For thousands of students in Georgia, Christmas comes early every year—in May, to be exact. That’s when Books for Keeps (BFK) sets up shop in school media centers with popular titles stacked on tables. Class by class, students enter the “pop-up bookstore” and choose 12 books for free to keep through the summer and beyond.
“A lot of students tell us it’s their favorite day of the year,” said BFK Executive Director Leslie Hale. “They say it’s just like Christmas, except better, because they get to pick out exactly what they want. Picture a kid in a candy shop—but that level of excitement about books.”
BFK’s Stop Summer Slide! program is a research-based effort to end summer learning loss—the tendency for students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.
For 11 months of the year, BFK’s three-person team collects, inspects, sorts, and boxes books to give them all away each May. Since 2009, BFK has provided more than 260,000 books to children from low-income families in grades Pre-K through 12.
Many children cannot—or do not—access their public libraries for reasons related to geography, transportation, or something as simple as an inability to pay fines for lost books. By middle school, the children from these families may be three grade-levels behind their peers. That gap is nearly insurmountable, and negatively affects their chances of graduating from high school.
BFK is building on a strong foundation of research to evaluate the program’s success, using testing data from the schools that are served and with the help of researchers at the University of Georgia. Their strategy is based on a study that revealed having access to books over the summer has a similar impact to attending summer school, but at a fraction of the cost.
Because of a generous gift of $3,000 to the Get Georgia Reading Campaign through a partnership between Peter Millar and Coaching for Literacy, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving education to increase literacy and odds for future success, BFK distributed nearly 1,000 books at Dunbar Elementary—the first Atlanta school added to BFK’s list in 2014.
“The vast majority of our schools are funded by cobbling together $1,000 here, $5,000 there, to get all the funding that’s needed,” said Hale. “So a $3,000 donation goes a long way toward reaching 80 students at that school.
BFK aims for books to be shared in the home—whether it’s a cookbook that a child looks forward to using with a parent or grandparent, or a story to share with younger siblings—to build cross-generational connections that inspire families to read together.
“While I was helping students check out their books at Dunbar, I noticed that almost every child chose books to give to a brother or sister who wasn’t there,” said Get Georgia Reading Campaign Project Manager Akia Lewis. “That speaks volumes to the hearts and generosity of our children, and their desire to give back—despite their own circumstances.”
For information on how to get involved with Books for Keeps, send an email to email@example.com or call 706-410-1912. Books for Keeps also has a great need for new or gently used books for children and young adults in Pre-K through 12th grade, and accepts books of any kind, for children or adults. You can send books to:
Books for Keeps
c/o Melanie Bradford
1050 Long Creek Drive
Bogart, GA 30622