BOOK LOVE FOUNDATION

Book Love Foundation is dedicated to teachers who inspire a love of reading. We provide classroom libraries comprised of hundreds of books carefully chosen to meet teenagers where they are and lead them to the deep rewards of reading. We put those books into the hands of teachers who demonstrate a commitment to rich reading lives for all students.

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness:

Often, when we think about getting books into the hands of our children, we think about young children, and we sometimes overlook the needs of our high school readers. Today's guest New Hampshire-based Penny Kittle is a master teacher, an author, and a recognized speaker. And she's the creator of the Book Love Foundation. We know that 94% of our teachers spend their own money on supplies. And that the average is almost $500 out of pocket. We also know that our adolescent readers read less. The Book Love Foundation addresses both of these challenges, dedicated to teachers who inspire a love of reading. The Book Love Foundation provides carefully selected classroom libraries to teachers who demonstrate a commitment to rich reading lives for all students. Join me as I chat with founder, Penny Kittle.

 

Welcome to End Book Deserts, the podcast, featuring the innovative people and programs who work to provide book access to our nation's under-resourced areas or too often overlooked populations. I'm Dr. Molly Ness, lifelong reader, book nerd, teacher, educator. I've created the End Book Deserts podcast so that all kids have access to books and reading culture. We're only months away from the first-ever literacy warriors, United Unconference. Registration is now open for the August 9th and 10th 2020 conference, right outside of Chicago, hosted by the kind folks at Bernie's Book Bank. If you're interested in book access, reading culture, and literacy as a social justice issue, join us for two days of conversation and collaboration. Mark your calendars, book your flights, and your reduced rate hotels, and don't miss out. Better yet- registration is free! For more information, visit literacywarriorsunited.com.

 

Molly Ness:

Thank you, Penny, for joining us today, I'm really excited to hear about Book Love. So, start by telling us how the organization or foundation got started and about the work that you're doing today.

 

Penny Kittle:

Book Love Foundation was started um when I published a book called Book Love. The last two pages of that book, I had a QR code to a website that we basically put a placeholder in, um, as a place where teachers could apply to get money to fund classroom libraries. What happened was I had been speaking about engaging students and developing their reading identity, helping them become joyful, engaged readers for years, but everywhere I went, particularly high school teachers would say, I don't have access to all of those books you're talking about. I just have a book room in the high school that has 80 copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. I don't have anything else. And so, we decided- my husband and I were going to start a nonprofit. We had no idea how to. We just found people we loved in our small Valley here that could fill roles and started asking for applications,

 

Molly Ness:

So let me pause there for a second because, um, I think there are a lot of people out there who operate under the assumption that teachers walk into their classrooms and they have what they need. And they may not know that filling classroom libraries and creating classroom libraries is a challenge for teachers. So, can you explain that, that process a little bit more, and clarify for listeners. Um, what goes into a classroom library, and why it's so important?

Penny Kittle:

I would say even a lot of teachers don't realize how important it is when you're in the high school. Most schools that I visited now don't even have school libraries anymore, or if they have one it's operated by a, um, an assistant or an hourly paraprofessional instead of a librarian. And that is a real crisis to me, you know, the heart of a school, the idea that someone is cultivating this amazing collection that will inspire kids to read, but even in the schools where they have libraries and beautiful libraries, many, many high school teachers, in particular, will tell me that the students just don't have time to read. They're engaged with their phones, they're in clubs and sports. And what I found was that even students in three sports and student body president, you know, top of their class became voracious regular readers when handed books that really spoke to them that spoke about the issues in their lives. But the difference between go down the hall and go to the library and pick it up. And here's a book right off my shelf that I can hand you. And when you're done, I can say, Ooh, here's another one um, was profound. Kids talked about, you know, being able to browse a section like life stories that was filled with memoir and biographies and find their next book while they were waiting for class to start, it was different. They wouldn't have made the extra trip to the library. And so what I've tried to look at is, um, there's a lot of research about classroom libraries and Peter Johnston and Gay Ivey did a study of eighth-grade classrooms where the teachers, three teachers each had 200 books and they rotated them every trimester so that they had access to 600 books in their hands. And just this profound impact of giving kids time to read time, to choose a book that was, um, written just for them. The literature that is written for young adolescents can just have such a powerful impact. So as teachers cultivate a collection of books, they are choosing books they love that they're more likely to, um, do a book talk and be excited about sharing. And they're going to be different for me than my colleague across the hall. In fact, my colleague across the hall had a lot of science fiction, which was not my favorite genre to read. So, I often said to kids, Oh, if you love that, go talk to Mr. Wood, um, across from me. So, I think that's one of the powers is the teachers get to say these are books that I really love, and I think you'll love as well.

