One Book for Every Young Child

Author and illustrator visits bring fun to early literacy program

March 30, 2011


In this struggling economy, the local library remains the community bedrock, even as libraries report that use of service is up while their budgets are shrinking. As a librarian in Pennsylvania, I’m proud to say that we are finding creative ways to do more with less. The “One Book, Every Young Child” program is foremost among them.

Built on the concept of collaboration and designed so that large and small libraries alike could easily implement it, the program is our state’s first-ever collaborative project using the blueprint of “One Book, One Community,” but the Pennsylvania program highlights the importance of early literacy development in preschoolers ages 3–6. An estimated 560,000 children in that age group live in Pennsylvania, many of whom spend time in registered childcare facilities, Head Start programs, preschools, or other early education programs.

Part of what makes One Book successful is the collaboration itself. Libraries, museums, associations, government agencies, and businesses have all been working together to promote the importance of early literacy. Today’s partners include the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Library Association, Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, Pennsylvania Child Care Association, PennSERVE, HSLC/Access PA, and Verizon.

The 2011 book-giveaway selection, Whose Shoes? A Shoe for Every Job, was officially introduced during a kick-off celebration in Harrisburg on March 29, with M. Clare Zales, Deputy Secretary for Commonwealth Libraries in Pennsylvania’s Department of Education, serving as Mistress of Ceremony. Pennsylvania’s First Lady Susan Corbett spoke at the event and was joined by Stephen Swinburne, author of Whose Shoes? State Representatives, librarians, and early learning advocates from across the state attended to show their support, and Verizon Pennsylvania President Gale Given highlighted Verizon’s ongoing commitment to literacy.

For the sixth year, the Verizon Foundation is supporting the Pennsylvania “One Book, Every Young Child” program with a $40,000 grant as part of its commitment to unlock the promise of literacy. This grant provides a copy of each year’s chosen book to more than 15,000 Pennsylvania childcare facilities, licensed preschools, Head Start programs, and family literacy programs.

Libraries also work hard to find grant money and other resources to provide free books to the children in their communities. One librarian in Williamsport observed that there are homes in his county where the only book is the phone book. Because reading is a crucial part of lifetime success, he knew that had to change. His library provided every young child in the county with a copy of the One Book selection. What a great gift to give a child.

Paging all imaginations

The teachers and librarians who dedicate their lives to instilling in children the love of reading have the eternal gratitude of Florence Minor and Wendell Minor, author and illustrator, respectively, of If You Were a Penguin, which was the 2009 “One Book, Every Young Child” selection. The duo have expressed their appreciation for the time spent preparing for their visits and for creative displays of all things penguin—from crafts and music to cakes and cookies.

Florence Minor said it best: “Nearly everything we do in life stems from the knowledge we glean through books of one kind or another, and the more we love to read, and the more we learn, the more productive and enjoyable our lives become.”

Wendell Minor shared that as a dyslexic child who had trouble reading, he sees the One Book program as providing young children with a fun and engaging way to experience the joy of books through the visual connection to words.

Jane Hillenbrand, author of the 2010 selection What a Treasure! commented that as a child she spent countless hours reading, and it was that love of reading that led her to a career teaching young children.

Pennsylvania is the country’s sixth-largest state, with more than 630 public library facilities (including libraries and satellites, such as branches and bookmobiles) serving a diverse population of 12 million people. Libraries here have been fortunate. The Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) is supportive and encouraging of our libraries; PaLA works hard to provide library workers with the tools required to form strong community partnerships and collaborations. Since the inception of One Book, hundreds of Pennsylvania librarians and volunteers have had the opportunity to reach our next generation of readers.

But the Pennsylvania “One Book, Every Young Child” program goes beyond giving parents and caregivers a book to read to their preschoolers. The program itself is based on studies that show that simply reading a book is not enough. Adults must find ways to engage children in activities such as talking about a book’s cover and illustrations, discussing the action in and your favorite parts of the book, and engaging in related pretend-play.

Another unique thing about Pennsylvania’s One Book program is that all information and program ideas are developed by librarians and museum educators from all areas of the state and promote the benefits of reading early and often to preschoolers. The ideas also encourage family bonding through books and reading.

Each year, 65 traveling trunks are carefully created and make their way across Pennsylvania to be used by libraries as part of One Book programming. Each trunk is filled with fun book-related activities—puppets, games, and manipulatives—for young children. Librarians and educators also find packed inside a guide that encourages use of the trunk contents in activities that are aligned with the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards. These materials add another dimension to the great story we are sharing.

Pennsylvania’s “One Book, Every Young Child” program also offers an abundance of free resources to all those involved in the development of early literacy—educators, parents, and caregivers. The PA One Book website contains useful information about the program and includes everything one needs to provide a stimulating reading experience for a young child, regardless of where he or she lives. The materials from past book selections also are readily available and can be easily downloaded.

In addition to the special programming at the library, many libraries have taken One Book into their communities in creative ways. They’ve teamed up with area preschool and kindergarten teachers to bring events into the classroom, they’ve formed partnerships with groups like garden clubs and NFL teams, and they’ve brought activities to community events like the County Grange Encampment and Fair. One librarian noted that the One Book program really helped her library solidify relationships with community partners.

But the program wouldn’t be complete without a visit from the book’s author or illustrator. Each year, libraries submit applications to be selected to host the author and/or illustrator at a special event at the library or other area location. Will Hillenbrand, the illustrator of the 2010 selection What a Treasure! commented: “The Pennsylvania One Book program connects children and the adults who care for them with books and literacy in a fun and meaningful experience. An author visit makes books personal; a personal touch makes for a deep and lasting impression.”

Author and illustrator Lindsay Barrett George, whose book Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse was the first Pennsylvania One Book selection, recalled the following story: “While visiting a library, a group of children filed into the second floor reading area. The librarian and I handed out their mouse ears and we started the program. As we were about to start the drawing activity, I asked where the children were from. ‘A homeless shelter,’ was the reply. They were great kids, eager to learn, loving to listen and be read to—kids without a home. And the child who was touched by my story? I don’t know his name, but he was hugging his mouse book that day. That was an unforgettable day for me.”

I’m proud to be in a state that understands the importance of early literacy and, despite the budget cuts and down economy, is still working hard to keep programs like One Book thriving in our communities. Each year, the program continues to grow and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next five years will bring.

Florence Minor made a wish for kids across America: “It would be thrilling to have a One Book program in every state. It would give children the opportunity to develop an early connection to books and to hear authors and illustrators share their own stories, augmenting what children learn from their teachers and librarians.”

Program Details

The Pennsylvania “One Book, Every Young Child” program is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by Pennsylvania’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries.

In addition, local legislators and representatives from the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Public Welfare travel the state to read the selected book to children in various settings, such as preschools and libraries.

In its inaugural year, the Pennsylvania “One Book, Every Young Child” program won the coveted national John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award.

The Pennsylvania “One Book, Every Young Child” selections are:

  • 2011: Whose Shoes? A Shoe for Every Job by author and photographer Stephen R. Swinburne
  • 2010: What a Treasure! by author and illustrator Jane and Will Hillenbrand
  • 2009: If You Were a Penguin by author and illustrator Florence and Wendell Minor
  • 2008: Up, Down, and Around by author Katherine Ayres and illustrator Nadine Bernard Westcott
  • 2007: A Splendid Friend, Indeed by author and illustrator Suzanne Bloom
  • 2006: Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse by author and illustrator Lindsay Barrett George

MICHELLE McINTYRE is public relations and marketing committee chair of the Pennsylvania Library Association and director of the Roaring Spring Community Library.



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