A Friend in First Book

Students enjoy books from First Book during the AFT's 2012 convention in DetroitStudents enjoy books from First Book during the AFT's 2012 convention in Detroit. Photo by Jim West.

What started out as a simple book-giveaway event has blossomed into a far-reaching partnership to expand access to books for children and families in need. As part of the AFT’s 2011 Back to School tour, First Book, a national nonprofit dedicated to donating books and raising the quality of education, gave 1,500 free books to West Side Elementary School in Charleston, West Virginia, during AFT President Randi Weingarten’s visit, to stock the school’s library.

Since then, more than 50,000 AFT members and community-based programs have registered with First Book to take advantage of its high-quality, low-cost books, educational resources, and school supplies. Together, the AFT and First Book have also cosponsored hundreds of events across the country to promote literacy and ensure students from low-income families have access to books.

How does First Book make books available to children in need? The nonprofit developed an award-winning distribution model in which it partners with publishing companies to distribute books either for free or at significantly reduced prices. The model relies on several strategies to distribute books. First, there are book banks, in which a publisher donates and ships up to half a million books to a warehouse temporarily donated to First Book. Then there’s the First Book Marketplace, where First Book has purchased at discounted prices 6,500 titles (and growing) that are available online for approximately $3 each. Here, users can order a specific book for their students, classroom, or school. Check it out at www.fbmarketplace.org.

Who can sign up with First Book?

Recently, the AFT and First Book pioneered another way to promote reading for pleasure among children—book trucks. To bring a truck loaded with more than 40,000 books to their areas, AFT affiliates work with local partners to register 2,000 educators and programs with First Book. Not only do book-truck events bring thousands of books directly to students, they also help build community goodwill and excitement around reading, and new users gain access to First Book’s low-cost books and resources for years to come.

At recent book-truck events, such as those held in Rochester, Syracuse, and Staten Island, New York, and Lynn, Massachusetts, students and their families were invited to come and choose books to take home. They also received free AFT-developed materials, such as bookmarks with tips on effective ways parents can read to their children.

The AFT-First Book partnership centers on more than just increasing the quantity of books. It also focuses on expanding the quality of books. By combining the AFT’s grass-roots reach and First Book’s purchasing power, this partnership is achieving what neither organization could do alone. They are showing publishers the need and market for diverse characters and storylines to help all children see themselves and their own experiences reflected in books, to inspire them to read more. Check out the Stories for All Project on the First Book website to see this ever-expanding list of books.

In four short years, the AFT and First Book have jointly distributed more than 2 million free books. This partnership has taken off because AFT members see First Book as a tangible and easy-to-use way to instill in children a love of reading and learning.

If you work or volunteer in a Title I school or any program where at least 70 percent of the children come from low-income families, register at FirstBook.org/AFT to start receiving free or low-cost books, school supplies, and other resources for your students today.

And don’t forget to visit ShareMyLesson.com, which offers lesson plans, handouts, and classroom materials for elementary, middle, and high school grades that align with books in the First Book Marketplace (see links in the "First Book" box on the right).

–Editors

American Educator, Spring 2015 Download PDF (836.52 KB)
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