Begin with the First Step

Last week, I called an old friend of mine, who’s also my son’s Godmother. She’s a hardworking woman who’s been in the trenches of teaching since graduating college. She jumped right in working in the inner cities of Baltimore. Over the years, she has become tired, tired of the uphill battle that she seems to be facing as time goes on. The younger children are falling farther behind and the older children are just plain giving up. Parents aren’t helpful either and many leave it up to the teachers to do all of the educating.

The conversation lasted over two hours, but somewhere in the middle I asked her…

What do you think would help teachers succeed in class?
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Where do we begin? Her response… “If all of the children could read.”

As heartbreaking as it is, so many children in this country cannot read. Sadly, in some areas, there is only one book to every 300 homes! Can you imagine living in a home with no books, no reading material of any kind, except maybe a gossip magazine? Can you imagine wanting to come home from school and read something, anything, but there’s literally nothing to read.

As much as we talk about fast food restaurants in low income areas, we rarely talk about the low number of libraries in those same regions. If you have multiple children and no car, how likely are you to brave that trip?

As a mother to three young ones, one who reads way above his grade level, another learning to read (and who loves to “read”), and a third who flips pages through books all the time, even I think going to the library is a struggle. In an age where we have story time, toddler areas and interactive computers, there’s still a push to stay QUIET. Picking out a book for a toddler can be such fun, yet trying to keep them quiet is another chore… then you have two who want to run in different directions to see what the library has for them!

Let’s just say, I don’t find the library a family friendly place. If I make sure my library trips are cut down to less than 10 minutes, pre-planning the books we’re going to get, strapping the kids in the stroller as to not disrupt other readers, how many people who have to get their kids on a bus do you think will be willing to make that trek?

What about after a long 10 hour day at work (including commute)?

I’m not making excuses, I’m trying to show compassion, understanding and a possible solution.

It got me thinking. What can I do to change this? As I mentioned last week, I’m part of National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Each year, they host an annual Community Baby Shower where they inform new mothers of what’s to come and provide them with some of the essentials, like diapers and car seats. (If you’d just like to donate to this cause, shoot me an email spiritedlife {at} gmail.com).

Then I had an idea… a doable idea… a place to begin… a small piece that I hope will make a huge impact.

I would like to collect 500 books for the mothers (families) who attend this baby shower!

On average, we get between 100 and 200 mothers since the beginning of the shower, and we have not outfitted them with baby books or any books, but I’d like to change that this year. I would like to send every mother home with 3-5 books apiece.

Would you like to help?

I’m looking for new and gently used books for ages newborn through young adult. Often the siblings and relatives also do not have books, thus the littlest one can feel out of place being the only one reading. Think how we treat Christmas gifts! We don’t only give to the one child!

I will personally be collecting books in the Palm Beach, FL and the Baltimore, MD areas. If you’d like to help me collect books in your area, I can work to help you get them into the hands of those youth in need!

Thank you to Lisa from The Golden Spoons, who challenged myself and other bloggers at the start of 2015 to The 1 Word Challenge.  This weeks words were: Begin, Surprise, Forever.unnamed

This post was inspired by a message on Lioness Arising entitled Dangerous and Fully Awake by Lisa Bevere and part of my personal “Be Uncomfortable” challenge.

132 thoughts on “Begin with the First Step”

  1. I feel ya on the library thing. It does get easier when the kids are older. My girls (8 and 9) love the library now, but I admit there were a few years there we just didn’t go because it’s too hard with little ones. Love this idea for collecting books! I’ll be sharing. 🙂

    1. I love the library and it’s sad how I can’t tame the littles to make it through a trip without one of them having a meltdown! I can’t imagine if it weren’t convenient to go, physically…

  2. What a great way to help. I have to go through my girls’ bookshelf again and if I come up with something will send if you want or look at Amazon if it is easier. April, huge thank you for sharing this and doing this, as I think it really is an awesome idea.

