||This article appears to be written like an advertisement. (November 2013)|
Founded in 1992 by Peter Gold, Elizabeth Arky, and the current president Kyle Zimmer; First Book was designed to help get books into the hands of children who need them the most. Working with existing literacy programs such as Head Start centers, libraries, and after school initiatives, First Book ensures preschools and education programs have "age appropriate" books and evoke children's interest in reading. In their first year, First Book distributed approximately 12,000 books to three communities and has since distributed millions of books to children throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Kyle Zimmer, President, CEO and Co-Founder
As president and co-founder of First Book, an organization providing new books to children in need, Kyle Zimmer is a member of the Board of Directors for Ashoka.
First Book organizes book distribution events, social enterprise and cause-based marketing campaigns, network engagement, and a large number of public/private partnerships:
- First Book National Book Bank – This online system enables children's publishers to donate large quantities of new books for distribution to programs serving children's needs.
- First Book Marketplace – This on-line bookstore offers educators and after school programs books at a discounted rate.
- Local Advisory Board Networks – In an effort to get books to children all over the United States and Canada, this community-based model brings together local leaders, educators, and volunteers. The Advisory Boards identify heroic local programs serving the hardest to reach children and raise funds so that these groups can order new books for free through First Book.
- Million Page Mission - In 2008, First Book and Kraft Foods' Oscar Mayer Lunchables, along with the public relations firm Weber Shandwick launched the Million Page Mission  to encourage children and parents to read 100 pages together during the back-to-school season. Arbor Books was selected to produce and publish the free downloadable children’s book, Adventures in the Stars to accompany the nationwide event. The foreword was written by actress Lori Loughlin.
- Stories for All Project- The Stories for All Project was launched in March 2013 in response to the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Its goal is to aggressively expand the market for more diverse children’s literature by fall 2015.
Through partnerships with publishing organizations the First Book National Book Bank and the First Book Marketplace provide an ongoing supply of new books to community and mentoring based programs that encourage children to become lifetime readers. “First Book is focused on impact: we leverage the work of heroic teachers, give volunteers the tools they need, and help raise reading scores. Recently, a principal reported that First Book allowed her teachers and volunteers to elevate quality, create a culture of reading, and increase Academic Performance Index scores by 107 points.” -Kyle Zimmer, president of First Book published 2013
Over the past 16 years First Book's distribution system has united 50,000 programs and distributed more than 100 million new books to children in many communities.
Studies have found that First Book impacts children very positively. Not only did children show more interest in reading, but they also showed an increased desire to learn. Similarly, children began reading at home with their families more. This overwhelming amount of positive feedback has allowed First Book to expand and reach over 90,000 classrooms and non-profit organizations. While First Book mainly targets young children, this expanding organization also provides books on serious and mature topics, such as health and exercise, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
There have been studies and surveys on First Book’s impact on children that show the direct effects of First Book in student’s, teacher’s, program administrator's, volunteer's, and parent’s lives. These results prove significant increases in a positive educational environment that is desirable.
A longitudinal study that lasted 14 months studied 2,564 students and found three improvements. By receiving books from First Book, students who displayed a “high interest” in reading continued and improved that interest by nearly three times. Nearly 7 out of 10 program administrators discovered that book selections from First Book were “very important” to the students desire to improve their reading skills. Finally, students read at home 70% more when they received books from First Book.
First Book results, according to 1,800 members of the First Book network of schools and programs, do indeed render improvement. The survey showed that 99.1% of the group said that First Book would increase opportunities for learning, especially with parents. Additionally, 96.5% of people who hold a leadership role over volunteers, said being involved with First Book would increase volunteer engagement.
In 2005, First Book launched Book Relief, a campaign to get books to those devastated by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. In the beginning, Book Relief held nine book distributions which helped get 1.5 million new books to individuals, school districts, and public libraries. Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network became the first major donor and contributor to Book Relief with a three-year grant for $250,000 dollars. In 2006, Book Relief focused on getting books to institutions and programs directly along the Gulf Coast. By the end of the year First Book had distributed over 3.6 million books. In the final phase of Book Relief in 2007, First Book concentrated on helping get books to the New Orleans area by working out of a US Coast Guard facility, distributing 5.1 million books to over 20 states, 200 libraries, and 2059 programs.
Global Future for First Book
Polling expert Louis Harris conducted two studies on First Book for the Department of Education; first in June 1999 and then in January 2003. These studies concluded that First Book has had a positive impact on shaping children’s outlook on reading.
Many prominent organizations have partnered with First Book to tackle the issue of illiteracy. For example, KPMG and First Book created KPMG's Family for Literacy program which offers volunteer positions, book distributions, and other fundraising events to help provide more books for children in need. Similarly, Target joined with First Book and has distributed over 415,000 books to children. Target also pledged $1 billion to education efforts. Cheerios also joined the movement and has given away millions of books inside Cheerios cereal boxes. They recently expanded the program to include chapter books for older children. Many other organizations, such as Feeding America, USO, Fi Beta Phi, United Way, Disney, and Random House, have also partnered with First Book to help children experience the joy of reading. Even companies such as JetBlue Airways and General Motors Foundation have put money and resources towards this cause. As First Book continues to expand, more and more organizations will realize the importance of child literacy and join the cause.