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Turning Good into Greater Good

Why We Give: Books for Newborns

What’s the key to sparking a love of reading and learning? Simply put, access to books. This premise is the basis and the mission of Books for Newborns (BFN), founded in 2016 to expand access to books and literacy support to families throughout the St. Louis area.

“Reading matters, and children who have been given access to the world through reading and books are more likely to develop language and other skills that set them on the path to success,” says Patrice Shumate, a BFN board member who helped prepare the organization’s SOS grant application. BFN was a 2023 recipient of a $10,000 grant.

“Literacy research is overwhelmingly clear that there are lasting benefits to reading to an infant early and often. We also see data that lower-income families are statistically less likely to have books, especially developmentally-appropriate books, in the home. We aim to remove the barriers that many families face in having access to high-quality books,” Shumate says.

Books for Newborns supports its mission through these specific activities:

              • Newborn Bookbags – provides five developmentally appropriate books to new parents and reading/bonding encouragement. To ensure children are exposed to racially inclusive books, one of the books, “Baby’s First Day,” is written by a local Black author and purchased through St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature.
              • Older Siblings Bookbags – provides three books for grade school-aged children, continuing the importance of reading with children through their grade school years.
              • Literacy and Community Events – provides books to literacy programs and social service agencies throughout the year.
              • ESOL Migrant Families Bookbag – this pilot program works to support early literacy organizations that serve immigrate families across St. Louis, providing access to books so educators can focus funds and attention on reading instruction and outreach.

“Children in low-income families, especially minority children, rarely see themselves in books to which they have access,” Shumate says. “We provide books that beautifully reflect all cultures and the kind of world we should try to be.”

With an initial distribution of 689 bookbag deliveries in 2017, today BFN delivers nearly 10,000 bags annually. Books are delivered through 14 partner agencies, including area health care organizations, preschool and children’s services programs, and other non-profits.

Grace Nappier, assistant nurse manager, Women & Infants Division, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, says the hospital distributes about 150 book bags each month to new mothers. “Patients are thrilled to receive these books. It always brings a smile to their face,” she says. “Parents have made comments that they now have books to fill the baby’s book shelf at home. For some, they are the first books they have received. They have told us they cannot wait to read these books to their baby every night.”

Books for Newborns is a simple concept that delivers big results, according to Joan Gallagher, who led the SOS team that reviewed BFN’s application and conducted a site visit. “Their success is especially impressive given that they lost both their founder and board chair to illness in recent years. Those losses could have crippled other small agencies, but they’ve been unwavering in their commitment to their founder’s vision and to the families they serve.”

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