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  • Bethann Merkle

    This is a great initiative! I work for an English-language literacy resource organization in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada (the heart of French-speaking Canada). A lot of our work involves a) working with families to encourage good reading habits and literacy skills at a young age, and b) helping adults with literacy challenges later in life.

    I would 100% underline, bold, and all caps my agreement with those individuals encouraging people's use of libraries at all stages of life. I literally grew up in libraries, including volunteering (while still in elementary school) in my school and public libraries. They are still some of my favorite places in my hometown. And they really need public support.

    That being said, for folks looking to put books in childrens' hands, sometimes more than one idea helps. Here are a couple of others that came to mind, as I read Justin's article:
    1. Gift of Reading - an initiative of the Literacy Foundation:
    2. Drop Everything and Read - we did this in my elementary school when I was a child, and I waited for it every year with great anticipation! It was so great to be authorized to do nothing but read.
    3. Sustained Silent Reading was another favorite part of my elementary school days. :)
    4. For fundraising purposes, there are actually a number of crowd funding platforms which allow individuals (not just 501(c)3s and schools) to accept funds. They include kickstarter (, indigogo ( and others.

    • Justin Minkel

      Many thanks, Bethann...these are fantastic.

  • Bearii

    I must be missing something here... my family was quite poor growing up, but they had an amazing idea - we went to the PUBLIC LIBRARY!!! I fell in love with books there, spent hours reading there, and brought home all the books I could carry. We didn't live near a library, I walked several miles at first, then eventually saved enough pennies by working after school to buy a very used bike to ride to the library. Why not support the local public library and turn children on to those wonderful resources???

    • Justin Minkel

      I don't think it's an either-or; I think public libraries are up there with public schools in terms of value to society, and I take my own kids to our library almost every day. But I do think for most children and adults, there is something different about owning an especially beloved book--for me, it's a marked-up copy of The Hobbit, which I've read about a dozen times, usually when traveling to a new place (college, West Africa), or back home.

      I grew up in rural Stone County, Arkansas, where the public schools and the public library were fairly poor. But my parents made sure I had three shelves full of books I loved, and my dad would mail me a new one each time he went away on a business trip. I used to run barefoot down the gravel road to our mailbox, hoping to see The Great Brain or Where The Red Fern Grows waiting for me like a birthday present. I would run in the fields outside our house with imagined characters from those books. The books are still lined up on that same bookshelf my dad hammered together when I was in 2nd grade, ready for my daughter and son to read when they get a little older.

  • Justin Minkel

    I have been overwhelmed by the thoughtful insights, stories, and projects of all who have responded to this piece. I have a question for all you brilliant minds and great hearts, geared toward the kinds of systems-thinkers this GOOD community clearly includes:

    How could we scale up the idea of home libraries as a literacy intervention especially for lower-income kids? Richard Allington's research found that giving low-income students 12 books to take home over the summer had equal to double the impact of summer school, without confining students to 2-3 months of worksheets while their friends were out riding bikes and enjoying summer break. My own students had the greatest growth of any class I've taught, measured by reading assessments like the DRA as well as their results on the state standardized test. (Despite all being lower-income and most being English Learners, 92% passed the state reading test and 96% passed math.)

    There must be a way to take this idea from a bunch of random stalks and blossoms to a cultivated garden, from a scattering of great projects to an actual policy approach on the parts of districts, state departments of ed, and the U.S. Department of Ed, along with foundations and other partners, to put great books into the hands of great kids.

    Given a choice between worksheets and phonics computer games, on the one hand, and a love of literature--whether traditional paper books or ebooks--I would choose the literature, and it is proven to have a tremendous impact on reading growth as well as that enjoyment of books for their own sake.

    Any ideas out there?

    • Jen Gurecki

      Dear Justin, you pose a rather interesting, yet complex question. In my community, what we are attempting to accomplish is a collaboration between literacy initiatives that spans a child's primary and secondary education experience. I am the ED of Adventure Risk Challenge ( and our 40-day literacy and leadership course addresses summer learning loss and the gap in literacy and outdoor opportunities for underserved youth. AimHigh ( is a new program in our area working underserved middle school youth during the summer, and they will be referring their graduate to our program. Finally, we've got Tahoe Truckee Reads ( , targeting elementary school youth. What I've found is that when we put books in the hands of the young people we work with, they are amazed at the rewards of reading an entire book on their own time over the summer. They read on their expeditions, in their bunk beds, and between activities. I don't have an answer on how to grow this nationally, but it's important to believe in the potential of young people to enjoy reading. I think we've written that off--there's a common assumption that young people are only interested in small bites found on social media. But that's not true, and as educators we can go against the grain of worksheets and computer games and put bound books in the hands of young people.

