Want to know the “whole story” of Books for Keeps, without having to read the entire blog history? I’m happy to oblige!

In 2009 I met a 2nd-grade girl who loved to read, but didn’t own a single book. Summer was rapidly approaching, and she was facing many weeks without access to books. I started talking to teachers and counselors at the school and was dismayed by what I learned. Athens GA, home of the University of Georgia, has the 3rd worst poverty rate in the nation for towns its size.

Most likely, this little girl and the many others like her would forget how to read over the summer, and would start 3rd grade lagging behind their classmates.

What about the library, I wondered? Too many parents can’t, won’t, or don’t take their kids to the library. The kids pay the price. Why doesn’t somebody DO something, I wondered? Then it struck me: I am somebody. I can do something.

With two weeks left in the school year, I had to hurry. A few friends and family rallied to help, and we adopted four 2nd-grade classes at Alps Road Elementary. We gave the kids a Summer Satchel with books and art supplies on the last day of school, and sent them off with fingers crossed they’d remember how to read. And life went on. I didn’t think too much about books or kids.

Until the school called in 2010. What a surprise to learn the program worked! The school decided to do their own program to distribute books to kids in 2010. They got a grant that funded one book per child, and asked if I could help with more books. The catch: there were 400 kids… and 12 days left in the school year.

What could I do but say I’d help? I spread the word – every way I knew how – that I needed 800 books in 12 days, and I said a little prayer. And suddenly the books started pouring in. First from friends and family; people in Athens… Atlanta… Macon. They shopped yard sales and thrift stores, collected books from neighbors, and donated their own books.

Then the word spread online. BookMooch users got involved. Library Thing readers got involved. People in Florida… California… New York. Strangers all, with one thing in common: a belief that every child should own a book.

The result? 1600 books in 12 days. The kids at Alps Elementary now own three books each, and there were enough books left over to do the same for the YWCO Girls Club participants. I wish I could describe their faces upon learning the books were theirs… for keeps. Joy. Wonder. Excitement.

I cried like a baby with gratitude and Books for Keeps was born.

Since then, a study was released that evaluated the impact of book ownership on impoverished children. Read highlights here. The short version: kids who own books do better in school and stay in school longer. In fact, kids who were given 12 books on the last day of school returned in fall with a literacy level equivalent to having attended summer school. (Read a comment from the author of the study, Dr. Richard Allington, about Books for Keeps!)

I’m happy to report: the books keep coming. In 2011, we’ll adopt as many kids as we have books for. There are 12,000 students in Athens right now… how many books can we raise?