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"Books are a uniquely portable magic." --Stephen King
On August 30, 2012, The Kelly Ann Brown Foundation was surprised and thrilled to receive this letter from Linda Johnson, a school teacher and dear friend of board members, Steve and Katy Jo:
"Please accept this donation for the Kelly Ann Brown Foundation to spend as you see fit. I looked over your beautiful website and I saw so many good, worthy causes supported by the foundation. What a wonderful way to honor Kelly’s memory."
The board chose the organization BookMentors to show our gratitude both to Ms. Johnson and the work she does for her third graders, and to our beloved Kelly Ann Brown, a woman whom children instinctively trusted and loved. Kelly had a warmth and understanding that made any child want to curl up in her lap and tell her all her secrets. This love was mutual; Kelly adored children. Kelly would have been 100% behind any cause that helped children, but BookMentors would have especially interested her. From her classic favorite Anna Karenina to Stephen King thrillers, Kelly loved to read. Her bookshelves were filled with a variety of books, all in hard cover; Kelly couldn’t resist buying them as soon as they first came to print. Art history, the classics, biographies, Kelly loved fiction and non-fiction alike. An organization built to spread the joy and importance of reading to children would have caught Kelly’s attention, and she would have rallied behind its cause. BookMentors addresses the lack of access to books by supplying teachers and librarians with free books for kids to read in class, at home, on the bus, wherever they can be enjoyed and valued.
Founder and Executive Director Jen Soalt saw there was a need for BookMentors after working as a reading specialist in an urban public school. Many students living in poverty had access to very few books at home or at school. From research and her own experiences as a teacher and literacy coach, Ms. Soalt knew that the amount of books students read affected their reading levels and their ability to perform well on standardized tests. Ms. Soalt learned that the ratio of books to children in middle-income neighborhoods is about thirteen books per child, while the ratio of books to children in lower income neighborhoods is approximately one book to 300 children. Without sufficient access to books at home and at school, Ms. Soalt realized that the students she was teaching would have to struggle to become good readers. Ms. Soalt attempted to work with existing organizations to get more books for her school, but was disappointed when they not only supplied very few books, but the books they did supply were often not the books that teachers or students needed or wanted.
She saw a potential solution to this problem with the help of the internet, envisioning the creation of an online organization that would allow teachers to request essential and necessary books for their students and also communicate with other readers passionate about children's and young adult literature. Ms. Soalt began to discuss her idea with friends who worked in high-tech, academia, education, and law. With their help and experience, her vision was made into a reality—BookMentors:
"So many avid readers have memories of the teacher, parent, librarian, friend, or acquaintance who shared their love of a particular book with them as a child or young adult, the person who showed them the possibilities and knowledge inherent in literature. Readers need the inspiration of other readers to grow and thrive. BookMentors.org hopes to pass this tradition of mentoring on in a new way, suitable to a socially-connected world, where access to books is, unfortunately, not universal."
BookMentors is a non-profit social networking site dedicated to bringing together teachers, parents, librarians and booklovers to encourage reading and benefit students. Using micropatronage, it works to supply teachers, students, and librarians in high-needs schools with books. BookMentors.org is a site where people can give and receive books, as well as ideas. Donors recommend and buy books for schools and are encouraged to write tributes to their favorite children’s and young adult books. Teachers and librarians request, receive and recommend books, and students benefit from not only the books themselves, but all the shared reading experiences and thoughts. Ms. Soalt has already received positive feedback from teachers who often have zero control over what books get into the classroom. She is receiving requests from school districts all over the country, including the hard-hit New Orleans Ninth Ward, Native American schools and schools that cater to migrant workers’ children.
The Kelly Ann Brown Foundation directors were eager to share our choice with Ms. Johnson and gauge her reaction to this brand new organization set to launch in 2013. Ms. Johnson immediately wrote back:
"Hi Katy Jo --Thanks for letting me know about this, and thanks so much for choosing BookMentors! I hadn’t heard of this organization before, but it sounds like an excellent nonprofit, and the work they do will surely make a huge difference in the lives of many, many children."
Click here to learn more about BookMentors.