 

Molly Ness:

So you bring up two things that I want to, um, spend a little time on. First of all, aren't teachers given money in their school budgets to buy these resources? Um, and second of all, I'm really interested in the fact that you're focusing on high school readers. I think so much when we talk about book access, programs are looking at, um, books, providing books for young children and for elementary school children. And it's not so, so, so, uh, considered or so, um, uh, public to focus on book access for, for older readers. So, I'm hoping you can clarify both of those points. So, I'm going to start with the second one.

 

Penny Kittle:

Um, our foundation now offers libraries, our grants for books to teachers K-12 and the kindergarten through fifth grade is new. We have a dual author team that donated the royalties of their book. It's not, it's all about the books, um, to the Book Love Foundation. So that's how that started. But we started by focusing on middle and high school students because most people assume once the kids know how to read that the reading mission is over and now we just need to interrogate texts and learn how to analyze them. And when kids stop reading, they become less proficient as readers. Um Reading with Patrick, a beautiful book we studied in our summer book club last year was about a Teach for America teacher who goes back to visit a student a year later. And his reading level has fallen off so much because he stopped reading. There is absolutely a connection. So middle and high school students that are not inspired by Charles Dickens and Shakespeare will stop reading and pretend to read in class, follow along, participate in discussions, but not engage with hundreds of pages at a time. This idea that they believe once they get to high school, that you no longer need to read and they fill their lives with lots of other things. So, I think it's this active work of a teacher that changes that. So that's why we started there. Um, your second question about money is complicated, even in very wealthy private schools that I've worked in, teachers are often given money for only the cortex, the class texts, they are never given money, um, to just fill a classroom library, mostly because administration didn't understand how important that is. So schools where I work with the teachers and we work with the leaders to change that they begin developing funds that can be used in a classroom library. But I would say it's very rare and often not enough to sustain. I had a hundred, 150 kids at a time when I was a high school teacher. Now I'm in college and I only have 75, but those students, if I got $250 a year, that's not even a book for kid. So we needed, we're trying to fill a gap that definitely exists.

 

Molly Ness:

Um, well, I'm so glad to hear you reference book Reading with Patrick. As listeners out there. know one of the parts of this podcast is I suggest a related reading book and that was a book I picked up this summer. I, my path into education. I started with Teach for America and now 20 years later, I am a teacher educator. So that book really resonated with me. It's such a great exploration of a relationship between a teacher and a student um, as the student faces some really difficult challenges in their life, in his life, and, um, hits on issues of social justice and race relations and criminal justice. And so, it's just such a fabulous,

 

Penny Kittle:

I agree. And she is an amazing interview. I interviewed her twice for our summer book club and she is such a passionate person and a wonderful writer.

 

Molly Ness:

Talk to me then about how Book Love Foundation gets, um, does your work. So, if I were a high school teacher and I were listening to this and saying, you're right, I don't have the funds for my classroom library. I know my kids need independent reading and choice in their texts. How do I get involved? How do I take advantage of this foundation that is, um, hits so close to my classroom situation?

