Helping Ethnically, Racially Diverse Kids Learn to Love Reading

In News by Dennis Abrams

FIRST BOOK LOGO

By Dennis Abrams

In a study last year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reviewed thousands of kids’ books, and found that only 3.3 percent were about African Americans, 2.1 percent were about Latinos, and a mere 0.6 percent were about American Indians. This lack of diversity in children’s literature is a problem that affects all children, but perhaps especially children from low-income families, who rarely have the chance to see themselves, their families, or their communities in the stories that they read.

But at this week’s 2013 Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) meeting, hosted by President Bill Clinton, First Book, a nonprofit social enterprises that provides new books and educational recourse to schools and community programs serving children in need, unveiled its “Commitment to Action,” a program designed to create a sustainable solution by dramatically expanding the market for diversity in children’s literature. The name? The Stories for All Project.

“We’ve heard time and again from the educators we work with that one of the biggest challenge to helping kids become strong readers is the desperate lack of books that are culturally relevant to these kids’ lives,’ said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “One of the best ways to turn children into readers is to give them stories with heroes and experiences they can relate to.”

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“By aggregating the voice and purchasing power of thousand of educators and program leaders who serve families at the bottom third of the economic pyramid, First Book is showing the publishing industry that there is a strong, viable and vibrant market for diverse content,” Zimmer said. “First Book represents social enterprise at its best and this strategy will lead to the creation of more culturally diverse content that is available to all children, magnifying the impact of The Stories for All Project far beyond the children it reaches directly.”

“This isn’t only about more African-American books for African-American children or more Latino books for Latino kids, but it’s about more varied content so that all children can experience the richness of everyone’s stories,” Zimmer said.

As part of this long-term, market-driven solution, First Book is announcing through its CGI America Commitment to Action a broad outreach to new classrooms and community programs. Coupled with this market expansion will be the development of culturally-relevant collections of books for the children these educators serve as well as incentive grants to stimulate usage of the First Book Marketplace. First Book currently serves nearly 60,000 educators and community leaders, still only a small fraction — approximately 4% — of the population eligible for First Book’s resources.

As part of its CGI commitment, over the next two years, First Book will:

  • Add another 30,000 Title I classrooms to its network, giving them permanent, ongoing access to First Book’s recourse.
  • Provide matching grants resulting in 600,000 culturally-relevant books and resources for kids in need.
  • Create 9,000 collections (50 books each), featuring a wide array of culturally diverse titles.
  • Conduct a landmark assessment of educators in underserved communities to determine exactly what resources they need most.
  • Convene authors, illustrators, and other leaders to inform new content selection and inspire new and diverse artists to approach publishers with their work.

The cost of this commitment over the next two years will be $3 million. Disney, who has already donated more than eight million books to First Book, is a lead supporter of these efforts. The company’s investment expands upon its commitment to story telling and will help First Book reach diverse communities, specifically Hispanic kids and families.

This announcement builds on the work that First Book already has underway. In March 2013, First Book purchased $1 million worth of culturally diverse content from two publishers: Harper Collins and Lee & Low books. Those purchases, which Kirkus Reviews called a “colossal commitment” were unprecedented for a nonprofit, and served as the first major step in creating a new market for multicultural children’s literature.

“All kids deserve books that are high-quality, affordable and culturally relevant,” Zimmer said. First Book has already solved two of those problems: quality content and affordability. Now, with The Stories for All Project, we’re solving the third problem.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.