      • Justin Minkel

        Thanks so much for this thoughtful post, Jen. Adventure Risk Challenge sounds wonderful. You bring up a critical point--to bring the idea of home libraries to scale, we should consider a child's whole life, ideally starting in pre-K and continuing through middle or high school.

  • jaredminkel

    Hi Justin, very cool program! I was wondering if you could share a few of the books that the class enjoyed most. I often wonder how important it is to have books that are culturally relevant or if some of the universal themes of childhood translate well cross-culturally. I'm interested in trying this out in North Carolina where many of the students are African-American. I also wondered how important you think it is to have children choose their own books. I could imagine unloading a thousand books unilaterally might not produce the same level of enjoyment and interest.

    • Justin Minkel

      Great questions, Jed, and thanks for posting.

      On the element of choice, I think it's critical. There were a couple of things that were different about the 1,000 Books Project than other projects I've seen, and the main one was that element of tailoring the books in each child's home library to her/his reading level and interests. Sometimes I had a guided reading group all receive the same book, sometimes it was a read aloud the class had loved, but 30 of the 40 books were chosen by the students from either Scholastic Book catalogs or the Scholastic website.

      I think your other question gets at the heart of the most important ideas in literature, and I think both are true--there are some wonderful books that have cross-cultural appeal, and it's also critical to have books that reflect students' lived experiences. I teach mostly Mexican-American students living in poverty, yet they absolutely loved books like The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (in 2nd grade) and Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief (in 4th grade) based on Greek mythology. When I was teaching in Oakland, I had an African-American 4th grade boy who loved Sweet Valley Twins.

      That said, my students also wanted and needed books like Harvesting Hope (a biography of Cesar Chavez) and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. It's relatively easy, with a little research, to find good quality literature that tends to resonate with African-American and Latino students; I have a much harder time finding books directly relevant to my Marshallese students' culture and experiences.

      To connect your two questions, when students have choice from a selection of books that includes some that are relevant to their culture, they will do a better job of selecting what resonates than we can do for them--for example, books on Kwanzaa often flop with lower-income urban African-American students. And, of course, there's no substitute for a great story.

    • Eric Larson

      Jared, you should also check out Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program, which mails a new book a month to each participating child from birth till age 5. 40 million books to date! Many United Way agencies have partnered to make it more accessible to more kids.

      • Justin Minkel

        Great suggestion, Eric. It always struck me that my daughter had 200 colorful picture books on her shelf by age 2, while some of my 2nd grade students' home surveys had '5 books' circled. I want to be careful not to imply any kind of deficit on the part of my students' families--they have all kinds of wonderful experiences, cultural values, and knowledge that my own daughter lacks--but I do think it's an easy way to meet a need that enriches any child's life.


    Justin, I try to get books to several countries including South Africa, Kenya, and more. I've long desired to simplify, because shipping is not feasible and supply on the continent are very expensive.

    • Justin Minkel

      I hear you. I lived in Senegal for 4 months and I was struck by the lack of picture books--the community had a decent library for young adults, but I never saw a child with a book in my host family or in the school. I'm sorry I don't have any easy answers for this quandary, but I do think it's a critical component of transforming opportunity in the developing world. International aid organizations often focus on the quantitative data of how many students are enrolled in school, but equally important, of course, is the qualitative part--what kind of education are those kids getting? In Senegal, it often consisted of 120 students in a room, all primarily Wolof speakers, listening to a lecture in 18th century-influenced French, then scribbling their answers on a chalk slate and madly snapping for the teacher to call on them. How do the programs you're involved with work?

