Reading Leaders



Meet the 2015 Anne Hazard Richardson RIF Volunteers of the Year! Every year we’re proud to honor RIF volunteers who have blown us away with their commitment to bringing the joy of reading—as well as the self-confidence that come with it—to children in their communities.

Read their full profiles in our press release.


VOYA-2015-MairaMaira Burns, McAllen, Texas
English Language Arts Coordinator, McAllen Independent School District

Maira knows what RIF books can mean for children and families in her community.

“Many teaching tools use experiences of things our kids are not really familiar with, like snowboarding or skiing,” she shared. “When they saw arroz con leche in a RIF book, parents were making it at home to bring to class! It’s huge for our kids to see that other people have the exact same experiences that they do.”

The best part, she says, is seeing children select books to read to their younger siblings. “They’re becoming pioneers of literacy in their own household.”


VOYA-2015-JJJustina Johnson “JJ” Head, Northern Virginia
Vice President of RIF of Northern Virginia

For JJ, RIF means family. After the birth of her first child, JJ left teaching but still wanted to contribute to her community. So when her mother—a RIF volunteer at the time who still serves on the board for RIF of Northern Virginia today—suggested volunteering for the entirely volunteer-run RIF of NOVA, JJ jumped at the opportunity. But starting as newsletter editor over 20 years ago, she could not have guessed how her relationship with RIF would grow.

“It’s so special to the kids. You think they love TV and video games, but this is so important,” she says. “These kids hand it down to their siblings. Entire families have libraries because of RIF.”


VOYA-2015-WandaWanda Dawson, Bayboro, North Carolina
Superintendent, Pamlico County School District

Wanda knows how powerful books can be. Pamlico received its first RIF books and activities after Hurricane Irene in 2011. “It devastated the county,” Wanda says. “RIF was the perfect program because people had literally lost everything. But they had the books.”

Wanda jumped at the chance for Pamlico schools to participate in a two-year RIF research study that put new RIF books in classrooms and provided children with several books to take home and keep. Now that the study has concluded, Wanda has involved the entire community in an effort to collect books to continue to give to every k-5 student before summer break. “We have children that live 35-40 miles from the library,” she says. “It’s hard to get there over the summer, and even if you can you have to choose between using gas to go to the library or for Daddy to go to work.”


VOYA-2015-EllenEllen Halliday, Brooklyn, New York
RIF Coordinator, Brooklyn Public Library

The Brooklyn Public Library has been with RIF for over 35 years. Ellen has been RIF Coordinator for Brooklyn Public Library for nearly 15 of those years. “Because we’ve had RIF for so long, we have parents who bring their kids in, and the parents were RIF kids, too,” Ellen says. “They’ll travel to find RIF.”

The Brooklyn Public Library serves the borough’s 2.5 million residents. “One of the legacies of RIF,” Ellen says, “is when we come up with new programs, we try to build in money for books that children can keep.” Currently, two additional programs include a “books for ownership” component: Ready, Set, Kindergarten!, which shows parents and caregivers what they can do to help their children’s literacy development, and Read! Write! Create!, a comic-book making workshop for children.


Celebrate with us!

The Volunteer of the Year Award winners will be recognized at our Z IS FOR MOOSE Gala in Washington, D.C. on May 19. Join us!


posted by

No comments

Nick Baron Grammarly

by Nikolas Baron at

Five Ways to Make Grammar Fun for Kids

They don’t call it “grammar school” for nothing. Learning grammar—those pesky parts of speech, irregular verbs, even word order and punctuation marks—is an essential part of education.

Even though it’s a vital skill to master, it’s sometimes hard to get kids excited about learning grammar.

Grammarly has been developing good grammar-checking software for academic and professional settings. Through their research, understanding, and experience, here are our five recommendations for making grammar education a little less painful and maybe even—gasp!—fun.