 

Penny Kittle:

So you are asking it the right time. Our application for 2020 just went up on our website, booklovefoundation.org, and teachers have to fill out kind of a long application of about 3000 words where they talk about how their mission to make their libraries more inclusive. Um, this year our focus is on a list called Gracie's list, which is an honor of Gracie King, the daughter of A.S. King, a young middle author, who died a year ago. And we have created this collection of titles that she would have wanted beside her to talk to other teens about LGBTQ issues about social justice and about mental health. And so, we are asking teachers to talk about, who's not represented, where are the gaps in your library so that you have students who come to school and never see themselves in books. And so how can we, um, shift that thinking across our country, unless we give kids lots of books to read that will help them especially #OwnVoices, which means written by a Native American if it's a story of Native Americans. Um, so that application is online right now. And what happens is we get about 500 a year. They're offered to teachers in the United States and Canada, and we then send them out to readers. I have, I couldn't even tell you how many readers now, but they usually get 20 to 25 applications, a pair of readers. They then narrow that down to finalists. And in June we have finalist’s night where the board members review all the finalists and whatever money we've raised, we give away. So, we've granted 200 teachers, classroom grants and given away $500,000 in seven years.

 

Molly Ness:

And I imagine, um, I obviously was a former classroom teacher. And the gratitude that you feel as a teacher when somebody helps you or somebody comes to your classroom, or somebody gives you monetary resources or just the value of time, you're so profoundly grateful. I would imagine your recipients feel that similar gratitude. How do they, I'm wondering if you, you follow up with them if you hear from those teachers and you understand the impact that these libraries have on their, their teaching in their students.

 

Penny Kittle:

Well, first of all, I see them all over the country when I'm out presenting, they often come up and I get to introduce them at a conference. Um, so I do have that connection. That's very personal, but we also have, um, grant winner support. And so, we have Zoom calls that, um, are run by former grant winners, as well as some of us. And I have elicited, um, Julia Torah as a librarian and Denver, who's just dynamite, amazing person who's going to be on the board this year to be in grant, write grant, writer support. So, we want the support to be bigger than just the books. And what I love about when I drop in on the Zoom calls is I listened to the things that teachers are struggling with. They got all these books, and one call was mostly about like, what, where do I put them in my, like, what categories are you using? How are you organizing them? And then another call was really about conferring, which is at the heart of matching a kid to a book and then helping them as they start reading that book. So where does it fit in your schedule? How are you doing it? What are conferences like? Um, and the other piece is Heinemann um, my publisher is a tremendous supporter of our foundation. They've always had a board member, um, on our board and they've contributed to the library every year, but this year they are now granting Book Love winners, a seat at one of my conferences for free, which I'm going to be in Texas on Monday. And I sent it out. I think we have 19 winners in Texas, and I was able to say, you know, Heinemann's going to let you attend this all-day conference for free it's. Um, my coauthor and I are presenting. And I just think that that kind of support as every one of them who wrote back to me, that's attending was like, I have been just, I so want to recharge. I want to go to a conference. I want to sit with other teachers. I want to process how hard this is, and my district has no money and I just missed, you know, the whatever conference. So, I'm trying to get that next place. We're thinking of a gathering at NCT this fall. There's lots of ways that you can help the Book Love winners, feel the community of each other.

 

Molly Ness:

So obviously incredibly fortunate to be chosen as one of the winners. Um, and ideally the foundation would be able to grant it to honor all of the requests that you get. Obviously, that's, that's not, we're not quite there yet. Hopefully, we will be at some point, but for those teachers who are listening and either who apply and go through the process and are not chosen, or just the classroom teacher out there that is saying is listening and what you're saying is resonating. And they, I imagine they live in one of these areas where book access is an issue. What advice do you have to them? How can teachers address this work um, without the benefit of a foundation?

