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Not-Your-Average Book Drive Brings Curated Titles To City Heights Kids

Emily Derry, education and community engagement librarian with the city of Sa...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Emily Derry, education and community engagement librarian with the city of San Diego Public Library system, displays books to be distributed to San Diego kids thought the Book Rich Environments Initiative, Aug. 15, 2017.

As part of a national program, the San Diego Housing Commission and San Diego Public Library System will distribute new books that were curated specifically for the local community.

Strong reading skills at an early age can lead to academic success down the road, and a national program wants to set kids in public housing programs down that path. The Book-Rich Environments Initiative connects public housing authorities with libraries in 36 communities across the U.S., including San Diego.

The City of San Diego Public Library system's Emily Derry said the goal of the program, which distributes new, curated books to families receiving federal rental assistance, is two-fold. First, it helps low-income kids expand their book collection, but it also introduces them to other resources at the library, such as story time and homework assistance.

"Really getting kids interested or knowledgeable about the library at a young age or their parents at a young age so that they can become lifelong library users," Derry said.

In partnership with the San Diego Housing Commission, the library will distribute 900 books on Wednesday to preselected participants in City Heights. Derry said up to 300 kids are expected. She said a previous event was held in Southeastern San Diego in May and another will take place in Logan Heights in the fall, but a specific date has not yet been set.

The program, which has been rolling out in cities throughout the year, is a collaboration of several government agencies and organizations, including the National Book Foundation.

Jordan Smith, the foundation's director of education, said the organization worked with national publishers to select engaging books with which youth could identify.

“We didn’t want just what there was an overstock of, we wanted to make sure there were books that kids connect with and be excited about," Smith said in a phone interview.

Titles Curated For San Diego

  1. "Caribbean Dream," by Rachel Isadora
  2. "Little Engine That Could," Watty Piper
  3. "Are You My Mother?" (Spanish), by P.D. Eastman
  4. "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse," by Leo Lionni
  5. "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great," by Judy Blume
  6. "March: Book One," by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
  7. "La Noche En Que Tú Naciste," by Nancy Tillman
  8. "Empty Pot," by Demi
  9. "Anansi the Spider," by Gerald McDermott
  10. "American Born Chinese," by Gene Luen Yang
  11. "Madeline" (75th Anniversary Edition), by Ludwig Bemelmans

Smith said the foundation paid close attention to selecting titles that featured diverse characters or authors, and tailored the list of books to each region that received them. In San Diego, the donated tales included a picture book about life in the Caribbean, a children's classic in English and Spanish and a graphic novel about a Chinese-American student, a National Book Award Finalist.

Smith said the foundation also hopes the program will create a lasting connection between communities and their libraries.

"It’s the lure definitely to get people in because it’s exciting to get new books but we don’t want it to just end at that event," Smith said.

Melissa Phillips, a resource teacher in City Heights, said it's important for adults to keep kids interested in reading even after that thrill of a new book wears off.

"I think families are going to have to have some buy-in to encouraging children to sit down in quiet places and read," said Phillips, a co-founder of San Diego Refugee Tutoring.

She said regular reading outside of school is important for kids to keep up with their classmates. Phillips suggested parents and guardians create a reading environment by turning off distracting devices and identifying a comfortable space to curl up with a book.

Other organizations behind the Book-Rich Environments Initiative include the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Urban Libraries Council and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. A January news release on the HUD website said the program was inspired by the My Brother's Keeper Task Force.

Editor's note: A broadcast version of this story incorrectly referenced the timing of the distribution events and identified "Are You My Mother?" as a Dr. Seuss book. Both have been corrected in this story.

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