Books open doors to new cultures, time periods, and ecosystems. They also open doors to higher test scores and academic interests that could turn into careers. With the growing achievement gaps in US schools, educators and nonprofit organizations are working to put more books in the hands of children. Books On Wings, a new nonprofit organization, is joining the effort.
“With a book, anything is possible. It can take you anywhere. You can travel the world with a book,” says Lynn Garthwaite, children’s book author and founder of Books On Wings.
“Because I feel books are such a primary vehicle for getting kids interested in things and educating them, I thought if we could get more books in the hands of at risk kids, we could make a dent in some of these issues,” says Lynn, who founded Books on Wings out of her desire to help struggling students.
Books On Wings works with schools to provide classrooms with nonfiction books that meet curriculum standards. The organization works with volunteer licensed teachers to write lessons plans to accompany the books. By gifting books that directly relate to the school curriculum, they provide an additional learning tool for students. When students eventually bring the book home as a permanent gift, they are already well versed in the material within the book.
“These are the schools that just don’t have the budget for all the things they want to get,” Lynn says. Most Books On Wings schools serve students from low-income, sometimes single-parent households. Research has shown that if you don’t catch at-risk kids before third grade, you lose their interest in learning, says Lynn, so Books On Wings focuses on kids in kindergarten through third grade.
When Lynn pulled together an advisory committee, before launching Books On Wings in 2013, the group discovered that they could each point back to a book in their childhood that inspired a lifelong interest in something. For Lynn it was ancient Egypt. She read a book about pyramids or mummies when she was a child and even though she didn’t make a career out of it, she is still drawn to articles and television shows about ancient Egypt.
“I want that to happen with these kids. I want to expose them to something they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. It could change their life,” says Lynn. “They could end up working in NASA or become an Egyptologist or archeologist or who knows what. Maybe they’d discover something amazing. You never know where that spark might happen. I like to think we play a role in that.”
Books On Wings launched with an event for Arch Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the fall of 2013. They collected both fiction and nonfiction books to give to the kids on the last day of school, to have something to read over the summer.
Lynn remembers watching the kids sit down in the gym with their new books, turning the pages and lighting up.
“It was so exciting for us and so fun for them,” says Lynn.
Lynn has been an avid reader her entire life. Starting in fourth grade, she knew she wanted to be a writer.
“What better job could there be in the entire world than to be able to … use your imagination and write books? And here I am all these years later and I write books. Books have been my life. I always have a stack of books waiting to be read,” says Lynn, now a published author of the Dirkle Smat Adventure Series.
But not every child has this opportunity, Lynn acknowledges. Many parents don’t have the time or resources to read with their children, buy them books, or even take them to the library. So providing books for children who otherwise would have limited access to them is a high priority for Lynn and Books On Wings.
Books On Wings isn’t the only organization seeking to put books in the hands of a child. First Book, for example, works with schools by selling them overstock and leftover books at a discounted price. Reading Is Fundamental is another national organization that provides a variety of books for children to take home. Books On Wings offers a unique combination of these services by focusing on a classroom-based model.
“Our mission is to get books that are on the curriculum wish list of teachers into the hands of those kids. Teachers give us a list of books they’d love to have to supplement their curriculum and we donate enough of at least one of those books for an entire grade level at a time,” says Lynn. “The key is, at the end of it, each child will go home with a book. Their name will be in it. It’s their permanent book to keep.”
Currently Books On Wings is a small organization, without a lot of major funding. They rely on individual donors in order to put books into the hands of kids, currently focusing on the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.
The impact an individual donor can have on a child is limitless.
“That one child may end up becoming a diplomat, solving world problems when they’re an adult. Really, unlimited possibilities. A book in the hands of a child can change the world. We really believe that.”
Lynn Garthwaite: LynnGarthwaite.com/blog/
Photos by Sue Lund Photography.
Naomi Krueger is a freelance writer and managing editor of Books Make a Difference. She lives near Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she enjoys gardening, biking, and reading good books.