Keep It Real
Bring grammar into the real world by incorporating text from magazines, blogs, popular books, graphic novels, cartoons, and even song lyrics. If examples from textbooks are often dry and out of touch with the interests and problems of modern kids, look instead to see if you can find the subject or the verb of the first line of a favorite song or tweet. How about identifying the adjectives that describe a favorite cartoon character? Use examples from graphic novels to look for differences among, say, the “its” family: it’s or its. Grammar and grammatical applications are all around us!

Play with Words
Grammar doesn’t have to be serious. Encourage your young learners to experiment with puns and other wordplay, writing their own silly stories, and playing with Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blank games. “All this is play in the sense that it is free of the burden of the reader’s final judgment, but it helps students gain fluency, flexibility, and precision,” says Brock Haussamen, author of Grammar Alive!

Bite-Sized Pieces
Try breaking grammar instruction into mini-lessons that tackle one rule at a time. We’re fond of the “Let’s eat Grandma!” meme that teaches the importance of comma placement in direct address and items in a series. The idea is to master one small grammatical point—for example, misplaced modifiers—preferably using memorable examples like this classic: “This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.” Have some fun with that one and then move on to another mini-lesson.

Make It a Game
Gamification is the technique of applying the principles that make games addictive to other activities. You can turn learning into a game by devising your own “level up” and rewards system (perhaps based on the mini-lessons above), or you can check out one of these games. Play on!

Start with the Concrete
Little children naturally progress from concrete to more abstract. When babies learn to talk, their first words are typically words they can see or do: baby, bottle, doggy, Mama, Dada. So follow this natural example from speech: start with things children can see (nouns) and do (verbs). Add from there. What colors are the things children see? How many? What kind? Those three questions produce adjectives! No need to make children cry by beginning with the differences among the two/to/too family yet. Start with the concrete and build from there to include traditional grammar as a part of learning!

What are your tips for teaching grammar to kids? Share your thoughts in the comments!

by Nikolas Baron

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in elementary school, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at Internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

posted by

No comments

Girl Power!


Each year, Women’s History Month celebrates the contributions of women, weaving their stories into our nation’s history. With the books below, you can go one step further. Women across the globe have made and continue to make an incredible impact on their countries and on our world. Use the books below to introduce your girls and boys to women who defied norms to make discoveries, create art, and ultimately change the minds of people around them.  These stories and others like them teach kids the value of determination and self-confidence when chasing their own dreams.

 amelia_zora Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee, Megan Halsey and Sean Addy (illustrators)  – Your A-Z guide on female artists, explorers, inventors, and activists who made an important impact on our world.
 mattie Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully – Meet “the Lady Edison,” a woman who was already wearing out her toolbox with inventions at the age of twelve and went on to create and perfect the machine that makes the square-bottom paper bags still use today.
 wangari Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter – When Wangari discovers that many trees across Kenya have been cut down and that the soil is no longer fertile for crops, she gathers the women of her village together to bring back the beauty of their home, one seedling at a time.
 Halloweenblog2-rosie Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty – Rosie loves inventing all kinds of machines, devices and solutions, but it can be discouraging when they don’t all work as she wishes they would! Join Rosie as she learns an important lesson from her great aunt and finds the inspiration to keep inventing.
 summer_birds Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, Julie Paschkis (illustrator) – During the Middle Ages, everyone” knew” that insects were evil and came from the dirt. But Maria wasn’t so sure. See how one girl disproved an ancient theory through her dedication and powers of observation.
 little_sap Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin by Michelle Lord, Felicia Hoshino (illustrator) – In this beautiful work of historical fiction set in Cambodia, little Sap joins the royal dance troupe to support her family and learns that she is much more than a just a girl from a poor village.
 amelia_eleanor Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Brian Selznick (illustrator) – Based on an actual night flight shared by Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, this story highlights the friendship and mutual respect between two powerful, independent women.
 mrs-harkness Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, Melissa Sweet (illustrator) – When her husband passes away during an excursion to China, Mrs. Harkness makes up her mind to continue his expedition.
 yasmin Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina, Doug Chayka (illustrator) – Set in Bangladesh, Yasmin works hard in the brickyard to help support her family, but dreams of going to school and changing her life. Will her secret plan bring her closer to her goal?

posted by

No comments

Q&A: Andrea Beaty


Ever dreamed of asking a favorite author about her books? What she loves to read and where she gets her ideas? Children at Irwin Elementary School in North Carolina had the opportunity to interview Andrea Beaty for their school’s Mustangs Broadcasting Network. Tune in and see what they learned!


