A Book of Their Very Own

“Today is the best day ever!” Maggie excitedly whispered to her friend, Daniela, as they dove into the collection of books laid out before them, which included The Hundred Dresses, If I Ran to the Zoo, and Amelia Bedilia. East Palo Alto’s Costaño Elementary School was celebrating Read Across America Day with the Jewish Coalition for Literacy. JCL had provided books so that each of the nearly 600 students at Costaño could return home with a book of their very own.

“Thank you for bringing so many wonderful books!” said librarian Jena Bloomquist. “It was a joy for each child to choose their own book. They’ll be reading and sharing it for years to come.”

JCL’s book giveaway at Costaño was made possible thanks to a huge book drive at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City organized by longtime member, Jon Levinson. “It was an amazing feeling to see the excitement and unity that happens among the congregation.” Congregation Beth Jacob is one of dozens of synagogues, JCCs, Jewish Day Schools, multi-faith organizations, youth groups, and individuals who partner with JCL throughout the year to organize book drives on JCL’s behalf. “Books were my life as a kid,” said Levinson. “That so many children don’t have books in their homes is upsetting.”

In East Palo Alto, students at Costano Elementary School are engrossed in reading their new books, which were donated by JCL.

In East Palo Alto, students at Costano Elementary School are engrossed in
their new books, which were donated by JCL

Each year, JCL collects thousands of new and gently used books and distributes them to at-risk children

“Every child should have access to wonderful books that engage and inspire them and spark their imagination,” said JCL Director Randi Fields. “But, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Far too many children from low-income families do not have access to books.”

Studies show that daily at-home experiences with books increase children’s vocabulary and their understanding of a variety of informational concepts. "We can’t expect kids to practice reading at home if they don’t have the resources to do it,” said Costaño fifth grade teacher, Tiffany Ishihara-Paraso. Along with helping kids develop basic language and critical thinking skills, Fields added that “books create emotional bonds with kids, helping to nourish their imaginations and expand their world.”

Teachers tout the importance of helping children develop their own collection of cherished books at home. “The books…the children crave them!” said Rose Curerri, the literacy specialist at San Francisco’s Guadalupe Elementary, another of JCL’s more than 50 partner schools. Parents, too, are grateful. “Your participation [in our book giveaway] was key,” said Gail deBellis, a PTA leader at Hawes Elementary in Redwood City. “I see kids carrying books around, reading at lunch and recess far more than last year.”

At Hawes Elementary School in Redwood City, JCL volunteers help children choose their own book.

At Hawes Elementary School in Redwood City, JCL volunteers help children choose their own book

Helping JCL organize a book drive is a simple way to give the gift of literacy to a child who has few, if any, books at home. As Jon Levinson said after organizing his congregation’s book drive, “Book drives truly embody Jewish values by giving children an introduction to the joy of reading and gaining knowledge. I can’t wait to do it again this year.”

In addition to its book drives, The Jewish Coalition for Literacy trains volunteer reading tutors and matches them with struggling children in underserved public elementary schools to help ensure that all children can read by the end of the third grade. JCL also coaches parents to encourage reading and language development at home. For more information on how you can organize a book drive, or to register for an upcoming tutor training workshop, contact Kelsey Youngman at kyoungman@jcrc.org or visit our website at jclread.org.

The Jewish Coalition for Literacy is funded in part by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and is a project of Jewish Community Relations Council.


December 05, 2014


Madeline S. Collazo