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A Book is a Friend for Life

by Erica S. Perl
 | May 16, 2013
"Please?" said the girl with the pink-beaded pigtails, gazing shyly at the copy of my book, DOTTY, in my hands. I had just read it aloud and she, along with every child in her class, had received a copy from First Book.

I tried to correct her confusion. "This is my book, and you’re holding yours. See, I signed yours already. And you can put your name in it right here." I showed her the First Book bookplate inside the book.

"I want that one, too," she said, pointing.

Now I was confused. "But it's the same book. You don't want two copies of the same book, do you?"

"Not for me," she explained. "My sister needs a book of her own, too."

Before I started working with First Book, I took book ownership for granted. Sure, some kids are lucky enough to have groaning bookshelves threatening to crush them like Flat Stanley. But all kids have some books... don't they?

They don’t. According to the research of Susan B. Neuman—and confirmed by my author visits to struggling schools across the U.S.—children from low-income homes suffer from a staggering lack of access to quality reading material. In poor neighborhoods, there are as few as one age appropriate book for every 300 children. In Neuman’s book, GIVING OUR CHILDREN A FIGHTING CHANCE: POVERTY, LITERACY, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF INFORMATION CAPITAL, she makes a strong argument that children from low-income homes can make significant gains and realize a wide range of opportunities through book ownership and increased access to books and print.

That's where First Book comes in. We provide brand-new high-quality books and resources to educators serving kids in need. But to do it most effectively, we need one thing.

Your help.

Why? Simple. You are in the classroom every day, and you can offer us the best guidance on what all students need to have and want to read. By signing up with First Book—and encouraging fellow educators to do so—you can add your voice to those of teachers all across North America who are helping us to provide more resources, meet more needs, and level the playing field so that ALL students can become readers and leaders.

p: Shopping Sherpa via photopin cc
First Book is available to any educator working with kids in need at a Title I or Title I eligible school—teachers, librarians, principals, reading specialists. Those who work in more affluent communities can still be great friends of First Book and help spread the word about us so we can reach more kids in need.

We have books for all kids, birth to age eighteen, we distribute over 11 million new books every year (over 100 million since our founding in 1992), and we work with a growing national network of over 50,000 schools and programs in the United States and Canada.

We have some different distribution channels, depending on the needs of the program, but the books are always brand-new and always high-quality. Our most innovative breakthrough is the First Book Marketplace, where anyone signed up with First Book can choose from a selection of over 4,000 award-winning and popular titles at 50–90% off retail, shipping included.

To sign up with First Book today, go to

My job at First Book focuses on what I love—the books themselves, and our publisher and author partnerships. Our new program, Authors & Illustrators in Action!, offers authors and illustrators tools so they can use to easily connect eligible programs and schools with our resources. More information can be found on our website at

We are particularly focused on offering a wide selection of multicultural books as well as stories from under-represented voices. We just launched the Stories for All Project, purchasing over a million dollars worth of culturally relevant titles. Prominent authors, including Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, and Lulu Delacre have added their voices to ours on the important message that children need to see themselves in books as well as to have the opportunity to explore cultures and characters beyond their own experiences through books.

Still holding my copy of DOTTY, I stared at the girl with the pigtails. DOTTY is a book about a girl named Ida whose imaginary friend Dotty is a source of comfort when other children turn on her and tease her. It is also the story of a teacher who shows Ida that they have more in common than it would appear on the surface. Through DOTTY, I try to show readers that imagination can be a friend you don’t ever have to outgrow.

Was there something about this particular story that spoke to this particular child? Or was she just looking to avoid having to share what was clearly a rare commodity in her home?

And did it matter?

I want to live in a world where all children have books that are their own, books that can be their friends for life. With First Book, I feel like we’re working together to build that world, as well as a superhighway to it.

But we’re not there yet. Which is why we need you.

Erica S. Perl, the author of books for young readers including WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. and DOTTY, is the Vice President of Publisher and Author Relations for First Book. You can contact her at

© 2013 Erica S. Perl. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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