A letter from best-selling novelist and co-founder of Kids in Need - Books in Deed, Julianna Baggott about the inspiration for this program, the ways its inspired generosity, and how you might get involved.
Dear Friends of Kids in Need – Books in Deed:
When I moved to Tallahassee in 2004, I suppose I was expecting the wealthy shine of Florida tourism. I was surprised by the city's struggles with poverty. But I was told that it was nothing compared to the county west of us, Gadsden County, where schools were overwhelmed with the issues of poverty, and where students went home, quite literally, to dirt floors and no running water.
The bad news is that Gadsden County isn’t the poorest county in the state. In Putnam County, 28.9 % of the children live in poverty--almost one out of every three. They are closely followed by Hardee and Hamilton, Desoto and Dixie. With the extreme wealth of Florida, there is also extreme poverty and often extreme weather which only adds to the problems.
In 2005, I visited my first Title One school--Oak Ridge Elementary in Tallahassee. I talked about the power of the imagination, the importance of looking closely at the world around us, the way books take hold in the mind, and how everyone has a writer inside of them--a voice--and how having a voice is a powerful thing. I felt like the children were intrigued and some of them even seemed lit from within, like a part of them had just woken up.
When I leave wealthier schools, there’s the buzz of the children opening their own copies, clutching them to their chests, sometimes moving quickly to a quiet corner and becoming absorbed. But because the kids couldn’t afford the books, this visit seemed incomplete and frustrating. The kids who needed the books the most--to hold their very own copy in their own hands--weren’t going to get them this time, when it seemed most crucial.
Kids in Need – Books in Deed was born from a desire to use the resources that were available to me--books and authors--to change that.
In 2006, we found a home at Florida State University's Foundation. To get us started, New Line Cinema donated a free premiere for a featured release How to Eat Fried Worms, based on the classic book. Since then many schools have had book-drives, including Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee that, alone, have donated thousands of books. We've gotten book donations from businesses, birthday parties, bat mitzvah projects, high school students doing volunteer hours, and novelists hosting book parties with proceeds donated to the program.
Singer-song writer Carly Simon donated boxes and boxes of copies of her children's book, plus its recording. We've partnered with Scholastic and Books for Life. People have given financial donations that have turned into free books at author visits to Title I schools -- time donated by the authors themselves. In addition to Title I programs, we've given free books to children in shelters, after-school programs serving underprivileged children, and through the Gadsden County Department of Health.
It was a very great pleasure when the first school to sign up for free books and author visits was Oak Ridge Elementary where 79% of the students qualify for free lunch; 13% qualify for reduced lunch; 91% of the students are minorities; and the average household income in this zip code is $27,312.
We are relying on the imaginative fuel of writers and to get these creations into kids' hands, we also rely on your fuel.
I’m guessing that, once upon a time, you were a child who found the right book at the right moment in your life, and the words didn’t run through. No, this time they took root and bloomed. It opened up your imagination. Maybe you were inspires to write a story of your own, and it felt like you were learning to speak a newly invented language.
When children read about a character, they learn empathy. When you following plot, they are learning strategic thought. When they are envisioning the world of a book in their mind, they are developing their imagination. When they are inspired to write their own story, they are coming to understand, deeply, their language and finding their own voice.
Empathy. Strategic thought. Imagination. Language. Voice. Regardless of the field a child chooses to go into -- physics, business, art or the art of politics-- these skills go into every worthwhile endeavor they choose to undertake in their lives.
I hope you’ll make a donation to Kids in Need – Book in Deed and help fuel the next generation.