Reaffirming his advocacy of children’s literacy, James Patterson announced on Monday that he is offering every sixth grader in the New York City public school system a free copy of Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. Co-written with Chris Tebbetts and illustrated by Laura Park, the 2011 novel from Little, Brown launched the Middle School series, which has 7.5 million copies in print. Patterson delivered news of the donation on the Today show on June 23, and attended an event that afternoon at the East Side Community School in Manhattan, where New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña made an announcement about the giveaway.

The city’s middle-school principals were given the option to accept the donation for their school, and 75 percent opted in, bringing the total number of students receiving a free book to almost 45,000 in more than 300 schools throughout the five boroughs. The publisher has shipped the books to schools to arrive before June 26, the last day of the school year. Earlier this month, Patterson made a similar offer to administrators in the Chicago public school system, which resulted in a 28,000-copy book giveaway.

“I’m always trying to figure out what to do next to put a reminder out there, to parents in particular, that it’s really crucial that kids read during the summer,” said Patterson of the initiative. “New York City really cooperated in a significant and impressive way. Getting books into kids’ hands is so important, as is convincing kids that books are cool, as are people who read them.”

Fariña reinforced Patterson’s message of the importance of summer reading. “Our students’ academic development does not stop when school ends,” she said in her speech. “We know that in the long term summer reading is critical in enabling our students to succeed both in and out of the classroom, and this donation will help [them] do just that.”

June 23 also marked the date of the fourth annual James Patterson dual laydown, when Little, Brown publishes two novels by the author – one adult and one children’s – on the same day. This year’s releases are Invisible, a thriller co-written with David Ellis, and Middle School: Save Rafe!, another collaboration with Tebbetts and Park, in which the series troublemaker protagonist at long last learns to be a leader.

The author hopes that fans of the Middle School series will add this latest installment to their summer reading lists, and that his donation sparks an interest in reading for those less inclined to pick up a book. “I feel as though we’ve made a start, and are shining little lights on the importance of reading,” he said. “Hopefully, more people will get out their own flashlights, and that light will become all the brighter.”