending the Capital Region Labor Day parade this evening, which ends with festivities at the Corning Preserve in Albany with live music, hamburgers, ice cream and popcorn.