Organizations: Books for Keeps

In 2009, Melaney Smith met a young bookworm who dreaded summer vacation because it cut off her access to the school library.

“I called the school and found out there were several kids who felt that way,” Smith says. So she ended up donating books to 80 kids that year. She also did some research on a phenomenon called the “summer slide,” when students fall behind in their learning because of a lack of educational stimulation during their vacations.

In 2011, she launched Books For Keeps, an Athens-based nonprofit that this summer put 50,000 books in the hands of Georgia students.

“Summer slide has a cumulative effect that results in kids falling two or three years behind,” she says. “Research shows that if a child can read 12 books over the summer, that stems that effect.”

The organization serves eight public schools in Athens, one in Atlanta and one in Warrenton, with plans to expand to 25 more. Two staffers negotiate with publishers to get discounted rates for mini-book fairs that also entail surveys of the students to determine their interests.

“We’re not just trying to reach the kids who enjoy reading anyway – we’re trying to reach the ones least likely to pick up a book,” she says.

At the top of the stacks? Diary of a Wimpy Kid and, for the lower grades, “anything with a Disney princess. One year we thought the kids were expressing an interest in becoming undertakers, but then we discovered that The Undertaker is this wrestler, so we got books on the WWE.”

Teachers notice a dramatic difference, she says.

“We have educators approach us with tears in their eyes.”

Categories: Organizations