Community Literacy: Access, Representation and Choice

By Franki Sibberson

Access, representation and choice are all critical for children to have positive experiences with books. Future Ready Columbus (FRC) is a collective impact organization that leads implementation of the county-wide kindergarten readiness plan, Future Ready by 5, to support children prenatal through age five, so they track for lifelong success. With grant funding, FRC is working to make book access scalable while still honoring and providing book choice for every child, family and educator. We have found several strategies for providing choice without demanding extra time from an already understaffed early childhood workforce.

Browsing Boxes

In order to update books available to children in their classrooms, Future Ready Columbus provides Teacher Browsing Boxes two times during the year. Browsing Boxes are dropped off  at each early childhood center and include 50-70 books for educators to browse and choose for their classrooms. We pick up the unwanted books once teachers have had time to browse and choose the books they want to keep. Additionally, FRC provides extra copies, as needed, of any of the browsing box titles.

Choose containers that fit books in a way that make that make the books easy to browse.
Include a variety of genres, authors, formats and topics. We like to introduce authors that may be new to educators.
Leave the boxes for two to three weeks giving teachers time to read and choose those book they would like.
Offer to order extra copies of books that a school would like for multiple classrooms or spaces.

Family Book Fair

A Family Book Fair is a fun event that can be part of an existing family engagement program or can be an event on its own. During the book fair, children and caregivers choose three to four books to add to their home libraries. The Family Book Fair books include a wide variety of recently-published, age-appropriate books. Teachers are also included in the fun so they can choose three to four books to add to their classroom libraries.

Take advantage of discounted books and buy multiple copies of several books.
Make sure books are displayed so that children can see and reach the books.
Make sure to have plenty of board books available for families with young children.

Curated Bag of Books

Child with book bag!

FRC also curates bags of books that are specially selected for a particular class. These can be distributed to students for their home libraries as a welcome gift, a kick off for summer reading, or a celebration of a new school year.  Each center director chooses three to four titles from a curated list of books. Future Ready Columbus also provides a copy of each book to the classroom teacher so that children can enjoy the books both at school and at home, optimizing their positive experiences.

Work with the center director/principal to determine the types of books they’d like children to have.
Include a way for families to exchange a book that does not meet their family’s/child’s needs.
Provide a bag or container for children to take books home.

Free Libraries

As a way to continue adding to home libraries, we can provide baskets or shelves filled with books for the lobby of your center. These books can serve as a Community Free Library and families can take a book when they see one they’d like to add to their home libraries. It can also be used as a Take One/Leave One for families who may have outgrown some gently-used books or want to exchange a book they received in a Curated Book Bag.

Find shelving or containers to display books so that they are easily accessible to children and their families.
Create signage that invites families to take and/or swap books on a regular basis.

Pricing and Purchasing

We’ve learned that when providing books with grant or donated funds, we have to mix and match how we spend the money. We are grateful for organizations like First Book who provide quality books for very discounted prices. We are also grateful for local partners like Junior Library Guild who offer a biannual warehouse sale. We purchase many of our books from these sources.

Often however, some of the best, newest culturally relevant books are not available at a discount. And we want to make sure that our “littles” have access to the best and newest books. We are also committed to supporting our local children’s bookstores. We know that they have the expertise to help with titles and local support. Cover to Cover, our local children’s bookstore, has been a huge support as we work to create scalable book access for every child ages 0-5.

By using a variety of sources to purchase books, we are able to afford the best books for children, families, and educators. Because we purchase so  many books at a highly discounted rate, we are also able, then, to purchase specific titles at full cost when needed.

Get to know local sources for new, quality children’s books.
Build a relationship with your local children’s bookstore.
Start a First Book account if your organization is eligible.

In sum, each method of providing book access provides an element of all-important book choice and yet, is also manageable for the staff and relatively easy to implement.

© 2022 Franki Sibberson