Annual event aims to get 60,000 books into kids’ hands

Albuquerque’s First Lady Elizabeth Kistin Keller reads to students at Lew Wallace Elementary school Friday afternoon. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

About a dozen first graders at Lew Wallace Elementary School sat on the floor of the school library on Friday, captivated by the reading of “I Dream of Popo” and “The Day You Begin.”

Albuquerque first lady Elizabeth Kisten Keller and Deborah Hassi, head of youth services for the city’s public library system, were doing more than just reading to the children – they were exposing them to books as part of the annual Read To Me book drive, designed to promote literacy in young children and provide each of them with a free age-appropriate book.

Now in its 20th year, the book drive is a collaboration between the city and the Corporate Volunteers Council. It will continue through May 8.

“The goal is to collect over 60,000 new and gently used books that can be distributed to students of all ages in our community,” Kisten Keller said. Another goal is to give kids the joy of having a book that belongs to them, something that “they can read themselves or with a family member, or with a neighbor or pass it on if they want to.”

Hopefully, kids will be motivated to continue reading through the spring and into their summer break, Kisten Keller said.

An unintentional benefit of the drive, she noted, is that Albuquerque officials are often contacted by representatives of other cities. “They say, ‘We hear Albuquerque has got innovative ways to share books across the community; can you help us figure out how to do that? ‘” she said.

Read To Me volunteer Kathy Chilton said about 1,000 books will be distributed just at Lew Wallace Elementary School, but thousands more will be given away at other schools throughout the metro area, particularly poorer Title 1 schools.

All the books are donated and volunteers will “clean the gently used ones, check for any damage and make sure they’re appropriate before being sorted by age,” Chilton said. “About 8,000 will go on city buses and the Rail Runner as part of their affiliated Discover a Book program.”

In addition, books will be distributed through clinics, laundromats, community centers and food banks.

“Last year we distributed about 56,000 books,” Chilton said, “and that still wasn’t enough to meet the demand.”

Lew Wallace first grade teacher Celeste Hernandez said she enjoyed the book reading as much as her students. “I think the program is amazing,” she said. “The more books we can get into the hands of kids, the happier I am about it.”

As a Title 1 school, Hernandez said many of the kids at Lew Wallace don’t have much of a home library. “They’re always so excited to receive books that they can just take home and keep forever,” she said. And having books to read at home “absolutely makes a difference in their learning everyday here at school.”

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