A Surprisingly Simple Way to Get Kids Reading

January 26, 2017
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

A teacher sent a letter to a publishing house asking for any spare copies of children’s books for her class library. A week later she got a phone call asking, “Where should I back the truck up to?”

Studies show that kids who don’t learn to read well by third grade are four times less likely to finish high school than those who have solid reading skills at that age. Reading is more important than ever today.

How do we get kids to be more proficient readers? By giving them books. Simply exposing kids to literature is one of the most effective ways of getting them reading. But because many children have families too busy to consistently dedicate time to reading with them, that duty often falls on teachers.

This is why mini libraries have become staples in many classrooms. Teachers use them to offer their students a variety of literature to get interested in, read, and even take home.

But there’s a problem here. School budget constraints mean that teachers often spend their own money to fill their classroom libraries—on top of buying their own supplies—and with an average salary of $30,377 a year, things can get tight for them.

For those of you in this situation—or those of you who simply can’t afford to buy books—I suggest this possibility: ask for them!

A children’s literature professor, the walls of his office packed with shelves of hundreds of books, once told me that he had not paid a dime for any of them. If he saw a title he was interested in, he would send a letter to the publisher asking if they had a few spare copies of, say, Where the Wild Things Are. He’d explain that he was a professor and was eager to share the great quality of these books with his students. His office is a testament to how well this worked for him.

The people who work at publishing houses love stories, and they love sharing stories with others who will treasure them. If you reach the right person at the right time, you could just end up with a truckload of books in front of your school.

While there’s no guarantee a publisher will say yes, it never hurts to ask. Give it a try! You’ll be surprised how generous people can be.

Don’t know where to start? Here is the Children’s Choices List of 2016’s most popular titles [PDF], and here is a thorough directory of children’s book publishers.

Below is a sample email to send to a promising publisher, but it could also work for letters or even phone calls.

Subject line. Be specific. Spare copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon request

Address the publisher. Dear HarperFestival,

Explain your situation and make your request. Be concise! I am an elementary school teacher looking to fill my class library, but just don’t have the money to afford the titles I need. I was wondering if you had any spare copies of Harold and the Purple Crayon (ISBN 0062086529) that you’d be able to send me.

Expand on your reasons for wanting this book. I remember reading the Harold books as a kid myself and how the creativity and delight influenced me. I would love to have the chance to share this with my students. Anything you can do is greatly appreciated.

Closing. Thank you so much for your time!

[Your name]
[School address]

If you do write to a publisher, let us know how it went. Or if you have tips and book suggestions of your own, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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