  3. This is a wonderful idea, April! Reading is so important in so very many ways, and I honestly can’t imagine how anyone could comfortably function in life without the ability to do it. I’m bookmarking this post. My niece recently had a baby girl. One of the first things I did was buy books for the baby. And then I bought some more. 🙂 They take good care of their things, and I’m sure the books will be in clean, gently used condition as my new great-niece grows and outgrows each book. I’ll share this post with them and request that we send the used books to you and this effort as often as possible. 🙂 Thank you for the example of understanding and compassion for others that this venture provides – and for taking the steps to make it happen! Bless you, and I wish you and this effort my sincerest best!

    1. I don’t either, but to read that in some areas, it’s only ONE book in 300 homes! I can’t even imagine. Books got me throgh the loneliest times of my childhood… I could be whisked away to another land.

  4. What a great idea!!! We tend to think about children who don’t have clothes or enough food, which, of course, are certainly concerns. But, having some simple things like books is something many of us take for granted. At the end of every school year, my daughters’ elementary school does a “book swap” – families are asked to send in gently used or new books; the media specialist sorts them by reading level; then children are allowed to “shop” for a couple new books to read over the summer. You have undertaken and important cause and I wish you much success!!!

  5. Fantastic! Reminds me a bit of what The Pajama Program does.
    There is no greater gift than the ability to read and have a book of your own. Makes me absolutely cry to think of homes where books do not live. I love this. We always donate our gently used books when it’s time. Off to share this…

  6. Currently residing in Maryland would be an honour to help in anyway & have a bunch of literacy materials. Please let me know how I can spread knowledge and literature to help water sprouts of the future! Inspired by your piece and work. God bless!

      1. I want to help in any way and get my five yr old involved in the action! He loves giving! I am collecting donations as we speak!!! Yes just let me know.I am in Maryland.

  7. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)

    It is sad to think that some kids can’t read in this country. I mean, it’s 2015 afterall, they should all be on the same page.

  8. It is really sad that so many children can’t read. It’s different for different areas on why that is. Sometimes it parents, others its school systems, others is lack of libraries and materials. Then you have those in better districts with access and their children cant read because all the want to do is play games and worry about whats going on with the computer.

  9. This really hit me, April! Reading has been my favorite hobby since I learned to read at age four. Yes, I was early. Scarlet’s in kindergarten now and the lightbulb is going off and she’s learning. I feel very lucky for it. I want everyone to have that chance.

    1. I wish they could. I wasn’t a fan of school when I went, but at least there was something to look forward to! I feel like if my son finishes early, all he gets rewarded with is more time to prep for the upcoming test! I hate the No Child Left Behind… just pushes a lot of kids to the next level, without making sure they know the information!

  10. What a great idea. It’s so sad how a lot of kids are so behind. My daughter is and we have been working around the clock with her and it’d paying off but if I wasn’t homeschooling her right now she wouldn’t be!

  11. I was surprised at the statistics myself and would love to help. I encourage everyone to read to their children and totally understand the importance of being able to read. I read to my toddler on a daily basis.

  12. We have great libraries in our area and we’re lucky to have one close to our house that isn’t a hassle to deal with. My husband is a literacy coach, so we definitely know first-hand the importance of reading at home. Our son has an extensive library of his own. I think this is a great idea (the book donations.) I’ll definitely have to make a purchase soon!

    1. We have great library collections too. Recently I went to a library in a not so good neighborhood and it saddened me that it wouldn’t be one worth coming back to. We like to tour around to get give them a different experiences.

  13. What a great initiative. My son’s school is collecting books right now for underprivileged children and we are participating in that… def. a good cause.

  14. I just read about 100,000 children’s books, less than 5 years old, that a local library director had tossed out to make room for new books. It truly sickens me that all of those books could have been donated to programs like this. I wonder if you could call around to local libraries and ask them to save the books they plan on trashing. Maybe something could be worked out to save the books from the landfill and put them in the hands of kids that really need them.

  15. Wow! Good for your for collecting books and for writing about this. Books were such an important part of my childhood that I cannot even imagine families who do not have any books in their homes!

  16. I love what you are doing here. I can truly understand how your friend feels. I gave up teaching because I felt that I was too busy dealing with behavioral issues, administrative pressure and learning disabilities and deficiencies that teaching was the last thing that I was doing. I am enjoying tutoring because I don’t deal with all the classroom issues. But your friend is right, reading is essential to a child’s learning. With the new standardized testing and multitude of word problems, it is even crucial for math as well as other subjects.

