May 2013 Issue
April 28, 2013

Educators put first books in hands of students

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Schenectady FT members Linda Neeb and Dale Smith help organize books for distribution.
Caption: Schenectady FT members Linda Neeb and Dale Smith help organize books for distribution. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Many young students are about to meet Amelia Bedilia, The Hobbit, Aristotle and Elephant and Piggie. They'll get to know Catherine and Heathcliff and Elizabeth Bennet. They will read about people from other countries in Barefoot World Atlas and Mandela: The Rebel Who Led His Nation to Freedom.

The books are possible through First Book, a not-for-profit organization that provides new books to children in need. NYSUT, in partnership with First Book and AFT, has launched a statewide initiative to help educators put new books at low to no cost into the hands of students in schools that are Title I or Title I eligible.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said he hopes to have 50,000 NYSUT members register at over the coming year.

Annie McClintock, president of the United Teaching Assistants of Harborfield, raced to sign up. She said she has students who come to school without so much as a dime for a pencil. Now they will be able to hold a book of their own.

"Literacy is the door to the world," she said. More than 4,000 titles, some bilingual, are available, from poetry, plays, classics and counting books to young adult novels. Newberry and Caldecott winners are among the selections. Books can be ordered for students through age 18.

"People closest to the kids know what gets kids most excited," said Kyle Zimmer, president and founder of First Book. "We give you the tools to do the magic you do," she told educators at the NYSUT Representative Assembly last month.

First Book has served 50,000 schools and organizations, sending 100 million books into homes.

The organization's buying power is prompting publishers to produce more books featuring voices and cultures children may not be used to seeing, Zimmer said.

"Families value having books, but don't have the opportunity to get them," said Juliet Benaquisto, Schenectady Federation of Teachers president, where books already have been distributed. 

NYSUT members in Albany, Buffalo, Central Islip and Freeport recently handed out books to students, and were met with clapping and big grins.

Most schools have guest readers read the new books to the students; some have the author visit.

First Book also is donating books to educators in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy; schools and programs do not have to have been physically damaged to apply. 

First Book also takes part in Read Across America, an annual event sponsored by National Education Association.