Local foundation unites kids and books

MIDDLEBURY — Until her death in 2006 at the age of 64, Chicago-area educator Bonnie Graham imparted the joy of reading to countless children, many of them hampered by learning challenges and other special needs.
Now Graham’s daughters are continuing their mom’s legacy to the benefit of children throughout the country and particularly in North Carolina and Vermont, where the two women are based. Amy Graham of Middlebury is overseeing the Vermont branch of “Bonnie’s Book Foundation,” through which she has distributed 2,200 books in the Green Mountain State during the past year. Recipients have included kids at the Parent-Child Center of Addison County and area elementary schools, including those in Middlebury and Leicester. All 365 children enrolled in Champlain Valley Head Start received a free new book from Bonnie’s Book Foundation just before the holidays.
“It helps me keep her spirit alive,” Amy Graham said of the foundation work. “And it keeps the kids happy.”
Happy, more self-confident and a foundation to become better learners.
Graham pointed to statistics showing that more than 60 percent of children in poverty don’t own any books at home. She noted that owning — and reading — books at home is a key predictor to academic success in elementary school. With that in mind, Graham has been busy gathering up donations of gently used and new books and distributing them to children who might otherwise not have access to them at home.
Last week saw Graham preparing for her latest book drive, in collaboration with the Junebug Mother and Child store on Park Street in Middlebury. People are being encouraged to drop off their donated books (from board books to works for young adults) at the store until March 30. Those books will then be sorted and distributed this spring to children in need, so that they can maintain their literacy skills during the summer.
While the book foundation has a small endowment, cash/book donations and grants are key, Graham said. Empty-nesters are encouraged to share their now-idle books with the next generation of kids. And folks who don’t have children’s books at home can make a financial contribution that will pay some big dividends, Graham said.
“We partner with a number of organizations that sell new books at highly discounted prices to groups like ours,” Graham said. She added the Vermont Book Shop in downtown Middlebury has generously given the foundation a 20-percent discount on books purchased there.
Any donated books should not have any torn pages or scribbles in them.
“They should come in good condition, with some love in them,” Graham said.
The Graham household bears witness to the foundation’s recent success. The mudroom and garage are just about packed floor-to-ceiling with books. In the near future, Graham and some helpers will sort through the books and set up days on which to go to various Addison County elementary schools to make donations to students. Graham has built a relationship with the school librarians to get a sense of which kids could use the books.
“We don’t want to stigmatize or single anyone out,” Graham said.
The upcoming book drive will primarily serve children in Ripton, Leicester, Shoreham and Orwell, according to Graham.
And if the book recipients become faithful readers, they could eventually emulate the success of Graham’s daughter. Arianna, now a second-grader at Mary Hogan Elementary, was the top summer reader in her age group in the Ilsley Library Summer Reading Program last year. Son Berkeley, a preschooler, is on the same path to success.
Amy Graham and her sister Diana of Raleigh, N.C., are determined to keep their mom’s mission alive. Bonnie Graham was sometimes referred to as the Robin Hood of books, and there’s more work to do in Sherwood Forest.
“I think she would be happy and proud,” Graham said of her mom’s reaction were she alive to see the foundation’s work today. “It is a win-win situation all the way around.”
More information on the foundation can be found at www.bonniesbooks.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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