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Children’s Literacy Foundation

Imag­ine the joy of a child who nev­er had the priv­i­lege of own­ing a book being able to choose new hard­cov­er or paper­back edi­tions for free out of hun­dreds dis­played in front of him. The Children’s Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion doesn’t have to imag­ine. Staff have seen the excit­ed smiles on these young faces for the past 23 years, and they hear the same ques­tion wher­ev­er they go.

You mean I get to keep it? It’s mine?”

Children's Literacy Foundation of Vermont

The Children’s Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion of Ver­mont is on a mis­sion to nur­ture a love of read­ing and writ­ing in low-income Ver­mont and New Hamp­shire chil­dren who are at risk of grow­ing up with poor lit­er­a­cy skills. Accord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, near­ly two-thirds of low-income fam­i­lies don’t even have one book at home for their kids. CLiF places books in the hands of fam­i­lies like these and on the shelves of school or pub­lic libraries where books are old and funds are low, sends out local authors and illus­tra­tors like Calde­cott and Siebert Hon­oree Jason Chin to present to every­one in town, and teach­es par­ents how to make read­ing to their chil­dren excit­ing and fun.

Wher­ev­er there’s a need for books, CLiF is there. And CLiF is a mod­el for oth­ers who want to help under­served chil­dren, schools, libraries and com­mu­ni­ties across the country.

The Children’s Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion has donat­ed $8 mil­lion worth of new books to 300,000 chil­dren in over 420 towns in New Hamp­shire and Ver­mont since Dun­can McDougall found­ed the non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion in 1998. McDougall left a suc­cess­ful career in man­age­ment con­sult­ing for the chance to get out and cap­ti­vate chil­dren and par­ents — to make them laugh and delight in great sto­ry­telling. And through it all he’s ful­fill­ing the most impor­tant mis­sion of all, and that is to raise children’s lit­er­a­cy so that under­priv­i­leged chil­dren have a greater chance for success.

Here is a sam­pling of a few of CLiF’s programs:

CLiF’s “Year of the Book” pro­gram pro­vides $25,000 gifts to 10 rur­al ele­men­tary schools where at least 30 per­cent of the stu­dents test below grade lev­el on read­ing and writ­ing assess­ment tests. Chil­dren choose ten free books to take home from hun­dreds select­ed by teach­ers and librar­i­ans. Teach­ers select new children’s books for their class­rooms and they receive mini-grants for lit­er­a­cy activ­i­ties they’ve always want­ed to under­take, and librar­i­ans can pick $1,000 worth of of new books each for the pub­lic and school libraries.

CLiF also pro­vides 15 – 20 lit­er­ary events through the year like writ­ing work­shops and vis­its by local authors and illus­tra­tors. Beth­le­hem (NH) Ele­men­tary School is a small school with a very tight bud­get. “There’s no way we would be able to do some­thing like this,” said Prin­ci­pal Shel­li Roberts.

As it nears Christ­mas, fam­i­lies are invit­ed to come to schools for a spe­cial din­ner and evening togeth­er. These are fam­i­lies who might nev­er go inside their child’s school. After a din­ner pro­vid­ed by CLiF, chil­dren go off to enjoy an activ­i­ty while a CLiF pre­sen­ter shares with the adults dif­fer­ent ways to make sto­ry­telling the most engag­ing. “You can ask ques­tions. You can make it a con­ver­sa­tion. You can change your voice. They see dif­fer­ent ways to make sto­ry­telling com­pelling,” McDougall said. Par­ents or care­givers then have the chance to choose books to give to their chil­dren for the hol­i­day. Vol­un­teers wrap them up in hol­i­day paper. And once the chil­dren return, a CLiF pre­sen­ter tells a sto­ry to the assem­bled crowd, an activ­i­ty that is fun for the chil­dren and infor­ma­tive and inspir­ing for the adults.

Author/illustrator pre­sen­ters must live in the two states. “We think it’s a very pow­er­ful mes­sage,” said McDougall. “Kids get to meet some­one who lives a few towns away, and they get to real­ize that you don’t have to be a spe­cial per­son from New York City or Cal­i­for­nia to write a book or be a poet or become an artist. There are peo­ple just like them in towns just like theirs, and they can do it too.” (Take four min­utes to be inspired by this Year of the Book Video.

CLiF’s Rur­al Libraries pro­gram has spon­sored close to 90 per­cent of all pub­lic libraries in small New Hamp­shire and Ver­mont towns with few­er than 5,000 peo­ple. They receive $2,000 worth of new and out­stand­ing books cho­sen by the librar­i­an to fill in gaps in the library’s col­lec­tion. The pub­lic library receives funds to sup­port fam­i­ly pro­gram­ming. Local school libraries receive $500 worth of books cho­sen by the librar­i­ans, and two pro­fes­sion­al author or illus­tra­tor pre­sen­ters speak­ing to all the kids in town, one in the fall and one in the spring. Final­ly, every child in town gets two books to keep, all the way from chil­dren in child­care to grade 6.

At-Risk Chil­dren CLiF reach­es out to chil­dren in low-income fam­i­lies with free books and sto­ry­telling pre­sen­ta­tions in home­less shel­ters, afford­able hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties, refugee facil­i­ties, Head-Start, com­mu­ni­ty and child­care cen­ters. Chil­dren can choose two new books to keep, and par­ents can attend sem­i­nars to hear the impor­tance of read­ing to their chil­dren and learn tips to mak­ing sto­ry­telling fun even if they are not con­fi­dent read­ers. CLiF also donates on-site libraries of books in these sites, as well as in shel­ters, refugee pro­grams, prison wait­ing rooms, and oth­er facil­i­ties des­per­ate­ly in need of books that fam­i­lies can enjoy for years to come.

