The Children’s Book Council is adding a special spin to its celebration of Children’s Book Week 2015 (May 4-10) – and Mother’s Day. The CBC is partnering with the unPrison Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering and mentoring women in prison, while raising awareness of their families’ needs. The new partnership will establish libraries of new children’s books for incarcerated mothers to read with their babies in prison nurseries in 10 states.
Seventeen of the CBC’s member publishers are supporting this initiative, which launches on May 10, by donating 45 carefully selected titles for each library, as well as an additional 15 books for older children to read in prison visiting rooms. The donated books will be paired with simple, interactive reading guides to foster mother-child communication and bonding.
Deborah Jiang-Stein, who was born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother, founded the unPrison Project after spending years teaching writing workshops and telling her life story to women in various prisons across the nation. She is also the author of Prison Baby: A Memoir (Beacon Press, 2014) and has recently completed a picture book story about a girl who misses her incarcerated mother. Jiang-Stein will hand-deliver the books to each prison and will help organize the new libraries.
“Of the 200,000 women in prison in the United States, 80% have children,” Jiang-Stein said. “Reading together can be one of the most powerful ways for mothers and their children to stay connected during a prison sentence, but visiting rooms in prisons are vastly underserved and books are hard to come by. These prison-nursery libraries will fill that void for mothers and their babies.”
Jiang-Stein approached the CBC with the idea of teaming up for the prison library initiative, which is very much in line with the organization’s mission. “We do a lot of diversity-related work, and focus on an underserved population, which obviously overlaps with the goals of the unPrison Project, said Jon Colman, executive director of the CBC and Every Child a Reader. “This program is a very good fit for our organization, and we are gratified at our members’ response. And what could be more perfect than launching this initiative on Mother’s Day, to cap a week-long celebration of literacy?”
Both Colman and Jiang-Stein expressed hope their groups’ partnership will continue. The founder of the unPrison Project said she was thrilled that the CBC and its members shared her enthusiasm for the prison libraries initiative. “There is nothing glamorous about prison, and I’m very honored that publishers have shown an interest in supporting this program,” Jiang-Stein said. “I know that reading is life-changing, and that’s what I’m hoping to do with these libraries. I absolutely hope this will become an annual program. It doesn’t cost a great deal of money, it doesn’t take a policy change, and it’s not rocket science – it’s about a book, and what a difference it can make.”