Left Bank Books, a St. Louis mainstay for 44 years, organized the first River City Readers literacy program in 2009. This summer’s fundraising drive raised $10,000 to buy books and bring authors to St. Louis, and Left Bank tweaked the program to further enhance its impact.
“We’re now concentrating on younger students,” explained Left Bank Books co-owner Kris Kleindienst. “If you don’t feel comfortable reading by fourth grade, it’s really hard.” This fall, the River City Readers Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2011 by Left Bank Books to better manage donations made to the program, will provide books to at least 100 second- and third-grade students in four classrooms in two different St. Louis elementary schools. More classrooms and more schools will be added to the list as the school year progresses and as funds allow. Donations made to the River City Readers Foundation are used to purchase books from Left Bank, which are then donated to the schools and given to individual students, with a nameplate in each book to emphasize that the book belongs to that student to take home and keep.
This fall, each participating student will receive a copy of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown and The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Brown has visited with the students, and Marciano is scheduled to do so as well.
Kleindienst said the program’s goal is to “bring authors and books to the kids who need them the most” in the St. Louis public school system. More than 40% of students attending the city’s public schools live below the poverty line, and the school district is in danger of losing its accredidation. A recent state audit of the St. Louis Public Schools gave the financially strapped district a “fair” rating, but noted that in 2011 and 2012, more than 2,000 students in grades 3–8 received the lowest rating possible on the communication arts section of the Missouri Assessment Program.
The River City Readers program targeted middle-school classrooms in previous years, last year providing nearly 400 students at three public schools with five books each, as well as with opportunities to meet the authors and illustrators of the selected books: Mark Teague, James Dashner, Andy Griffiths, Raina Telgemeier, Eric Greitens, Antony John, and Derek Anderson.
“The impact has been incredible,” Kleindienst said. “Teachers are telling us they’re seeing students go from complete antipathy for reading to being incredibly engaged. It’s made real to them, connecting the writer to the book.”