The little guy at Walnut Hill Elementary School in Petersburg peered into his gift bag of books. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Where the Wild Things Are was one of his absolute favorites; he had always selected it at the school library. And now, he would have his very own copy to read
at home. He turned to the boy next to him and told his friend about his good fortune – and all about the book, which he had nearly memorized.
The Central Virginia Children’s Book Bank powered by the Children’s Museum of Richmond (CMoR) exists to nurture this love of books and reading and to provide free books directly to children throughout Central Virginia whose families cannot afford or do not have access to books.
The Book Bank, which was originally created in 2001 as a partnership with the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Greater Richmond, and the City of Petersburg, became a part of CMoR in 2012. Working closely with CMoR, which has the tools and resources to manage a program of this magnitude, the Book Bank has distributed more than 70,000 books to children in need.
In an effort to support early childhood literacy, volunteers with the Book Bank spent two days last spring distributing three books to every child in pre-kindergarten through third grade in the Petersburg City Public School system – totaling nearly 8,000 books.
“Every child deserves to have the opportunity to explore the stories and exciting information books provide. Regardless of their economic status, it is important for children to gain a love of reading from a very early age,” says Bekah Miller, director of volunteer services at the Book Bank. “The most successful way to improve the reading achievements of children in low-income circumstances is to increase their access to print, and our highest priority is reading encouragement through book ownership.”
Access to books is essential to developing reading skills, and studies confirm that the number of books in the home directly predicts long-term achievements in reading. Independent research also confirms that children who grow up with books in the home reach a higher level of education than those who do not have home libraries.
One study found that in middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio is thirteen books per each child; in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is just one book for every three children. While this is a national statistic, there is an exceptional need in Central Virginia. That’s why the Book Bank works to distribute books directly to children ages newborn to thirteen years and to local organizations that serve at-risk children.
Title 1 schools, social service agencies, faith-based organizations, under-resourced preschools, and other groups who assist children in need all qualify for assistance from the Book Bank. To further support this important literacy mission, CMoR distributed books to more than 13,000 children who participated in scholarship-based field trip programming last year.
“For many, story time before bed is a cherished childhood memory, and it would be difficult to imagine not having had books at home to read or to have someone read to you,” says Miller. “By getting books into the hands and lives of kids who need them and providing opportunities for children to read, the Central Virginia Children’s Book Bank is an invaluable resource. Books have enormous power to improve school readiness and enhance literacy in all children.”