When Tom Best, executive director at First Book Canada, initially approached Signal Hill Elementary to tell them his organization had hundreds of books to give to their students, they reacted the same way most schools do.
“I would say the reaction is, ‘what’s the catch?’” Best said. “’This is a little too good to be true.’ We still get that every day… It takes a while to convince them there are no strings attached; they won’t get a bill at the end of the day.”
Teacher-librarian Nicole Benes confirmed she was a little skeptical at first.
“It seemed so unusual to have someone offer books in such quantities,” Benes said. “I did a little research about them and discovered they’re legit and it was like, ‘who could say no?’”
In total, the non-profit organization gave the school around 1,900 books for its 440 students in a surprise event on Monday (June 15). That added up to each student taking home around four books. On top of that, Grade 2 students got to sit in on a reading by Vancouver author Caroline Adderson and take home one of her books as well.
“There’s so much great literature for children these days,” Benes said. “Having a new collection of books to start the summer will be great for them… It is crucial for them to have books at home. Lots of families bring their kids to the public libraries, but lots don’t. For those kids, having books at home is huge.”
The initiative all started with local company Love Child Organics. Leah Garrad-Cole, the company’s president, was a teacher before she and her husband started making local organic baby food and snacks for toddlers. She knew from the beginning that she wanted the company to have a social venture element and the First Book organization seemed like a great fit.
For the last year, $0.01 from every product sold has gone to the organization. Not only did that fund the book donation to Signal Hill, but also to a school in the Bronx in New York City.
“I spent my career working in schools with a lot of challenges that didn’t have very much,” Garrad-Cole said. “I just like that connection. It was a way for me to still be part of education. We donate quarterly to First Book. Throughout the year they spend that money on things they need, but we get to choose where the money goes as well.”
To that end, they wanted to donate to a local school that fit into the organization’s mandate of serving a high percentage of low-income families. (Although all kids in all of the initiatives receive books regardless of their household income.) “I think that school is an interesting one,” Garrad-Cole said. “It’s a mixed population. No matter what, kids need that opportunity for reading in the summer and there’s definitely tons of research out there that shows there can be a real ‘summer slide.’ We’re hoping putting this focus on reading and literature before summer starts is one way to help with that.”
The organization also has a counterpart in the U.S. and collectively they’ve distributed more than 100 million books to low-income families. So far this year Best estimates that 3,500 groups and schools in Canada have received over 825,000 books this year. By the end if the year they expect to have over 5,000 groups registered with them and to exceed 1.2 million given to Canadian kids. For many it will truly be their first book. “The whole idea is to get this even playing field so every kid has the same kind of opportunity,” Best said. “We want to transform these kids’ homes so they have their own library and they’re able to access books.”
For more information visit firstbookcanada.org.