When I was little, new books weren't easy to come by: My teachers never seemed to have time to take the class to the library, my parents worked, so rides to the public library were few and far between, and though they recognized the importance of books, my mom and dad didn't really have a lot of cash to spend on them. Needless to say, my love affair with stories would come in fits and starts a Judy Blume book here, a Beverly Cleary book there, a few Nancy Drew mysteries cobbled from friends. When there was nothing new which was often I'd reread old favorites; I wore out A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, both by Frances Hodgson Burnett. They made me laugh. They made me dream. They comforted me.

They were my friends.

These days, I collect children's books mostly titles for, about, and by African Americans and I'm constantly trolling stores for great books for my girls, particularly Mari, who is as voracious a reader as I was at her age. I don't care how much the book is or how little I have in my pocket, books are going to get bought. I recognize this is a blessing. There are way too many children who, for many reasons, don't have access to quality books, and so they never get the chance to appreciate the beauty of stories well told to find laughter and dreams and best friends in the pages of a good book.

But a program my friend Gretchen hipped me to aims to change that. The program, In2Books, is a non-profit organization created in 1997 to help get kids in low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods reading, discussing and writing about great children's literature. The way In2Books works: The program connects students with carefully screened adult pen pals, and then the two read five books and exchange online letters about the books they've read. Teachers then reinforce and extend the learning with in-class book discussions and related literacy teachings.

On the In2Books website, notes from teachers who participated in the program testify to the beauty of the organization especially how it touches the children's learning lives. Witness:

The most amazing thing was how everyone supported my students and helped them to grow not only academically and personally. So many of my students did not want to say goodbye and wanted to write all summer long. Gwen Kitzan

I had one little boy that couldn’t believe that he actually got to keep the first book. He kept trying to return the book to me. I kept telling him over and over again that the book was his to keep! His comment was, ˜You mean I get to keep it forever?' Sherry McMahan

Many times your letters caused them to revisit their books and think about them in ways they had not thought of before. Most of all, students enjoyed reading about your lives and connecting with a positive adult. Thank you! John Bingea.¨

I can't think of a better way to touch a child's life through the power of words. Gretchen is participating for the second year in a row, and I'm signing up to be a penpal it's free, save for a $6 donation you make to help cover the background check In2Books will conduct to make sure you're an adult who doesn't hurt kids. A small price to pay for helping a child to a lifelong love of reading.

Won't you be a part of this wonderful program? To learn more about In2Books or become a penpal to a young reader, click HERE.

Thanks, Gretchen, for telling me about the program and encouraging me to share it with MyBrownBaby readers!

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  1. Brown Sugar Babies

    As soon as our children learn to write their names, they should be taken to the public library to get their card. My son is 11, LOVES to read, and we are at the library at least 3 times a week. Like you, I troll sites and stores for any and all stories about African Americans – for children..but I'm looking for boy themes. I love to read, and I am so happy that my son loves to read as well. I think people forget about the public library, where, at least in my area, you can take out a book for three weeks (renew up to 3 times). Love your blog!

  2. THAT is dope. I love it. Heading over to sign up now….

  3. Denene! Thanks for posting this – how wonderful for the children that will benefit!

  4. books are amazing, i didn't appreciate them as a child, and wish my kids would dive in. the closest i get to it is audio books, which in one case has made them a bit lazy when it comes to reading, but on the other-hand has made them amazing listeners, which has benefited them in school. thanks for sharing.

  5. This is great. I feel the same way about books. My daughter will have tons

  6. I saw a link to this blog at the In2books site. I went there because I'm anxious to get connected to "my kid." Months back, my company asked us to apply with In2books, and I did it immediately. I have worked with Adult Literacy League and BB&BS in the past as well. When I read the quote about the boy trying to give the book back–it made me cry. It's such a small thing–but means so much to him, obviously. I don't consider myself to be a very magnanimous person. I can be very me-centric. But some forms of "helping" people are just so easy, that, to me, I almost can't find an excuse to say "no." This is one of those things. I am accepted already at In2books–passed all the checks–and just rarin' to meet my student!

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