SCBWI Books for Readers Increases Book Access

Omar Bah, director of the Refugee Dream Center
with Lin Oliver, SCBWI executive director

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Back in April I interviewed Lin Oliver, executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators about the organization’s new initiative: Books for Readers.

“In the U.S., many low-income communities have as few as 1 book per 300 children. We as an organization would like to help change this,” she said. “With our initiative, we can advance our organization’s mission as children’s book creators and literacy advocates, and help increase access to books for kids in desperate need of them. It’s a natural fit!”

Recently, the two organizations selected by a sub-committee of the SCBWI Board of Advisors received the first donation of new books: the Refugee Dream Center in Providence, Rhode Island and the Kinship House in Portland, Oregon.

At both celebrations, authors and illustrators took part in demonstrations, storytimes, crafts, refreshments and book distribution. Books were donated for each organization’s lending library and one book was given to every child to take home. 
“We hope that by giving books to these children we can help build their dreams,” Lin said. “Every child deserves books and dreams!”

Illustrator Jannie Ho assists at the illustration station.

The Refugee Dream Center is a post-resettlement refugee agency. It offers referrals, social level
assistance, and skills development such as English language education for adults, health promotion and cultural orientation, youth mentoring, and case management.

In addition, the Refugee Dream Center is a strong advocacy agency for the rights of refugees.

Books received by the Refugee Dream Center will outfit a classroom library for its ESL program and promote the center’s goal to help refugees work towards self-sufficiency and integration.

In addition, each child in attendance got their own book to take home.

“Unlike most book-to-reader relationships, these books will be the first books that our children will read in their new language, that will assist them with their English mastery, and that will help them become part of their new culture—and feel part of it, too!” said Kara Skaling, Program Coordinator of the Refugee Dream Center.

The Kinship House provides outpatient mental health services to foster and adopted children and their families. The books gave a boost to Kinship’s lending library and became the first books to keep for many of the children they serve.

“Many of our children have lived lives most of us can’t imagine. These books will bring light, restore a piece of their childhood, and offer them the joy many families take for granted!” said Melissa Smith-Hohnstein, LCSW and Clinical Director of Kinship House.

SCBWI members and staff gathered to celebrate the Books for Readers donation to the Refugee Dream Center.

The Books for Readers celebration also included dinner.