Andrea Beaty is a computer scientist/technical writer turned author of books for children, whose books Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer have been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for over six months.

On this visit, we brought Andrea to three elementary schools to speak with 1500 RIF kids about science, math, engineering, American history, and books! We were also joined by Senator Richard Burr’s district representative Janet Bradbury and the Fort Bragg Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Emily Marsh.

If you don’t know these books yet, you owe it to yourself and the children in your life to check them out or add to your personal family library!

Thanks again, Andrea!

posted by

No comments

February of Friends


What better time than Valentine’s Day to talk to young ones about friendship? Each of the books below deals with different aspects of friendship and comes with activities to enhance the experience before and after reading.

If you get through the whole booklist, we have even more fun and friendly activities for you to enjoy with your Valentine this month.

 wings Wings by Christopher Myers – Ikarus Jackson is bullied for having wings, but one girl finds the courage to quiet the bullies and make a new friend. Dreamlike collage art brings this fresh take on a familiar schoolyard tale soaring to new heights.
zisformoose Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, Paul O. Zelinsky (illustrator) – Moose may be a little overeager to be in the alphabet lineup, but Zebra’s forgotten to include Moose at all! Can Zebra fix this mess before the whole alphabet is ruined?
owenmzee Owen & Mzee told by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, Peter Greste (photographer) – When a young hippo is separated from his family after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, he looks to a older tortoise for warmth and companionship. When the tortoise accepts the hippo, a true story stranger – and sweeter – than fiction unfolds.
oneofus One of Us by Peggy Moss, Penny Weber (illustrator) – Roberta wears her hair straight up, loves climbing the monkey bars, has a flower on her lunchbox, and wears running shoes. Will she fit in at her new school?
 enemy_pie Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, Tara Calahan King (illustrator) – Dad has a secret weapon for getting rid of enemies: Enemy Pie. But one of the ingredients is spending an entire day with the enemy!
city_dog_country_frog City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, Jon J. Muth (illustrator) – City Dog befriends Country Frog. Expressive watercolors convey the changing of the seasons of the year, as well as how the seasons of life affect relationships.
 boy_bot Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, Dan Yaccarino (illustrator) – Boy loves Bot. And Bot loves Boy. But some fundamental differences between the two cause a lot of confusion and concern! Can they find a way to still be friends?


posted by

No comments

Read and Remember



February is a time to remember and celebrate the black individuals and events that have helped shape our country. Make sure to look into African American History Month events at your locals museums and libraries, and check out our favorite books for the month. Each of the stories highlighted below is a true tale, or based on fact, and can be used to illustrate different points in the history of African Americans:

ruth_and_the_green_book__jpg Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss, Floyd Cooper (illustrator) – While Ruth’s story is fictional, The Green Book that helped a generation of African Americans navigate the Jim Crow South is a piece of our history many may not know about.
 henrys_freedom_box Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, Kadir Nelson (illustrator) – This true story focuses on one of the Underground Railroad’s most famous runaway slaves and the ingenious idea that brought him to freedom.
Melba-trombone Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Frank Morrison (illustrator) – Melba Doretta Liston was a jazz virtuosa at a time when it was unlikely for a woman of any race to arrange, compose, and play music.
more_than_anything_else More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby, Chris K. Soentpiet (illustrator) – Young Booker T. Washington wants to learn to read, but he must spend his days laboring with his father at the salt works. How will he unlock the secrets he knows the books hold?
nobody-owns-the-sky Nobody Owns the Sky by Reeve Lindbergh, Pamela Paparone (illustrator) – Daughter of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Reeve Lindbergh uses rhyme to share the story of “Brave Bessie” Coleman, the first licensed black aviatrix in the world.
twice_as_good Twice as Good by Richard Michelson, Eric Velasquez (illustrator) – William Powell was enchanted by golf from the time he was a child but wasn’t allowed to play because of the color of his skin. Find out how he makes his dream a reality.
touch-the-sky Touch the Sky by Ann Malaspina, Eric Velasquez (illustrator) – Inspire young minds with the story of Alice Coachman, who went from fashioning a high jump with sticks and rags to sailing over crossbars in London to become America’s first African American Olympic gold medalist.
philip Philip Reid Saves the Statue of Freedom by Steven Sellers Lapham, Eugene Walton, R. Gregory Christie (illustrator) – Philip Reid, a skilled and enslaved African American, is the only hope when craftsmen working on the U.S. Capitol building are faced with a complicated puzzle. As he works on the Statue of Freedom, he can feel freedom just around the corner for himself and all other enslaved Americans.
matthew_henson I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer by Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator) – Matthew Henson was born to sharecropper parents, but would not settle for an ordinary life. How far would he go to defy the odds and reach the North Pole?