    1. Thank you. Yes, and with No Child Left Behind, more children are moving forward without adequate knowledge. The testing has gotten insane and kids already don’t like school. I hope that I can have an affect somewhere.

  17. I remember reading somewhere that only about 2% of adults read post high school and something around 4-5% read when they are younger (per-highschool) Those numbers might be a little off, but they were awful. I think this sounds like a wonderful idea. Not enough kids read. I loved it when I was younger.

    1. It really is sad. So many people won’t read anything in a day. I used to be able to “get away” from life by diving in a book and pretending I was a babysitter in the Babysitter’s Club. I hope to be able to give a little to the next generation.

      1. April, oh my! I *LOVED* The Babysitter’s Club when I was younger! (I still have all of my books!) I read those books so fast that my mother got annoyed. LOL When we would be going to a relative’s home, she’d remind me to “grab those two new books you got to read in the car and while there.” When my reply was “I read them the day I got them” she could not understand it. I read fast and still do (when I want to and my four boys are quiet-enough so that I can concentrate on what I am reading). I read those books over and over. Your mission to collect 500 books is a great way to help families read together. I applaud you for your efforts and hope you succeed! ~Adrienne

  18. Megan @ C'mon Get Crafty

    What an awesome and amazing idea, and bravo for thinking of it! I actually requested books specifically for my baby shower gifts, to start my children off with the love of reading from infancy.

  19. I love reading, I love seeing my babies read, I love our library visits, and I would hate to think of not having this as an option. I love what you’re doing, you’re such a sweet woman.
    XOXO

  20. I’m loving this! You always bring such amazing things to our party. Pinned and tweeted. I hope to see you tonight at 7 at our party. I can’t wait! Lou Lou Girls

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  22. Wow! I had never considered that some people live with no books. I am saddened for those children. My kids absolutely love to read and we have a whole wall lined with bookshelves.

    I also totally agree with the library ordeal! With 4 kids 6 and under, it is definitely a fiasco. I usually try to just take one or two at a time now.

    I wonder if there is a book program in Northern CA? I will have to look into it. I would love to help with something like that locally.

    1. Yes. They have them in schools, but not in their homes. This is what some people don’t understand as “privilege”. Those parents didn’t grow up with books in their house and didn’t even think about giving it to their children.

      Awesome. If you find one, please let me know. I’m compiling a list of local and national organizations so that I can work with them.

  23. You are an amazing woman and thank you for all that you do!
    I am a new mom and never even thought about how difficult it would be to go to the library with a young one but you have opened my eyes to that for sure.
    The book idea is amazing and I wish you luck! Since I’m new to this mommy thing I’m working on a book collection myself. 🙂

    1. Thank you. I know a lot of people are opting for books in lieu of other gifts for birthdays and showers. I think it’s a great idea. I think going with one is much easier than going with two. Going with two means two loud children, trying to teach them to be quiet while running in opposite directions. We’re working on it. 🙂

  24. Although my daughter can’t read on her own yet, she loves to go to the library with me and help me pick out the books to read together later. We barely have any books of our own at home, but we read a different story every day by borrowing from the library. Helping kids to get access to more books is a great idea!

  25. What a wonderful idea. Many of my friends have started doing books instead of cards with their baby shower gifts. Could the Reading Rainbow, or is there a government grant that might make funding possible for you so that you can keep your program going and expanding?

    1. After I find out how well this works, I plan on working with local organizations to keep it going. I don’t know if I want to fund a full non-profit and make it it’s own “thing”. We’ll see. 🙂

  26. We try to make frequent library trips. But sometimes we do have to be quick, because we can’t be quiet long enough with 4 kids in tow. Going to the library and seeing lots of books just encourages curiosity and love of learning. I use my friend who sells Usborne books to support book drives.

    1. Yes. That’s what we do. We go at least monthly, but they are very quick, pretty planned and in and out. They are getting better, but I always get the “stares”. 🙂 Usborne, I’ll have to check them out.

  27. What a great idea! I was such a bookworm growing up. I spent so much time in the library it’s not even funny. I can’t imagine not having access to books at a young age. Kudos to you for making a difference!

