Young nonprofit group First Book to distribute free volumes through Ready to Learn Service

Originally published in Current, Aug. 1, 1994

An organization that combats illiteracy by giving books to underprivileged children has joined public broadcasting's Ready to Learn effort.

First Book, a two-year-old nonprofit group founded by three lawyers, last month committed $2.1 million for books to be distributed through the 11 stations participating in the start-up phase of PBS's Ready to Learn Service.

Three RTL stations--WETA, Washington, WGBH, Boston, and WGTE, Toledo--will help launch the partnership this fall by distributing an estimated 37,800 books and bookplates to children in their communities. In January, the partnership will start distributing 5,000 books a month at each of the 11 RTL pilot sites.

PBS launched the pilot phase of Ready to Learn on July 11. "PTV,'' as the service identifies itself to viewers, mixes children's programs with break segments that encourage youngsters to develop learning skills.

"It's smart for children to learn skills by watching television; it's even smarter to have the opportunity to transfer all of that to a book that they own,'' said Carolynn Reid-Wallace, senior v.p. of education for CPB.

"This isn't just another program,'' said First Book cofounder Kyle Zimmer. "We're talking about what could be, if we do it right, a movement''--one that connects reading to television, "one of the most influential forces in young people's lives today.''

First Book already supports local literacy projects in nine cities through advisory boards, said Zimmer. Those boards determine the best means of distributing books to needy children; local educators or tutors decide which books are purchased for that community. She anticipates that the organization will expand similarly in cities with RTL stations.

"We don't pretend to have the knowledge of local programs that someone at the local level would,'' explained Zimmer. "We just work to grow the program and deliver on promises.''

The bookplates play a key role in promoting the value of books to children. Kids have a natural tendency to say " 'It's mine,' '' noted Zimmer. "That's a pretty healthy thing when it comes to a book.'' By having their names written in their books on bookplates, the children take special pride in ownership.

Not all the funds that First Book has pledged for the RTL partnership are "in the bank yet,'' acknowledged Bradley Pine, executive director. "We're working to develop a permanent funding program for this.''

When RTL expands to another 37 stations, First Book and CPB hope to begin book distribution in those communities.

Another partner in the collaboration is the Association of Junior Leagues International, which will participate in fundraising and local distribution efforts.



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Current Briefing: Kidvid that's good for kids?

Later news: The volumes provided by First Book become a major asset for PBS Ready to Learn Service and families using it.


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