posted by

No comments

Millions of Books


We’re joining McDonald’s to kick the year off with books! From January 9-22, McDonald’s will offer one of four favorite children’s books in every Happy Meal for over 17 million books for children and families across the country. Through a new collaboration with HarperCollins Children’s Books, kids and families will be able to enjoy four classic titles. Each book comes with a fun activity designed just for this special promotion.

On top of that, McDonald’s is giving 100,000 Happy Meal books to bring the joy of reading to kids in RIF programs that don’t have easy access to books. We’re feeling pretty happy about that!

Even lunchtime can become a fun learning opportunity for young children. Our President and CEO, Carol H. Rasco explained, “we need to reach families where they are,” and McDonald’s is a comfortable atmosphere for many families. “Parents are there to talk and laugh and have fun with their children,” and this month they can do so with some our of favorite children’s books.

Here are the books that will be in Happy Meals nationwide this month:

If_you_Give_a_Mouse_a_Cookie If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, Felicia Bond (illustrator): Ever wondered what happens if you give a mouse a cookie? This  circular story of a boy and an insatiable mouse will delight any child!
 bignate Big Nate: In a Class by Himself (abridged) by Lincoln Pierce: Ever had a day that didn’t go your way? While’s Nate’s bad day takes place in middle school, even the youngest children will laugh through the book.
petethecat Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Kimberly and James Dean: Pete the Cat’s not feeling so great when he wakes up… until a pair of magic sunglasses shows him how to find his good mood and do the same for his friends.
stanley Flat Stanley Goes Camping by Jess Brown, Macky Pamintuan (illustrator): Take a trip to remember with Flat Stanley! When he and his little brother decide to make their own fun on their family camping trip, they find themselves in the middle of more adventure than they’d bargained for!

posted by

No comments

A Birthday Wish


sebastianRIFWhile many of us are caught up in closing out the year, I was recently impressed by a boy who’s already looking forward to the next one. A few weeks ago, Sebastian contacted us with an idea. In January, he’ll turn six. “This year, instead of getting birthday presents,” he told us, “I want to help other kids read.”

Sebastian’s an avid reader, currently hooked on the Magic Tree House adventure series, and he wants to help us give books to the kids who need them most. He may only be five going on six, but he loves reading and knows the joy it will bring to children just like him.

For me, Sebastian’s birthday wish was a reminder that each of us has the power to make a difference. Please join me and Sebastian this holiday season by supporting RIF’s work to get books to more kids who need them.

posted by

No comments

Kappa Cheer


kkg1The RIF office is full of holiday spirit as we’re all enjoying this time of giving thanks and giving back. One thing we’re especially thankful for this holiday season? Our 10-year partnership with Kappa Kappa Gamma and their tireless work to give the gift of reading to children in need nationwide. In 2014 alone, Kappas donated more than $83,000 to RIF, putting more than 33,000 books into the hands of children who otherwise would not have a book to call their own. These Kappa women support the RIF mission through countless local efforts to inspire children and raise funds for new books.