Chil­dren of Prison Inmates For many years CLiF has also worked to build strong rela­tion­ships between prison inmates and their chil­dren, even while pris­ons are on Covid lock­down. In pre­vi­ous years, CLiF pre­sen­ters con­duct­ed reg­u­lar sem­i­nars with inmates to help them learn how to share sto­ries with their chil­dren. Though kept from see­ing their fam­i­lies dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, pris­on­ers have the joy of choos­ing new books, writ­ing lov­ing notes inside the cov­ers, and CLiF sends those books home. Inmates can also record the books onto MP3 and the chil­dren can enjoy the books and hear their mom or dad read to them at home. Nor­mal­ly, McDougall also walks right into pris­ons and sets up fam­i­ly fun days where inmates and their chil­dren can play games, choose books togeth­er, and lis­ten to a live­ly sto­ry­teller. Now, when pris­ons are closed to children’s vis­its, being able to hear a moth­er or father’s voice read­ing to them at home is a won­der­ful way to help par­ents con­tin­ue shar­ing sto­ry time and stay­ing involved in their children’s lives.

The wife of one inmate in Berlin, NH wrote:

My daugh­ter, as well as her broth­ers receive books every oth­er month from (their) dad …and it’s some­thing that the kids look for­ward to each time! She is 5 and just yes­ter­day she says to me, ‘Mom­my when will it be the end of the month?’ and I said to her, ‘In just a few days. Why, what’s up?’ and she says, ‘Because that’s when I get my books from dad­dy in the mail!’ We have sev­er­al record­ed books, a library of reg­u­lar books that have been mailed home, and the kids are always eager to check the mail to see if there are any books in the box. CLiF is def­i­nite­ly some­thing that has kept my daugh­ter more con­nect­ed to her dad while he is away, and we couldn’t be any­more thank­ful than we are for both the “Fam­i­ly Fun Days” as well as being able to have books sent home to us every oth­er month. The pro­gram that you guys offer is noth­ing short of incred­i­ble and gives kids a small light from a place that is looked upon so darkly.”

mother selecting books with her son

At a Fam­i­ly Fun Day at the women’s prison in S. Burling­ton, VT, 
a moth­er helps her son, and oth­er inmates select books for their children.

inmate with two books he selected
McDougall reading to inmates

(Left) an inmate with two new books he select­ed for his chil­dren and (right) Dun­can read­ing
a children’s book to inmates.  They insist on hear­ing a new sto­ry each time, and it allows him
to mod­el dif­fer­ent sto­ry­telling tech­niques. Sev­en­ty per­cent of US inmates have
low lit­er­a­cy skills, and CLiF pre­sen­ters show how any­one can tell
a great sto­ry, regard­less of their read­ing skills.

Look for Free CLiF Resources
for Par­ents, Schools, and Teach­ers,
Includ­ing a Trea­sure Trove of Record­ed Videos of Zoom Vis­its
by Famous Local Authors:

Lit­er­a­cy Train­ing Videos

Lit­er­a­cy Activities

Vir­tu­al Sto­ry­telling Series

A nation­al study shows that stu­dents who do not read pro­fi­cient­ly by the end of third grade are four times more like­ly to drop out of high school. The Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion is ensur­ing that doors are open for children’s suc­cess today and tomor­row. Said McDougall, “We are all about mak­ing read­ing and writ­ing fun and inspiring.”

The Children’s Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion is head­quar­tered in Water­bury, VT. For more infor­ma­tion vis­it https://clifonline.org or email Dun­can McDougall, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, at duncan@clifonline.org. You can also reach out to Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor Eri­ka Nichols-Fraz­er at communications@clifonline.org. CLiF’s phone num­ber is (802) 244‑0944.

4 Responses to Children’s Literacy Foundation

  1. Avatar
    jenbryantauthor April 9, 2021 at 9:16 am #

    Won­der­ful sto­ry and awe­some pro­gram. I’ve sent books to my cousin in VT, who works as a teacher’s aide and she has told me how impor­tant they are to these families!

    • Avatar
      Darice Bailer April 10, 2021 at 11:36 am #

      Jen,
      Thank you for send­ing your won­der­ful books to your cousin to share with young read­ers in her school. I nev­er real­ized that there were so many schools, libraries, chil­dren and com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try so des­per­ate­ly in need of the brand-new out­stand­ing children’s books being pub­lished today. I hope that Dun­can McDougall and his Children’s Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion will inspire oth­er authors and car­ing peo­ple like you to help get books into the hands of these chil­dren and their families!

  2. Avatar
    David LaRochelle April 9, 2021 at 12:52 pm #

    What a won­der­ful, inspir­ing pro­gram. Thank you for shar­ing this, and bright­en­ing my day with the good things that peo­ple are doing in this world.

    • Avatar
      Darice April 9, 2021 at 1:15 pm #

      Thank you, David. I was so impressed by what this one man, Dun­can McDougall, has tried to do for all these chil­dren, par­ents and schools. He want­ed these chil­dren to love read­ing and have the same oppor­tu­ni­ty for suc­cess that he did! We need more peo­ple like him.

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