US National Book Foundation Program To Distribute 1-Millionth Book

In News by Porter Anderson

Begun in January of 2017, the National Book Foundation’s ‘Book Rich Environments’ program and its seven publishers distribute free books for young readers in public housing authority communities.

Students select titles at a Book Rich Environments program event in Cincinnati in 2018. Image: Steve France, courtesy National Book Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Just the Beginning’
In its third year of operation, the “Book Rich Environments” program of the United States’ National Book Foundation has announced today (May 21) that it anticipates having provided more than 1 million free books to families in public housing authorities.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, this is a program created “to combat lack of literary access, often termed ‘book deserts,’ by connecting communities with resources that help foster lifelong, joyful relationships between readers and books.”

While the National Book Foundation is best known for its annual National Book Awards, Book Rich Environments is one of “education and access” programs the organization operates, and in the case of Book Rich Environments, it partners with two national governmental departments—Housing and Urban Development (commonly called HUD) as well as Education—and also with the Urban Libraries Council, and the National Center for Families Learning.

The books that form the content core of the program are donated by seven publishing houses and distributed in partnership with local libraries, community centers, and public housing authority staffers in 39 sites in 22 states. Media messaging from the foundation about the program describe the goals of the program as strengthening home libraries, facilitating book-distribution events, and providing the information and tools to establish long-term connections between families, literature, and literacy resources.”

Those seven publishing companies providing the free books to the program are:

  • Candlewick Press
  • Hachette Book Group
  • HarperCollins Publisher
  • Macmillan Publishers
  • Penguin Random House
  • Scholastic
  • Simon & Schuster

Books available at the book-distribution events include both English- and Spanish-language titles for readers up to 18 years old. Titles include works of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle, Roald Dahl, Matt de la Peña, and R. J. Palacio, as well as authors who have won National Book Awards, such as Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate Milford, Angie Thomas, Louis Sachar, and Maurice Sendak.

This year, three venues are new to the program—Louisville, Kentucky; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Portland, Oregon—and each participating locale a public housing authority agrees to hold at least three book-distribution events to get those publishers’ books into the hands of children and families.

“With the help of our incredible partners, we’ve been astonished at what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past three years. One million books is just the beginning for us.”Lisa Lucas, National Book Foundation

Such events are held at public housing buildings and community centers, often with local library branches facilitating giveaways, coordinating library card sign-ups, and sharing information on literacy resources available to families.

Past events reported by organizers have included building a pop-up library in administrative offices; hosting holiday events that couple festivities with book distributions; and in some cases door-to-door delivery of books by housing authority staffers.

In a prepared statement on the announcement of the coming 1-millionth-copy mark, David Steinberger, who chairs the board of the National Book Foundation, is quoted, saying, “We work year-’round to make sure that all kinds of readers, all over the country, have the resources and the encouragement to help form meaningful, lasting relationships to literature.

“We couldn’t do this work alone, and it’s been amazing to be able to offer our support to the outstanding teams at local libraries and literacy organizations who work tirelessly to serve their communities.”

And the foundation’s executive director Lisa Lucas says, “When we launched the Book Rich Environments program, we had this big dream of giving away a million brand-new, great books, which at the time felt like this enormous, daunting goal.

“With the help of our incredible partners, we’ve been astonished at what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past three years. One million books is just the beginning for us.”

Participating Book Rich Environment Communities

Locations of operation in the United States for the 2019 Book Rich Environment program of the National Book Foundation. Image: National Book Foundation


Book Rich Environment Program City State
Phenix City Alabama
Phoenix Arizona
Chandler Arizona
Contra Costa County California
Fresno California
Los Angeles California
Marin County California
San Diego California
San Joaquin County California
San Mateo County California
Stanislaus County California
Boulder Colorado
Sarasota Florida
Tampa Florida
Nampa Idaho
Pocatello Idaho
Fort Wayne Indiana
Topeka Kansas
Louisville Kentucky
Cambridge Massachusetts
New Bedford Massachusetts
Springfield Massachusetts
Anishinaabe Reservations Minnesota
Kansas City Missouri
Billings Montana
Durham North Carolina
Lincoln Nebraska
New York New York
Akron Ohio
Cincinnati Ohio
Portland Ohio
Brownsville Texas
Harlingen Texas
Houston Texas
Gregory Texas
San Antonio Texas
Roanoke Virginia
Tacoma Washington
Washington District of Columbia

At a Book Rich Environments program event in Cincinnati in 2018. Image: Steve France, courtesy National Book Foundation

More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Foundation is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.