Literacy Mid-South scores 500,000 books through national effort

Friday, Mar 20, 2015

Literacy Mid-South scores 500,000 books through national effort

Reprinted with permission from Memphis Daily News
March 20, 2015
by Bill Dries

The crowd should begin gathering on the Overton Park greensward around 11 a.m. Saturday, March 21.

And those who don’t bring books with them will find free ones at a Literacy Mid-South tent as well as a pop-up children’s book shop.

There won’t be any elaborate dance steps or directions transmitted digitally for those in the reading flash mob. In small groups scattered across the lawn, adults and children will read – aloud and to themselves – with indoor voices and voices that carry.

As flash mobs go, the event planned for the park is more old school than high tech. There might be some Kindles, Nooks and Minis.

Meanwhile, the distribution of new, free books to children through Literacy Mid-South is a complex undertaking that got a lot bigger this month with the Memphis nonprofit overseeing the distribution of 500,000 books through the national First Book program.

Literacy Mid-South normally takes applications and parcels out 20,000 books each March to schools, nonprofit agencies, churches and after-school programs, which in turn give them to children in prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Kevin Dean, executive director of the agency, said he’s attended First Book distributions this big in other cities to bring books back to Memphis for distribution.

This time – with warehouse space and a forklift provided by Colliers International Memphis – First Book came to Memphis for one of its eight, larger events.

Many of the titles are stories with recurring characters across a series of books. The subjects are superheroes, relatable kids and classic characters like Winnie The Pooh.

Literacy Mid-South had no problem finding a demand for all of the books: An online grant application went off-line after just 12 hours because so many groups and agencies applied.

“This is urgently important that we get as many books in the hands of kids as possible,” Dean said. “It’s the first step to really talking about reading as something that is important.”

The books were in boxes on pallets with labels showing a range from “Iron Man” to “Doc McStuffins.”

The warehouse’s location is kept confidential to make sure only those who are part of this round of distribution get the allocated titles.

Volunteers immediately greeted anyone who came to the front or rear of the space.

Book giveaways are not a free-for-all and there is more need for the books than even 500,000 can meet. 

Cetria Smith, a teacher at Aspire Hanley Elementary School, and her husband Brian Smith, pulled their pickup truck to the loading dock for boxes of “Flutter On,” “Buzz’s Space Adventures” and “My Easter Basket” for prekindergarten students the school teaches with Porter-Leath.

First Book works with publishers Disney and Penguin-Random House in the March effort.

The books are new and donated because a publisher may have overprinted or there might be a slightly off shade of a color specified for the cover.

“In other cases, publishers will actually overprint because it lowers their printing cost per book. So they print with a donation in mind,” said Miriam Keil of First Book. 

As First Book found out more about the ins and outs of book publishing, they also discovered that publishers needing warehouse space would pay to ship books to a pulp plant for destruction to make room for new books being printed.

That still happens, but First Book works with publishers to get a lot of the books before they go to the pulper.

“It’s just a lot of logistics and work to find homes for donated inventories,” Keil said.

The titles are listed and the list changes depending on what is donated. First Book considers requests from teachers and others about what is popular with children.

“Occasionally we do have more classic titles come through the book bank,” she added, “but we often find that these are the books or character that children recognize.”