Delaware elementary school kids to receive 59,000 free books

Harlan Elementary students received three free books at their book fair on Tuesday. (Zoë Read/WHYY).

Harlan Elementary students received three free books at their book fair on Tuesday. (Zoë Read/WHYY).

Delaware public elementary school students will receive 59,000 books over the school year.

Clifford the Big Red Dog greeted cheering children at Harlan (David W.) Elementary School in Wilmington Tuesday to kick off a nationwide reading event.

The excited students lined up and made their way to the library, where they chose three free books of their choice.

Third-grader Nathaniel, 8, picked up a book about dinosaurs, a book about sharks and a book that allows him to create his own characters.

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“I like to read because it’s fun, and you can go inside your mind, and go on adventures in your mind and think of more things to do,” he said.

The event at Harlan was part of United Way of Delaware’s week-long kick off celebration for the My Very Own Library program, a national initiative to get more children in need to read at home.

Throughout the school year more than 5,900 Delaware students across 14 schools will receive 59,000 free books to start their home libraries and build their reading skills.

Last year United Way focused solely on Wilmington, but this year it expanded to one school in New Castle, one school in Georgetown, and two schools in Dover—focusing on communities the organization believes are in greatest need, and schools with the lowest reading scores in the state.

“United Way is focused on increasing the number of kids that can read by third grade, and we know having resources, books in the home, is a critical component of that,” said Michelle Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Delaware, an organization dedicated to improving quality of life for Delawareans.

“The intent is kids can pick books around their passion. We want them to be able to spark their imagination and their love of reading.”

My Very Own Library was founded in Newark, NJ, in 2011 by the late Anne Feeley, with support from the Foundation for Newark’s Future. The program has provided more than 500,000 books to students in Newark, serving more than 50 percent of its K–8

This year, through a collaboration with Scholastic Book Fairs, more than 33,000 students from schools across six states and the Dominican Republic will receive books.

Through the literacy initiative children in need will receive three books of their choice three times in the school year, and a 10th book of their school’s choice.

“People that don’t have enough money to buy books, they can get free books,” said Tamauri, 8, a third-grader who enjoys Dr. Seuss books.

“They can be smarter, and they can get smarter when they read and if you say you’re in third grade you can be in the 8th grade level, and already know everything [in the third grade].”

The schools participating in the program also will organize family engagement activities around literacy.

“We want the parents to be aware the kids are getting the books, but also make sure they understand the importance of reading to kids, and kids having that quiet time to read for themselves,” Taylor said.

Harlan’s principal, Hekima Wicker, said the event is important for his students, who attend a Title One school. He said his school encourages its 366 students to read at least 20 minutes a day. However, Wicker said not every family has the financial resources to create a library at home.

“The more you can put resources into the hands of kids to impact their learning is very important, but especially since this is in the area of literacy,” he said.

“As a school we’re always pushing to improve and expand on our kids’ literacy skills. As a school we’re always putting the challenge out to our students, as well as our families, to have the opportunity to cut the video game off and cut the TV off for a while and to open up a book. To be able to impact their imagination and the dreams of our kids—that’s what it really means to us.”

Harlan’s reading proficiency level is about 61 percent, Wicker said, but the school’s goal is to reach the mid-70s to 80s by the end of the school year.

“There is a correlation to the amount of literature and the consistency in children’s reading that impacts their academic growth and performance,” he said. “Having this as an additional resource enables us to achieve our goal of raising the literacy skills and proficiency of our kids.”

Third-grader Destiny, 9, said she’s also working on her own goal to read more at home.

“I think it’s really important because kids should read every day,” she said. “I have a friend…and he reads more than 30 minutes, he reads 40 minutes. My dad said, ‘You’re supposed to be reading like that,’ and I want to be like him some day.”

Nathaniel said he has a message for the world about the importance of reading.

“Lots of people need books to learn more about cultural or anything else you can learn about the world,” he said. “People all around the world that don’t have books, and [can’t] afford [them], I just want people to get free books to learn more.”

The following schools are participating in My Very Own Library:

Bancroft Elementary School
W. Reily Brown Elementary School
Eisenberg (Harry O.) Elementary School
Elbert-Palmer Elementary School
Fairview Elementary School
Harlan (David W.) Elementary School
Highlands Elementary School
Lewis (William C.) Dual Language Elementary School
North Georgetown Elementary School
Pulaski (Casimir) Elementary School
Shortlidge (Evan G.) Academy
Stubbs (Frederick Douglas) Elementary School
Warner Elementary School
Wilmington Manor Elementary School


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