A few months ago, the Kappa chapter at the University of Iowa got wind of our recently launched Kappa-inspired resources — featuring books and activities centered around Kappa themes like friendship and community service, and featuring Kappa symbols like the owl — and sprang into action, ordering titles for the children they’d be serving at their upcoming Reading Is Key event.

Last month, they hosted a wonderful literacy celebration at the Melrose Daycare in Iowa City where their members spent time with children sharing the importance of reading and encouraging family reading time at home. In small groups, the Kappas and children read some of the great RIF books they brought with them. The best part? Each child got to take a RIF book home to own and keep! The chapter fundraised for the initiative through their Kappa Kones event earlier in the year, which featured free ice cream, face painting, and balloons for Iowa City children, with all donation proceeds going to the purchase of RIF books.

Also a roaring success, the Northern Virginia Alumnae Association of Kappa Kappa Gamma recently held their first ever Holiday Marketplace with proceeds to benefit RIF.  With over 15 vendors and a raffle for door prizes, they had a great turnout for this festive afternoon and raised enough money to help us provide more than 430 books to children in need! On tap next for this group is their February Reading Is Key event where they’ll continue their efforts to spread the love of reading to underserved children in their community.

We are so thankful for great partners in our literacy mission and appreciate our Kappa friends near and far for all of the wonderful ways they support RIF! Join Kappas across the country in supporting RIF this holiday season. When you make a gift to RIF by December 31, you donation will be matched up to $115,000.

posted by

No comments

Our Book Traditions


C.Rasco_0047-5x7A recent survey found that only one in three parents reads bedtime stories with their children every night. This figure was astonishing to me, not only as the president and CEO of the largest children’s literacy nonprofit, but also as a mother and grandmother who has built enduring family traditions around books.

Every December, my daughter sets up her family Christmas tree and the first items placed underneath it are dozens of holiday books acquired starting in her childhood. Each story holds memories from every year we’ve celebrated together, and the collection continues to grow as I add new books for my grandchildren under the tree. And following the additional tradition of my grandparents and parents, each child in my family receives at least one book every Christmas, one chosen oh so carefully for the recipient.

While I love customs of all kinds, I also know that the reality for too many children is that book traditions like ours remain out of reach. Research shows that literacy among our nation’s youngest readers is strikingly low. The fact is, many families in poverty have no books in their homes at all.

But we can change that. At RIF, every day we are working to bring books and high-quality literacy support to the children who need it most. We go through thousands of children’s books every year to find the ones that will be the most engaging and educational for young children. Then we make sure they’re reaching the children who most need the kinds of materials that will not only build their basic skills, but motivate them to dream beyond what they’ve seen and write their own best futures. Since 1966, we’ve given over 412 million books to more than 40 million children, and with your help we will continue to inspire the next generation of readers.

You can start your own family traditions by passing down holiday-themed books that represent your culture and others, or simply by giving books to those in need. Encourage kids to put down their video game controllers and TV remotes down for an evening in favor of a family read-aloud. For me, there is nothing more sentimental than seeing my grandson flip through the pages of a book that I once held in my hands and passed down to his mother.

Three books in particular have become a beloved part of my tradition, and reading these stories is a fun and meaningful experience for me and my grandchildren every year.


The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laurel Long – This book might be my favorite rendition of this familiar song with its dazzling illustrations, and interesting facts and imagery.
 cranberryxmas Cranberry Christmas by Wende Devlin, Harry Devlin (illustrator) – Get ready for some fun with a skating pond and an old sea captain named Mr. Whiskers. There’s even a cranberry cookie recipe in the back!
smellofxmas The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry, J.P. Miller (illustrator) – Little Bear sniffs a variety of Christmas scents in this scented  story, and readers can scratch and sniff their way through the tale, too.

Every child deserves memorable reading experiences and books to cherish as they grow up. I hope that this holiday season, and throughout the New Year, we will be able to reach even more children so more families can enjoy reading together. Help us make that possible. Make books – and spreading the joy of reading – part of your family tradition.

Happy holidays,


posted by

No comments