  28. What a wonderful idea to collect and give away so many books! At my baby shower, the hostess had everyone bring a book… we had an instant at home library (which grew over the years) and my daughter, who is all grown up now, is an avid reader, in part because we had more books than toys at our house. Is there a place in Southern California that does this? I’d love to contribute without the shipping costs.

    1. Completely understand. After this first event, I’m going to start researching nationwide for people to donate in other places. I will be happy to let you know when I find a place. 🙂

  29. I can’t imagine not having books in my home, and not being able to access them. It’s sad to think that so many children are living that way. I love what you’re trying to do. Have you looked at Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? She grew up very poor, in a county with a very low literacy rate. Children who are in the program are mailed one book every month for the first five years of their life. Partnering might be an efficient way to reach your goal. http://imaginationlibrary.com/

    1. Thank you very much. Honestly, I only plan on partnering with other organizations, there are so many awesome ones out there, even if I just connect two existing ones. Thank you for the information. I’ll be adding it to my list.

  30. What an incredibly loving way to help in an area that is so important. The statistics are really quite sad. We go to the library twice a week and we’ve been lucky that the kids area is so segregated, that there is no need to rush in and out if there is too much noise. I love that there is always activities for the kids, from storytelling, to puppet shows, to buddy days where older kids read to younger kids. My little one can’t read quite yet, as she’s still a toddler, but I think the frequent exposure to books and the comfort it brings her, makes me feel that we’re on the right track.

    1. Sounds like it. My little ones love books, but as soon as they get in the library, they want to take them ALL home and don’t understand why we can’t. I stll do it but sometimes, it’s just a bit much.

  31. You are amazing! I love reading and I read to my son (who is learning to read) 30 minutes every night, once my husband said, “do we have to read every night?” And I was flabbergasted! How could you not want to read to this developing young mind, how could you not want to show him the wonderful world of books. Well come to find out my husband (being the 12 child out of 15 – same mom and dad for all kids) never had anyone read to him. In fact he had been taken in for testing to see if he was mentally challenged because he wasn’t reading, they came to the conclusion that if someone would just read to him he would catch up. Once someone started reading to him he caught up. He still doesn’t like reading – I think he still thinks about the “challenged” stigma each time and it really hurts him that his parents had that little faith in him. I work so hard with my two boys to make sure they have a love of reading and get every opportunity to do so. I am so concentrated on them that I didn’t even think of people that don’t have books, it just never crossed my mind because I love books and have them and find a way to get them no matter what. Some people don’t have that luxury and that makes me so sad! I live in Utah (not Florida or Baltimore) so how could I help with this book drive you are doing? Have you contacted scholastic or other book companies/providers to see if any of them would be interested in helping? I think this is such an amazing cause and would love to help!

    1. I will definitely be searching for other local organizations and I will be contacting book companies for donations. I hadn’t thought of it before, but thanks for the idea. It’s so self-evident. 🙂

  32. Hi April,
    This is a thought-provoking post. As a former teacher, I can empathize with your friend. I was also a member of the Coalition in my city so I know what a wonderful organization it is. It is such a great idea to send every mother home with 3-5 books apiece. What a powerful way to start a newborn’s life. If children are exposed to books and reading in a natural, positive way, reading becomes a joyful lifelong experience. As a child, I loved to go to the library and read every single book by a favorite author. I would check as the maximum number of books every two weeks. My parents made loving books a natural part of my life at an early age and I am still reading, participating in book clubs and celebrating the written word. I am following to stay in touch. All the best, Deborah

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  34. We found a small library around the corner for quick run-ins but if we wanna GO to the library, we go the one 15 minutes away and make camp. This one has a HUGE children’s section with lots to do and read and make. We can be there for two hours, easy. Being a homeschooling family we go in and out with our laundry basket full of books. Yes, we’ve lost a few. Yes, we’ve paid late fees but we can replace them and we can help pay for the new roof at the library. 😉 We love our libraries!

    I know we’re blessed with wonderful libraries in our county.

    Your idea of collecting books is a great one! What a gift it will be for so many families!

