A children’s bookseller has launched a nonprofit children’s literacy organization that aims to put books into the hands of every child in three counties north of San Francisco. Copperfield’s Books children’s specialist Patty Norman has created the Bookstormer Foundation as a way to coordinate resources that will ensure that children’s authors can give readings and workshops at schools with low-income students and provide a book for every child.
An 18-year veteran of independent bookselling, Norman is the latest in a growing number of booksellers bridging the gap between publishers, indies, and educators by ensuring that Title 1 schools—where at least 40% of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch—can host authors of popular new releases in the classroom.
As the bookstore’s school events coordinator, Norman currently coordinates between 70 and 80 author visits to local schools annually for Copperfield’s, but Title 1 schools have often been left out. “The problem is that the store can’t send them to schools where the kids won’t buy books, but they can’t buy books,” said Norman.
“Knowing that kids need books, I was trying to figure out a way to make it work,” she said. The challenge was to create an incentive to make it possible for the bookstore, publisher, and author to arrange a visit. “I felt I was perfectly positioned to do something about it.”
As a nonprofit, Bookstormers can accept tax-deductible donations, which will make it easier for local community members and companies to make charitable gifts. The organization can also more easily access federal funds that are distributed to support literacy efforts in Title 1 schools. In order to maintain some separation from the selection process, the Bookstormers’ board will guide decisions about which schools to visit.
Norman had been concerned with the issue of providing books for students in need for some time, but a school visit from author Margaret Stohl last fall persuaded her to launch the nonprofit. In advance of her tour, Stohl asked Norman if any of the schools she would be visiting were Title 1 schools and, if so, how many students would be in attendance. Norman replied that one school was a Title 1 school and that 160 students would be present for the reading. To Norman’s surprise, Stohl then bought a copy of her own book to give away to every student.
“They listened to her presentation, polite but detached,” Norman said, but when they each received a copy of their own book, everything changed. “Their surprise and delight when they realized we were giving them each their own books, and their immediate connection to her, to her story, and their grins as they flipped through the books as they waited to meet her and get their books signed, spoke volumes. They belonged,” she said. “They were connected to the story and its author.”
Bookstormers officially launched in August. On September 10, Norman will host her first event with Simon & Schuster authors Pam Berkman and Dorothy Hearst, who will read from their series At the Heels of History” Inside of each book, students will see a bookplate designed by illustrator Shawn Harris that sends a message Norman wants every student to know. “This book belongs to [student name] to keep—forever.”
Already, Norman has run a soft launch event, delivering books by Alice Kuipersto students at a Title 1 school the day after Kuipers appeared at a local reading elsewhere. Norman read to the students and after telling them they would each receive a copy of Kuipers’s Polly Diamond, she said she was overcome by the power and promise of the work ahead as students sat on the floor and read. “One girl just stood,” she said, “hands clasped over her mouth.”