 

Penny Kittle:

Yeah. You know, sometimes when we read the applications, we hear these really creative things happening, like a teacher in Tennessee who, when he applied for the grant, said, I've already been to my local library foundation, and they will match the grant if you give it to me. And so other teachers talk about donors choose projects, they talk about, you know, they have a whole list of thrift stores and secondhand book dealers and all kinds of places where they're gathering books. And we really look for teachers who are already doing the work. You're already, you know, I used to, when I first started high school teaching and realized my kids were not reading, I would go down to the library, fill up a cart of books. The librarian would help me choose them, wheel them down to my room. I checked them all out. And then I book talk and having my room just to get it going, get kids reading. And once I had done that, you know, my, everybody I knew that ever gave me a gift, was getting a request that it'd be a book, um, gift card. Cause I needed books. And it's really incredible. I worked with a teacher in Indianapolis who was not a winner, but she sent out a mass email when she found out she didn't win one that year. And she said, she got 700 books just in doing her contact list. And she said, you know, they weren't all appropriate for my classroom. And I had to do some sorting, but she said, I got a bunch of books, hardcover books, you know, businessmen in town and that had books to give away. And so, I think that idea of recycling what's right in your community and then really, um, creating this book flood in your room, which draws kids to books. I have podcasts on my website where students will say it was kind of intimidating when I walked in and saw all these books, but it also made me want to read them. I'd start, you know, wandering over to a category I'd never been in before and looking to see what was there.

 

Molly Ness:

And I will encourage teachers who are listening to your podcast and maybe are new to this podcast to listen to some of the work that is being done by book banks and organizations and places like First Book and all of these other, um, both large scale and grassroots efforts to source books. There are some really amazing resources. There are some really innovative people out there, um, that are getting books into the hands of readers of all ages.

 

Penny Kittle:

Absolutely. And we have a summer book club every year. This is our third year and we had about 1200 people in it. It's we read one professional development book and three books you can take into your classroom. And that's really exciting work. It's like a community that develops, and they continue to talk all year. They set up book clubs across the world, even with teachers who join. Um, I just think that the possibility for teachers to engage with other teachers is a part of this foundation as a part of your podcasts, etc., makes all of us better teachers. It's not just will you get a library but becoming part of a community that's just absolutely dedicated to a love of reading.

 

Molly Ness:

Yeah. And frankly, I think one of, one of the goals of this podcast is to bring awareness to the fact that book access still is an issue in 2020. Most people are not aware of the statistics that 32 million kids lack books in their homes, schools, and/or communities. And the more we talk about it, the more we can address it. So, for many people, this whole idea that their kids out there who can't walk down the street and access a book in a bookstore or the public library, or they go into classrooms with empty shelves. That's a novel idea for so many people. And the more we talk about it, the more we can address it.

 

Penny Kittle:

Well, and it's definitely high poverty areas. Reading is fundamental said there was one book for every 300 kids in poverty. Having taught in this rural New Hampshire area- as long as I did, I had students who lived at the end of a dirt road far from town. So even though we have a rich collection of town libraries, they had no access all summer. If you don't send them home with a stack, they're not going to read, but often if you do, if they have the book, when they go home, a lot of people don't realize that teachers share books across classes. So, if there's a whole class text and the kid doesn't have time to read it during the day, he can't take it home. So, there are so many ways that kids are denied books, right when they need them.

 

Molly Ness:

Um, every time I hear the research around, you know, what you just cited, which also comes out of Susan Neuman, who was off, um, a guest on our first podcast. Every time I hear the data and the statistics around book access, it makes me so angry, but I also know that this is something we can address. This is a problem that, um, we, as a group of teachers, as a group of readers, as a group of educators, as a group of anybody who cares about social justice, we can do something about it. And all of the people out there featured on the podcast and work in your foundation are, um, taking really innovative steps to address book access.

 

Penny Kittle:

Yeah, well, one last thing about that East Side community High School in Brooklyn, they started taking the money they used to give to textbooks and put it into book clubs and independent reading. And they went on to win the Library of Congress literacy award in 2018. They're a school that has just committed wholeheartedly to turning kids into readers. It's something we can do even within our budgets. So, part of the message is let's change the way we allocate the money that we do have.

