In a continuing effort to strengthen early literacy, combat Covid-19 related learning loss, and prevent summer slide in Tennessee, the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation, based in Nashville, has announced that it is broadening its successful K–3 Home Library program to now serve all rising first, second, and third grade students statewide. This summer, GELF, in partnership with Scholastic, will deliver 1.2 million books to more than 200,000 students, teachers, librarians, and media specialists in 152 school districts in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties. As a result of this expansion, 50,000 more books will reach roughly 40,000 more students and teachers than in 2022.

Beginning this month, a package containing six age-appropriate books and additional evidence-based literacy resources will be delivered to the homes of all K–3 Home Library participants, at no cost to either the families or the school districts. Each student enrolled in a participating school district was automatically signed up for the program, though families could opt out. GELF’s Educator Advisory Council—a group of 28 diverse educators from across the state—selected this year’s books. The 2023 list of 24 titles includes Frog on a Log by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field; The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field; Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho; and Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton.

On June 8, James Pond, president of GELF, and Rose Else-Mitchell, president of Scholastic Education Solutions, were on hand to officially launch the program at Nashville’s Norman Binkley Elementary during a special event where author Lester Laminack performed a celebratory read-aloud of his picture book Three Hens and a Peacock.

“If we don’t get reading right, everything else can go wrong,” Pond said in a statement. “Our goal is to promote a culture of reading in Tennessee by meeting students where they are with the books and resources they need to become lifelong learners. We are honored to work together with school districts, charter schools, and the Tennessee General Assembly to build home libraries statewide, and we hope other states look to us as a leader in collaborative early literacy efforts. It’s more than books. It’s the future of Tennessee.”

Tennessee has forged a number of initiatives and legislative efforts in recent years to improve early literacy, and the K–3 Home Library campaign has become the largest distribution effort of its kind statewide. The program’s goal of getting books into kids’ homes over the summer falls in line with years of research that has repeatedly shown that access to books is a significant factor in helping children maintain or improve their reading skills over the summer break. According to the eighth edition of the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, more than 40% of kids say that most of the books they read for fun are from their school or classroom library, an option that’s not available to them when school is closed.

New data indicate that Tennessee’s literacy efforts, including K–3 Home Library, are getting results. Last month, the Tennessee Department of Education reported substantial gains in the most recent statewide tests of third-grade reading proficiency: 40% of third-grade students scored proficient in 2023, up from 34.7% in 2022.

This is the fourth year that GELF and Scholastic have partnered for the K–3 Home Library campaign. Since its inception as a pilot program in 2020 with 30,000 participating students, K–3 Home Library has grown 528% and has delivered more than 3.1 million books to the homes of more than 509,000 elementary school students and teachers in all. This success was a driver in GELF and Scholastic’s decision to expand the K–3 Home Library program this year. Else-Mitchell noted in a statement that Scholastic is proud to carry the partnership forward. “This collaboration reflects our shared mission in enriching the lives of all children with the power and joy of reading,” she said. “We want all students to be equipped through the school year as well as the summer with stories that engage their hearts and minds and knowledge that opens the world to them.”