Literacy foundation gives away books to combat ‘summer slide’

VERGENNES — Dozens of children were grinning ear-to-ear recently as they perused stacks of glistening new books the Children’s Literacy Foundation, or CLiF, was giving away for free in Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol.
That’s right, free.
As part of CLiF’s commitment to encourage summer reading, on Monday, July 24, the nonprofit held storytelling and book giveaways at community hubs in the county’s three largest population centers.
CLiF’s mission is to nurture a love of reading and writing among low-income, at-risk, and rural kids up to age 12 throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. According to CLiF Executive Director Duncan McDougall, the organization’s summer reading initiative is designed to combat what is referred to as the “summer slide.”
“Kids who don’t have books and reading materials accessible to them in the summer often lose two or more months worth of reading skills over the summer, so they tend to regress,” McDougall said.
He said the summer slide means that students can fall behind by one to two years’ worth of reading levels by the time they finish school.
   DUNCAN MCDOUGALL, EXECUTIVE director of the Children’s Literacy Foundation, talks with a group of children in Vergennes Monday about their favorite book genres in a presentation at St. Peter’s.  Independent Photo/Will DiGravio
“What we try to do in the summertime is reach out to kids who might not have easy access to (books), and we talk to them about the power and the joy of reading, writing and books,” McDougall said.
At each event, McDougall, or one of the organization’s 60 other presenters, will discuss with children the different book genres that are available to them. They’ll also read a story together. At the end of the presentation, each child is allowed to select two free books that, as McDougall emphasized during his presentation in Vergennes on Monday, they can keep forever.
“There’s a ton of research showing that when kids get to choose the books they want, 80 to 90 percent of them prefer those books and are more likely to read and continue reading,” McDougall said. “It’d be a lot cheaper for us if we bought five books and a hundred copies of each, but it’s just not the way it should be.”
In his presentations, McDougall makes sure to include books by authors and illustrators from the Vermont and New Hampshire area, many of whom are also CliF presenters. This, he said, is to show the students they too can be readers and writers.
“We want the kids who see these folks to realize, ‘This is someone who lives a couple towns away. This is something that I could do,’” McDougall said.
Though CliF’s mission is to assist low-income children, their programs, like the book giveaways, are open to all children. The presentation in Vergennes was given to about 30 children attending a recreational camp. When selecting their books from the dozens made available to them, many of those in attendance took different approaches.
“I went with what I wanted to read that I haven’t read yet and also a book my friend recommended, ‘The Penderwicks,’” said Joanna Toy, 11, of Starksboro.
Toy’s sister, Gretchen, 9, chose a classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel.
“I like that sometimes you come to a cliffhanger and there’s options,” she said.
Ethan Payne-Vinick, 10, of Ferrisburgh, chose another classic: Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” and its sequel “The River.” Payne-Vinick read “Hatchet” last year at school, and his teacher recommended the sequel. He said he likes to take advantage of the summer months to read as much as he can.
“I feel excited to learn stories,” Payne-Vinick said. “I really like stories and that’s mainly why I get books is because I like to get caught up in the stories.”
For Duncan McDougall, this immersion in stories is what makes the book giveaways worthwhile.
“I think the most rewarding part is when a child who at first was not interested in books or reading, at the end of the presentation, rushes up, grabs two books, sits right down and starts reading,” McDougall said. “Then we’ve succeeded.
For more information on CLiF and its programs, visit clifonline.org.

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