  • Terry Kaldhusdal

    Justin solved a tough problem with a simple solution. Brilliant. The focus of his story is a child living in poverty, but I believe we'd all be surprised by how many affluent homes don't have bookcases stocked with books. A small group of foreign exchange students spoke at the elementary school where I teach. I asked them the most surprising part of their visit to the United States. One student was visiting from Russia. He said, "The thing that I can't figure out is where does everyone keep their books. I walked into your houses and there are no bookshelves. In Russia, every family has a bookshelf, but here I see the TV, but I never see your books." I plan to share Justin's story with my fourth grade students' parents. Every house in every neighborhood should have a bookshelf full of books that have been read and will continue to be read. Long live books and reading and thinking.

    • Justin Minkel

      I'll remember that observation on the part of the Russian student for many years--thanks for sharing it. I think another trap that even middle-income families can fall into is framing reading as a chore or duty. I remember witnessing the following exchange one evening:

      Parent: It's time to practice your reading tonight.
      Child: (slumped shoulders and groaned.)

      We rarely say, "It's time to practice your running around on the playground today," but reading should involve that same elemental joy. Our schools have done many wonderful things, but one thing I think we've done badly especially since the multiple-choice testing madness brought on by No Child Left Behind, is to reduce reading to a sterile activity with a purpose (picking the right bubble or writing a vapid short response) completely divorced from meaning and pleasure. Time to read for pleasure should be central in every elementary classroom, with plenty of comfy couches and beanbags, stuffed animal characters from the kids' favorite books, and that element of choice.

      We still need to teach skills, of course, but I would never do layup drills every day without the chance to play an actual basketball game after the drills. In the words of Philip Pullman, "Responsibility and delight can co-exist."

      Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  • David Cumby

    A great initiative and project idea for others, but it seems to me a regular partnership with and encouraging use of the Public (and school) libraries in your individual areas should be able to fill some of the gap ... That is the mission of the Free Public Library and the school library movements. Of course, there is an added benefit in giving children personal/home ownership rather thn just a loan of age-appropriate, interesting books.

    • Justin Minkel

      That's a great point, David. I live in a town (Fayetteville, Arkansas) with an incredible library, and I'm constantly amazed by the services and resources it provides for free, beginning with babies and continuing through teens.

      Classroom libraries are critical, too--I've seen wonderful class libraries with bookshelves stacked with high-quality books and beanbags for the kids to plop down on, and I've seen class libraries even for young kids that consist of10 or 15 tattered books jammed in a bin in a corner.

      Given how much money our school system spends on other reading-related interventions (textbooks, workbooks, software), high-quality literature and informational texts should be seen as an investment worthy of solid annual funding.

      • David Cumby

        Thanks for taking the time to dialogue Justin ... I am a former public librarian of 23 years in Nova Scotia, with one joint school-public library branch among our seven, and two bookmobiles that served schools. We often wondered if we wree hurting school library and classroom library developemnet as teh amount of money the $80 million dollar school board was putting into each school or classroom (other than textbooks) amounted to half ($50,000) compared to the $100,000+ our 1 million dollar public library system spent on new material purchases each year.

        Even with that we couldn't keep up with the demand for popular/ classic Children's/youth fiction (picture books to Junior/youth novels) and Junior non-fiction materials which were meant to be a second line of support to children, families and schools in the literacy/learning process. $50,000 out of 80 million = 1/100th of a percent for library support materials other than textbooks, and other learning supports (such as computer, internet access) etc.
        It seems that the latter in particular has devalued the emphasis on the need for promoting the value of extra curricular reading & lifetime reading and learning!!

    • Justin Minkel

      That's a great point, David. I live in a town (Fayetteville, Arkansas) with an incredible library, and I'm constantly amazed by the services and resources it provides for free, beginning with babies and continuing through teens.

      Classroom libraries are critical, too--I've seen wonderful class libraries with bookshelves stacked with high-quality books and beanbags for the kids to plop down on, and I've seen class libraries even for young kids that consist of10 or 15 tattered books jammed in a bin in a corner.

      Given how much money our school system spends on other reading-related interventions (textbooks, workbooks, software), high-quality literature and informational texts should be seen as an investment worthy of solid annual funding.

