Between 2005 and 2007, author James Patterson gave away more than $600,000 to promote literacy through his annual PageTurner Awards. But when he noticed that his own elementary school-age son had become a reluctant reader, he decided that there had to be another way to get children excited about reading.
October marked the soft launch of his newest PageTurner project, ReadKiddoRead.com, which replaces the awards. By December, with almost no fanfare except for a mention in an interview with Al Roker and an ad in People magazine, the site attracted 20,000 visitors. It brings together reviews for books for newborns to teens, interviews with bestselling children’s authors like Jeff Kinney and Rick Riordan, and a book blog with reading lists by children’s literature consultant Judy Freeman, author of Books Kids Will Sit Still For.
“One of the best ways to get kids reading is to find books they love,” says Patterson, describing the philosophy behind the site. “There are millions of kids who’ve never read a book they liked. I always say that if movies were taught in school and they started with Ingmar Bergman, we wouldn’t like movies.” His goal is to get kids reading by helping parents and educators choose books they won’t want to put down.
So that visitors to the site aren’t overwhelmed by too many choices, Patterson has narrowed the number of featured books at any one time to a maximum of 200 titles, ranging from pop-ups like Marion Bataille’s ABC3D (Roaring Brook/Porter) to Sherman Alexie’s YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown). To keep the site fresh, Patterson hired Freeman to contribute 20 book reviews a month and to serve on the board. Other board members include Kyle Zimmer of First Book, Mark Nichols of the American Booksellers Association, Little, Brown senior executive editor Andrea Spooner (Patterson’s editor for his Maximum Ride and Daniel X series), and two other Little, Brown execs, Michael Pietsch and Megan Tingley. “Originally it was suggested that we get ‘names,’ ” Patterson says. “I said, ‘We don’t have to complicate this.’ This is my whole approach to life.”
Freeman describes ReadKiddoRead.com as “the coolest thing on earth,” saying she enjoys having autonomy to highlight what she regards as the best books for kids. “They’ve never said, ‘Don’t put that book in’ or ‘Do more Little, Brown books,’ ” she notes. In fact, if anything the site skews to publishers other than Little, Brown. Currently, there are about 140 featured titles, and only six are from Little, Brown.
Nor are visitors to ReadKiddoRead.com pressured to buy. The number one option for those who do want to get a book is Library Finder. There are also links to Amazon, the chains, IndieBound, Target, Walmart and Books-A-Million.
“I’m not claiming all the good books are here,” says Patterson. “ReadKiddoRead.com is successful if it helps a bunch of people.” Based on the feedback on the site’s community page, it’s starting to do just that. As Matt Ferraguto, director of communications at Reach Out and Read posted, “I’ve recently discovered your website and was delighted by its message and book recommendations.” As for Patterson’s son, he’s not so reluctant any more. He read a dozen books last summer, including To Kill a Mockingbird.