When I was little, new books weren’t easy to come by: My teachers never seemed to have time to take the class to the library, my parents worked, so rides to the public library were few and far between, and though they recognized the importance of books, my mom and dad didn’t really have a lot of cash to spend on them. Needless to say, my love affair with stories would come in fits and starts—a Judy Blume book here, a Beverly Cleary book there, a few Nancy Drew mysteries cobbled from friends. When there was nothing new—which was often—I’d reread old favorites; I wore out “A Little Princess” and “The Secret Garden,” both by Frances Hodgson Burnett. They made me laugh. They made me dream. They comforted me.
They were my friends.
These days, I collect children’s books—mostly titles for, about, and by African Americans—and I’m constantly trolling stores for great books for my girls, particularly Mari, who is as voracious a reader as I was at her age. I don’t care how much the book is or how little I have in my pocket, books are going to get bought. I recognize this is a blessing. There are way too many children who, for many reasons, don’t have access to quality books, and so they never get the chance to appreciate the beauty of stories well told—to find laughter and dreams and best friends in the pages of a good book.
But a program my friend Gretchen hipped me to aims to change that. The program, In2Books, is a non-profit organization created in 1997 to help get kids in low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods reading, discussing and writing about great children’s literature. The way In2Books works: The program connects students with carefully screened adult pen pals, and then the two read five books and exchange online letters about the books they’ve read. Teachers then reinforce and extend the learning with in-class book discussions and related literacy teachings.
On the In2Books website, notes from teachers who participated in the program testify to the beauty of the organization—especially how it touches the children’s learning lives. Witness:
“The most amazing thing was how everyone supported my students and helped them to grow not only academically and personally. So many of my students did not want to say goodbye and wanted to write all summer long.” — Gwen Kitzan
“I had one little boy that couldn't believe that he actually got to keep the first book. He kept trying to return the book to me. I kept telling him over and over again that the book was his to keep! His comment was, ‘You mean I get to keep it forever?’” — Sherry McMahan
“Many times your letters caused them to revisit their books and think about them in ways they had not thought of before. Most of all, students enjoyed reading about your lives and connecting with a positive adult. Thank you!”— John Bingea.
I can’t think of a better way to touch a child’s life through the power of words. Gretchen is participating for the second year in a row, and I’m signing up to be a penpal—it’s free, save for a $6 donation you make to help cover the background check In2Books will conduct to make sure you’re an adult who doesn’t hurt kids. A small price to pay for helping a child to a lifelong love of reading.
Won’t you be a part of this wonderful program? To learn more about In2Books or become a penpal to a young reader, click HERE.
Thanks, Gretchen, for telling me about the program and encouraging me to share it with MyBrownBaby readers!