    1. I just found one a little while away that also allows us to really play. We had a blast. But it’s not convenient at all, so we also will have to make camp there. 🙂

  35. You are doing such an amazing thing! When we think of getting things for showers, we don’t typically think of books but why not? They are necessary building blocks for a child’s development. It really is a shame that we still have so many young kids who are unable to read. Again, you are doing a great thing with this collection!

  36. Some of the fondest memories I have are of taking my daughters to the library. (All five of them) They loved books and loved reading. Visits to the library was a weekly event. Each girl would get anywhere from 7-10 books. And then there were mine. As you can imagine keeping up with these books was a challenge. I later reduced the number of books per visit to 5. This was much more manageable. Getting books into the hands of children who don’t have easy access is a worthy cause. I would love to help. Count me in.

    1. Thank you. I’ll be collecting the emails as I go along if I need help in other ways than getting books to me. I understand everyone isn’t local, so I’m looking for other ways that people can get books to me. 🙂

  37. What a wonderful idea you have. Good Luck to you. It breaks my heart, children in this day and age, can’t read. breaks my heart even more that there is no access to books. There is a spark in my brain on an idea to help in my community. Thank you for the inspiration. Have a Fabulous Day!

    1. Thank you very much. I hope I will be able to bring out a lot of books for children. Please if you do something in your area, let me know. I’d love to get a write up.

  38. Having been raised as a voracious reader, the thought of not having books in my life or being able to freely read as a child (& now as an adult) breaks my heart. It’s hard to fathom not having books and not being encouraged to read but I suppose if the parents don’t have that comfort level or ability, it isn’t going to be passed down. I read to my kids before they were born & try to read to them now that they’re older (ages 10 & 12) although they prefer to read solo. I don’t think most libraries would be that upset about families & kids coming to get books, even if they do make some noise. After all, that’s what the children’s area is for! Most libraries have special programs & reading times. I too love the idea of donating books & have been looking for the right way to participate in some way. Maybe the book program could be tied in with a food bank’s backpacks for kids (weekend food) delivery? Just brainstorming…all kids deserve books & reading should be a right, not a privilege!

    1. I think it really depends. Some kids areas are smaller than others. I went to one where it was the entire floor and didn’t have any problems. Other libraries, you can hear the kids across the entire place… at least my loud children. LOL. Love the idea. Thanks. I’ll look into that too.

  39. Great idea! We do try to give at least one book when we have a baby shower to attend… but I love some of the other ideas mentioned too, like the food pantry/backpack… We do take so many simple things for granted, like having books for our kids to read or look through… I wonder what happened to bookmobiles…

  40. Wow! I can’t believe that statistic about the number of homes have books. I’ve always loved reading and have passed that love of reading down to my kids. I commend you and your efforts of bringing more books to kids. Best of luck!

  41. Wow, I can’t imagine life without having books as a child. I loved to read and I am truly thankful that my instilled the importance of reading into us as children. I love the idea of collecting books to give to families. What a beautiful blessing you are! I look forward to reading more of your blogs. Thanks so much for this post!

  42. That’s a wonderful plan! I feel like books are as important to my life as food or air. If I have to share a room and can’t keep a light on, I struggle to fall asleep without being able to read a book in bed. I can’t imagine life without books. I know many people who don’t enjoy reading, but that should be a choice you make as an adult. All children should have a few books to practice on and enjoy. I hope you reach your goal and make sure those children grow up with at least a few books in their homes.

  43. I can not imagine a home without books! My brother is two years older than me, and when he was learning to read in kindergarten, I sat right next to him and my mom and learned to read. I’ve been reading since I was four. Thankfully, I married a fellow bookworm and we have a son (age 15) who we started reading to from birth. I am so happy to tell you that he’s a bookworm, too. Some of our best days are when we sit and read. All you can hear are pages turning; occasionally I would give a shout out to my late husband about an incredible sentence or paragraph (and vice versa).
    I used to be a children’s librarian and read a study that the noisiest person in the library IS the children’s librarian. I used to tell my children and parents and grandparents that and we all laughed. My supervisor, however, didn’t like the laughter to be too loud (boo! hiss!) but we made do.
    Best wishes on your book gathering! It’s so vital for little ones and bigger ones to read.

