WNDB is proud to partner with An Open Book Foundation for our WNDB in the Classroom initiative. So we thought it would be a perfect time to highlight this extraordinary company.
1. What is An Open Book Foundation and how does it help to promote literacy?
An Open Book Foundation connects books, children, and authors sparking children’s desire to read.
There is no way to measure what it means to have a famous author talk to you, look you in the eye, greet you, sign your name in a brand new book and place it in your hand.
An Open Book Foundation, founded by Dara La Porte and Heidi Powell takes children’s and teens’ authors and illustrators to disadvantaged schools in the DC metro area. After an interactive presentation, AOB gives each child a copy of the author’s book to take home, which the author signs and personalizes. This book is often first the child has ever owned. AOB also gives a copy of the author’s book to the classroom and all of the author’s books to the school library.
Children are always excited to receive their new books. We’ve seen kids kiss their books upon receipt, and start reading their new books in the signing line. On occasion, students grab their book back from the author, barely allowing it out of their hands long enough to get it signed!
About 25% of all AOB events feature a diverse book or author.
2. How did An Open Book get its start?
When Heidi and I were working together at Politics and Prose, we spent years talking about addressing three related issues:
– Only a privileged few of children in DC had access to the fabulous children’s authors and illustrator’s talks given at the store during the school day.
– Author like Linda Sue Park told us they sometimes had the opportunity to speak at disadvantaged schools, but were frustrated that they got the children all excited about reading her book, but did not have books to give them. Did we know of anyone who would subsidize books for these students?
– Teachers were asking our advice about what books to buy, then spending their own money on books for their classrooms.
In the fall of 2010, a potential board member and friend gave us a small start-up grant and an introduction to a lawyer who helped us incorporate pro-bono. Dara took classes at the Foundation Center on how to start and run a nonprofit. In May 2011, David Weisner launched An Open Book’s first event.
(Dara La Porte with student.)
3. What was the most challenging part of getting AOB off the ground?
Fundraising has required the greatest learning curve. Heidi and I have been in the children’s and teens’ book business for a long time and I am a former teacher so An Open Book is a logical extension for us in those areas. But, I think most nonprofit founders would give the same answer!
4. What has been the most fulfilling part of working for AOB?
The authors and illustrators! Heidi and I knew that the children’s and teens’ authors and illustrators we met are talented, interesting people. We are continually blown away by the depth of the generosity of the men and women who come with us to the schools.
The look on the children’s faces and their cheers when we tell them that they are getting a new book to take home. The great questions that they ask. Their sheer joy and curiosity. Their hugs!
The appreciation of the teachers, librarians, principals and staff in the schools that we serve. They want the children to get the most out of the experience and their books as much as (even more if that’s possible!) than we do.
(Meg Medina and student)
5. Do you see the AOB formula working in other cities?
It would be wonderful if children in other cities had access to author events and books.
6. What was the most unusual author event you ever hosted?
That’s a tough one. Eloise Greenfield rapping at age 85 comes to mind. But then, without rapping, she held her 3rd grade audience rapt for 45 minutes, and that is pretty amazing for a poet at any age!
Then there’s the time we were folk dancing at a Washington School For Girls with Siena Siegel, Mark’s wife, when they came to present To Dance.
7. What was the most memorable author event you ever hosted?
There have been 200 of them! Each is unique and memorable.
8. How many author events do you do in a year?
Last year, which was our third, we hosted 92 events.
9. What is the key to having these events run smoothly?
Functional AV equipment! It’s every presenter’s biggest worry. We always bring our own as a backup.
Seriously though, An Open Book matches authors with the interests and curriculum of the school. That’s where our knowledge of schools and books becomes vital. For example, we took Padma Venkatraman , who was talking about her new book A Time to Dance, to a performing arts charter school. On the other hand, we took Bob Shea to a Headstart program that we knew would be open to unrolling a huge length of paper across many tables and letting all of the children go for it with crayons with Bob.
Of course, we also have protocols to assure that everything is organized and set up in the proper order. By the day before the event, everyone involved has an email telling him or her exactly what to expect.
(Chris Myers with students.)
10. Why do you think We Need Diverse Books?
An Open Book Foundation was founded because we want to promote and improve literacy among the disadvantaged children we serve, 99% of whom are minorities. When young children see themselves in an author or illustrator or in the pages of a book, you can feel them engage and see them sit a little taller. I first saw this at an event with Monica Brown and 150 children of over 70 nationalities. How proud they were to hear her talk about the immigrant experience and see themselves and their families reflected in her stories.
Teenagers drop their guard when an author, a character, or a book cover resembles them. You see students change: some begin to sit up, others lean forward, many look at the author; you can see can feel the disinterest dissolve and their minds and hearts opening to what is being said.
Mentoring is a huge part of An Open Book’s Diversity in the Classroom program Not only has it never occurred to many of our students that a person wrote the book or drew the pictures, that the person looks like him or her is eye-opening. It is fabulous to watch a 4th grader realize that he or she has options in life, and being a writer or illustrator is one of them!