Family Reading Partnership is featured in the latest edition of The Read-Aloud
Handbook by Jim Trelease as a model of a community-wide literacy initiative.
“The Read-Aloud Handbook,” Sixth Edition, by Jim Trelease, pp. 125-126.
Across the continent in Ithaca, New York, Brigid Hubberman was encountering similar
problems with some of the families she was working with at WIC (Women, Infants, and
Children, a federal assistance program). While families were in the WIC waiting rooms, it was
Brigid’s part-time job to demonstrate the reading of books and how to interact with them. Even
with children a young as one and a half years of age. She could tell if the child had any book
experience and most had not. When she asked the school district what percentage of incoming
students had essentially no book experience, the response was 20-25 percent. Worth noting is the
fact that Ithaca is the home of Cornell University, an Ivy League institution, yet nearly a quarter
of the community was “at-risk” for literacy. Soon Hubberman became adamant that every child
in the community, not just the ones at WIC sites, deserved a healthy book start.
In 1995, she convinced a local bank, Tompkins Trust Company, to fund a book for every
newborn in the county, something they continue to do to this day. The following year, she saw
the holidays as another opportunity to get books in to the homes of at-risk children. She secured
funding for new books that WIC parents could choose and have gift-wrapped at the site that
could be taken home as gifts.
In 1997, various county community agencies had a brainstorming day and Hubberman
asked for a breakout session on how to create a community-wide “culture of literacy”–
connecting every family and every child to print in a pleasurable way. “Hey,” someone
suggested in the session, “what about free bus tokens for families going to the library?” The
eight committee members soon grew to thirty and became the Family Reading Partnership. Ideas
and projects began to flow.
One member, Jim Crawford, noted, “People who use libraries use them, not because they
don’t have books but because they do have them and want even more.” In other words, the book
you own is a kind of seed that leads to more. This concept became the Bright Red Bookshelves.
Collection crates were sprinkled at twelve sites (like Wegman’s grocery stores) throughout
Ithaca, where people could drop off lightly used books. These were collected, cleaned, and
divested of annotations, and then placed on bright red bookshelves in centrally located sites for
social service, even police stations and juvenile courts.
Soon a community-wide Literacy Vision Day was convened with representatives from
every sector – schools, police, social services, hospitals, and librarians. Another local bank began
contributing enough funds to give every incoming kindergartner (1,400) a free book at
registration at the start of school.
A decade old now, the Family Reading Partnership (FRP) resides rent-free in a school
district building; the model has been adopted by two neighboring counties; the New York State
family court system has incorporated the Bright Red Bookshelf idea in its locations; FRP is used
as the coordinator to deliver books to various social agencies that use books to connect with
families in counseling; it also funds books to every pediatrician (thirty) in the county can
distribute a book at wellness visits. A visitor to Ithaca, New York, cannot remain oblivious for
long that reading is a community-wide habit; billboard-size banners hang from buildings and
rooftops, reminding adults to “Read to me–any time, any place.”