  • Paul Ahrens

    Hi Justin,

    As a former teacher, educational researcher, parent, and now the leader of a education company ( devoted to enhancing literacy using high quality children's literature, I love your idea. In fact, our company grew out of a similar idea, specifically, making sure every student experiences at least one great book everyday and one great chapter book every month. We agree the first part is having access to books. The next step is enhancing the way students and adults share books and reading time. Please let me know about any schools, teachers, or families would like access to our materials and I will use our small in-house fund to make them available for free.

    Paul Ahrens
    Global Learning Inc.
    LitART Literacy Programs

    • Justin Minkel

      Paul, that's an incredibly kind and generous offer. I have a fairly complex question for you and for any readers out there:

      I'm struck by the disconnect between, on the one hand, the tremendous impact projects like this have on students' love of reading and their reading progress, and on the other, the scarcity of district/state/federal initiatives that put quality literature in children's/family's hands to keep as the foundation of a home library. Any thoughts on how to scale up the idea of home libraries as a literacy intervention, particularly for lower-income students?

    • Jennifer Simmons

      Hi Paul,

      I just wanted to pop in and say I liked your website. Best wishes!

  • vmyers

    Books are so key to kids' learning and can broaden their horizons like nothing else -- plus they add unquantifiable quality of life to not just the children but to their families. What an inspiration! Kudos to you. First Book is another great program that gets free books into the hands of children by connecting teachers to generous publishers and people who provide warehouse space that makes distribution more do-able. Check it out here or read about it here

    • Justin Minkel

      Thanks for sharing this. One of my favorite (and unexpected) outcomes of the project was my students reading to their younger brothers and sisters. Maria told me one day, "Mr. Minkel, I was reading the BFG to Esperanza (her 3-year old sister), and I think she understood it, because she kept laughing at the part about whizzpoppers!" The home libraries also became a repository of family reading materials--magazines as well as books--in some cases. For families in which the parents aren't literate or are not literate in English, siblings play a tremendous role in building the literacy of their little brothers and sisters.

    • raven+crow

      Just echoing that sentiment—First Book is a great group.

  • Garden Angels

    Justin - I would love to repost this on our website. Is that alright?

    • Justin Minkel

      Thank you, Garden Angels and Liz! It has been remarkable to realize how many kindred-spirited individuals and groups are out there acting on the behalf of kids.

    • Liz Dwyer

      Hi Garden Angels, Thanks for asking. You are welcome to post an short excerpt and link back to the original post.

  • phill1

    Great idea! I'd also like to tell you about Better World Books. They have a large variety of used books that are very reasonable. I've used them many times to build my classroom library and to give books to students.

    • Justin Minkel

      Great resource. Every year I go to our local used bookshop to rejuvenate my class library. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Jennifer Simmons

      Better World Books is absolutely awesome. They buy gently used books from libraries and sell them you you at a small profit. Everyone wins!

  • Philip Athans

    I would love to find a way to add this mission into my own organization's agenda for 2013. I'm the founder of the National Buy a Book Day Foundation ( )and this is exactly the sort of problem I'm hoping to help solve.

    • Justin Minkel

      That's fantastic, Philip. Please let me know if you have any questions. What a great mission for a foundation.

  • Jennifer Simmons

    Justin: Thank you for responding! I'm really excited about getting started. I'm a children's librarian in a public library, so I don't know if is the right fit, it appears that this is for teachers only. That's ok, though, I'll figure it out.

    The "Jonathan Minkel" thing is an error on my part (smack to the forehead) That post is from me (jss5773) addressing you, Jonathan, with the wrong first name. Totally embarrassed, but that's what happened.

    I'm so glad to be on here at I'll keep you posted as to how my project is progressing.

    Thanks again for all you do!

    Jennifer Simmons

    • Justin Minkel

      That's hilarious...I guess my Carolinian cousin is a figment of my imagination. ; ) Best of luck with the project, and thank YOU--I can't think of a more instrumental role in children's relationship with books than to be a children's librarian. Our own library (Fayetteville, 2005 national Library of the Year) has played a tremendous role in my 4-year old daughter and 18-month old son's childhoods, so I'm grateful for your work as a parent as well as a teacher.

  • Jennifer Simmons

    The article says: "What I Challenge You To Do: Bridge the Book Gap
    Find a teacher to be your partner. Most teachers I know would love to partner with an individual or group committed to providing kids with great books. If you don't know a teacher, consider getting in touch with a local principal to find out how you can help.
    Raise funds. As the holidays approach, team up with a group of friends or family to help bridge the book gap for kids living in poverty."