 

Molly Ness:

And that we can all have a voice in this. Um, if you, if there's- our listeners out there who are not connected to schools and to classrooms and to teachers, um, they can still help become a part of the solution by lobbying their public library, to do things like erasing late fines. Um, there are so many different ways that people can get involved in really, um, in small-scale efforts, as well as really large-scale stuff as well.

 

Penny Kittle:

I agree such a great point because many towns, I mean, what I've found when I'm now out reading these applications is a teacher in rural Arizona who said, there's no bookstore in my town or library, we're 45 minutes from a place where a kid could get his hands on a book. If we don't have that classroom built up as a library, what are we going to do?

 

Molly Ness:

So, obviously, I could talk with you, um, for hours. Um, but just being aware of time, I want to ask you the question that I ask of all of my guests. Un the spirit of talking about our readerly lives and building readerly culture. Um, I'm hoping that you can share a book from your past or present that has had a really profound impact on you. Um, something that still resonates with you. It can be a kid book; it can be a grownup book. Um, but that book that just has never left you. And I of course understand this is an impossible task as a lifelong reader and that your answer tomorrow may not be the answer today, but what's that one book that still remains with you?

 

Penny Kittle:

There are so many, um, I'm going to say The New Jim Crow. It was so powerful for me to understand. I grew up in a home that had no economic security. Um, the entire time I was there and thought that the fundamental thing that bound us all together as poor kids, um, was money. And it really shifted my thinking about the systemic problems in our country, the institutions, the way that we have marginalized groups, um, in particular Black Americans, that book, um, has been followed by lots of others to really help me grow in my own critical consciousness of what it means to be an American.

 

Molly Ness:

Well, I will add that to my ever-growing reading stack. And I should say that, um, as Penny and I are talking, I am looking with much envy at her bookshelves in the background that are not only color-coordinated, um but are just make books look like art, um, and obviously living and breathing surrounding yourselves in books and reading culture.

 

Penny Kittle:

Absolutely.

 

Molly Ness:

Well, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you so much for the work that you do to spread reading culture in classrooms and to help teachers get books into the hands of readers. We will direct people to the website endbookdeserts.com to find out more about your work and how they can get involved. Thank you for your time.

 

Penny Kittle:

Molly. You're doing such important work. Thank you.

 

Molly Ness:

For today's related reading. I wanted to feature a fun title. One that I picked up while wandering the stacks of my local public library, which is one of my favorite things to do. I'm featuring Annie Spence's, Dear Fahrenheit: 451 Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks. I'm just back from a conference where I spoke with fellow teachers about one of the most important habits that I've developed in my reading life and that's called abandoning books. We're often so eager to share out the books that we've loved, but I'm going, to be honest and keep it real. Life's too short to slog through the books that just aren't captivating us. I'm of the mindset that abandoning books is one of the best habits that we can develop as readers and Dear Fahrenheit: 451 is a compilation of love letters and breakup notes to the books that the author has encountered. Her farewell letters to the Crucible, the Twilight series, and even childhood classic, The Giving Tree are funny candid, and they remind us that our decision to abandon books should not be a measure of our character. So, as you think about those books that continue to resonate with you, what are the books that you were eager to cast aside? For me, it was the Confederacy of Dunces. I didn't even make it to page 50, but hey, don't pass judgment on me.

 

That wraps it up for this episode of End Book Deserts. If you know of a person or program doing innovative work to get books into the hands of readers, email me at Molly that's M O L L Y@enbookdeserts.com. For more about my work and for the program featured on this episode, check out our webpage www.enbookdeserts.com. Follow me on social media at End Book Deserts and share your stories and reactions with the hashtag #EndBookDeserts. Thanks to Dwayne Wheatcroft for graphics and copy and to Benjamin Johnson for sound editing. Until the next episode, happy reading!