My Very Own Library Provides Free Books to Students

NJ Spotlight News | February 23, 2017 | Education
The My Very Own Library program encourages children to read by offering 10 books to students before summer break.

By Michael Hill

There was no mystery to the excitement of these Chancellor Avenue School students: books to take home in a program called My Very Own Library already in five other states and the Dominican Republic.

“The My Very Own Library is important because we work hard to encourage and support students’ love of reading by providing them the opportunity to build their very own home libraries,” said Executive Project Director Shannon Boehmer.

Ten books for each student before summer break. For free — thanks to the United Way, which runs the program to open a new chapter in encouraging children to read.

“For us, it’s important because we know that so many of our students are not reading on grade level by grade three and we know that’s a pivotal moment in their education in order for them to go on and be successful students and then successful later on in life,” said Catherine Wilson, president and CEO of United Way of Essex and West Hudson.

The My Very Own Library program launched in some 26 Newark schools to reach some 16,000 students with the goal of trying to get students to try to turn another page in their lives.

“If you read you will succeed. I’m not saying that because it rhymes, it happens to be true,” said Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf.

Scholastic Books published the wide selection and says research shows 88 percent of students surveyed say they’re more likely to finish books they chose. Some of Scholastic’s authors came with their nonfiction collection of childhood memories:

“I struggled with reading as a kid. I was what you called a reluctant reader. And with reluctant readers we tend to find books that are comfortable for us and kind of tend to read them and re-read them,” said Eric Luper, author of “Key Hunters.”

“Growing up in India, we didn’t have access to books,” said Gita Varadarajan, co-author of “Save Me a Seat.”

A message that resonates with 10-year-old Zahara Jackson.

“I think this program is important for children because some children in this world aren’t allowed or able to get books for free and they’re not able to read,” she said.

Jackson echoed Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. He told this mostly African-American student body it was once against the law for them to learn how to read because oppressors and others like them fear what an education can do.

“Why is reading so powerful that, so incendiary to some folks, so dangerous that if I gave you a book, if you learned how to read, that if you figure things out for yourself that it could be a detriment to those who try to keep folks in slavery,” Baraka said. “Young people, we need you more than we let on because if you can see what’s happening in the nation we completely don’t have a clue as to what to do. So we need you to read, to understand, to figure out what’s going on so you can change some of the things that are happening in this country and in this world. Reading is absolutely, positively the most important thing that you’ll ever be able to do.”

Jackson’s mother, Stacie Thomas, says she instilled the importance of reading by example and it’s paying off for her straight-A daughter who’s an avid reader by choice.

“There’s nothing like Christmas and you buy gifts for your child and your child is just as excited about the book you bought her as she is about the game or the toy. That’s the best part,” Thomas said.

Another chapter in the book of reading is not just fundamental but fun.