    Over the weekend, I did a little research to find out how to start a non-profit 501 C3 organization. The amount of money it would cost in legal fees could buy books for a whole classroom of kids! I've already done step 1. My sister-in-law and a former co-worker are both 2nd grade teachers at a Title 1 school in my town. Check that off! :)
    Step 2 is to raise funds. Friends and family are out of the question, so the next step is to go to the community. But if I do that, don't I have to be organized as a 501C3?

    Thanks for any help you can give me on this :)

    • Justin Minkel

      Jennifer, sounds like you have the perfect connection for a home library project--2nd grade is such a pivotal (and enthusiastic) age, and this kind of initiative has a greater impact in Title I schools.

      Here are a couple of thoughts for you, and please feel free to follow up with any additional questions:

      DonorsChoose is one option (, where you can quickly set up a profile with a description of your project and funders going through the projects may choose yours. The downside is you will need to itemize the books up front, so it won't work for those books that students choose.

      In my project, of the 40 books, students chose about 30 (with some guidance to make sure the books were a reasonable fit for the students' reading abilities), while the other 10 were class read alouds that I knew most students would love. So, Donors Choose is a good option for getting a class set of titles like Where The Wild Things Are, Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Charlotte's Web on the fiction side, or nonfiction books like the ones on life science themes by Steve Jenkins, that most 2nd graders will love. (If anyone out there is looking for nonfiction books for 3rd-5th graders, my top recommendation is Predator Showdown.)

      Your teacher-partner can also work it out with her/his principal to have donations to the school, which are tax-deductible at least for public schools (no need for 501C3 status), set aside for the project. When I piloted the home library project with 8 students in a previous class, my dad and brother donated about $500 directly to my school, I purchased the books myself through Scholastic's website, and then my principal reimbursed me when I submitted the receipts.

      Hope that's useful. I think your project has tremendous potential to impact those 2nd graders' love of books.

  • MargoR

    I'm a librarian in Texas and have the same question. How do I get involved?

  • Jennifer Simmons

    Jonathan Minkel: I'm a librarian in South Carolina. How do I get involved in this?

    • Justin Minkel

      Jonathan and Margo,

      First, apologies for the delayed response--I had thought this piece was going up a few days later, so I'm just checking the responses now. I would recommend doing what I did to get started:

      *Write up a brief (one page or less) description of the project--what you want to do, why it's a good idea (feel free to borrow the study and/or anecdotes mentioned in this piece, or take a look at Richard Allington's research on giving 12 books to lower-income students over the summer:, along with the project details--how many books, for how many students, at what estimated price. In my project, each of 25 kids got 20 books each year (2nd and 3rd grade), at about $3 a book. The previous year, though, I chose the 8 lowest readers and each child received 10 books. You can fit the project to what you think will work best; as a librarian, you might start a small after-school club of low-income struggling 3rd grade readers who are also motivated and have fairly strong family support, for example.

      *Find donors through, friends and family, or community businesses/nonprofits. Doing the bonus points/free picks that go with Scholastic Book Clubs is a good way to stretch donations you receive.

      *Begin the project and take plenty of photos (for example, when the first shipment of books arrives) to include in thank-yous to donors and in documenting the project for future years. In my project, I also tracked the participating kids' reading growth with measures like the DRA and a home reading survey, though that is definitely optional.

      Librarians play such a tremendous role in kids' love of reading--Richard Allington found that the quality of school libraries state-by-state was a direct match with literacy rates state-by-state. Thanks for everything you both do to encourage kids to love reading. (P.S. to Jonathan: Minkel is such a rare last name that I'm wondering if we're distant cousins. My grandparents, Lily and Lloyd Minkel, lived first in Illinois, than Missouri.)

      Best of luck to you both.


      • Center for Teaching Quality

        Just thought I'd add that public schools can accept tax-deductible donations from individuals--no 403b status needed. The teacher with whom you partner can check in with his or her principal about whether the school accepts restricted gifts from community members (example: a check with subject line home libraries) for an individual teacher's project.
        --Braden, CTQ