  44. Such an inspirational post! We love books, my children & I are blessed to be in a position to homeschool and therefore find the time to read a lot and can visit the library in less busy time when its less of a challenge to keep the kids “quiet” but I do remember those times when they were younger. What a great thing you are doing!

  45. I cannot imagine life without books. You are taking some wonderful steps to bless others, and your kindness will make a difference.

  46. What a wonderful idea! It is frightening that children are actually being passed through school barely literate. Books help us to expand our minds, travel to other places, and dare to dream. I love that you took initiative to make a difference with such a creative and necessary initiative. I’m going to see if I can do something like this is in my area.

  47. I love the library, but find it’s hard to keep the little ones quiet. I do stop the library every week or two and pick used books in the for sale section (usually a $1 or less). This is a great way to build your library at home and inexpensive.

  48. Hello April,
    This hits right at home for me. Being a Youth Minister to Inner-city children, I have witnessed firsthand their lack in their literacy levels in comparison to neighboring counties. In addition, I have a family member that is a 4th-grade teacher for a school located in an impoverished area and to hear the challenges that she faces as a teacher all because the foundation of reading skills is so lacking is astonishing. I tell my children that they should never use the word “bored” because there is always something to read! I also like to have them see me reading to instill the value of reading in them, but unfortunately, not all youth have in-tune parental involvement. In Tennessee, they also have a program extended from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library called Books from Birth; parents have to do their part to enroll each child, but this can be done at birth while in the hospital and a great children’s book is sent to the child once per month from birth up to the age of 5.

    Thank you for this idea to promote establishing a good reading foundation from birth to encourage and promote the youth of future generations!

  49. What you’re doing is awesome! I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. (And still do) Looking back, loving to read definitely made school easier…it’s sad that there are children out there that can’t read.

  50. What an awesome idea! It would be wonderful if everyone knew how to read. I love to read, my boys not so much, unless it’s a Minecraft book-go figure. I know I know it’s still reading. I’d like them to enjoy books as much as I did growing up. I know that wouldn’t happen but still a good wish. Thanks for the lovely post!

  51. What a great idea! I just ordered some pony books for my daughter. Trying to spark her interest. My son’s had no issues reading, but she seems to be struggling a little. I think part of it is she reverses all of the letters. She is going to be tested next week for Dyslexia, it is something I have struggled with my entire life and she has been showing signs. Thankfully she is in Kindergarten and getting treatment early.

  52. I love this idea. My children are all grown now, but I started both of my children off with reading at a very early age. I think it is so important that children learn to read BEFORE they get to school to be successful. I can’t imagine not having any books to read that is just so sad. I never thought of the library like you mentioned before, it would be neat if they had a special room for smaller kids to look for books and get out of those strollers and have some fun at the library!

  53. I love the library, and it hurts me to know that many kids never get the chance to go to one. I am a huge reader, from fictions like Lord of the Rings to self help books like The Big Leap. I love to help bring books to those in need, I buy books at every book sale I go to and when there are book drives or places for me to bring books I take all the ones I have read and donate them. I hope that in the future I am able to help more.

  54. What a great idea! I completely agree with you about the need to make sure children can read. The ability to read (or in this case not read) impacts so many other aspect of life. I am thankful for people like yourself who take the initiative to make a difference.

  55. I know exactly what you mean about the library not really being “family friendly”. Anytime I take my daughter or a couple of little girls I was babysitting, I felt really pressured to keep them really quiet and under control even though we were in the designated children area! It’s almost stressful to take young kids to the library because of the fear of bothering the adults that are there! I love that you are collecting books to give to new mothers! That is such a great gesture and much needed!

      1. Yes they are! Our local library back in my hometown has a librarian with the meanest stink eye ever! And then she has loud personal conversations on the phone that are awkward to overhear (like arguing with her bratty teenager daughter). If the rules apply to two year olds they should apply to her for sure! LOL!

  56. As a former inner city school math teacher and high school administrator I completely understand your friend’s frustration. It is amazing to me that children still cannot read. I agree going to the library is not fun for moms when the children are young. But, we all know why we suck it up and bear it for the greater good. The baby shower is a great idea. Keep up the good work. Thank you for sharing and bringing awareness to this issue.

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