Boston Book Festival Announces Shelf Help Winners

Two local schools get an exciting boost to their library and visits by renowned children’s authors Jerry Craft and Juana Medina. 

The Boston Book Festival, in collaboration with Wondermore, is excited to announce two Boston public schools have won our highly competitive Shelf Help grant for 2020. The grant helps two school libraries fill their shelves with 50+ brand-new books of their choosing—many of which are crowd-donated by BBF festival-goers. In addition, the winning schools are each treated to a memorable visit by a well-known author or illustrator in conjunction with their festival appearance. Read about one of last year’s school visits here.

This year’s awards went to the Rafael Hernández K-8 Dual Language School in Roxbury and the English High School in Jamaica Plain. “We were very moved by the applications this year,” says BBF’s executive director Norah Piehl. “The BBF launched Shelf Help five years ago when we saw a massive need for kids to be able to access more books by authors who looked like them and whose stories were relevant for the times. So many school libraries lack their own resources and the books are quite out of date. And although every year we hear stories of how essential books are to kids, in this time of pandemic and remote learning, it has become more relevant than ever.”

Check out the Hernández School’s wish list and English High School’s wish list or go to BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box.

Visits by renowned author-illustrators

The Hernández School will enjoy a virtual visit by celebrated kids’ author and illustrator Juana Medina in October during the Boston Book Festival Online, which will run from October 5–25. Medina is the author and illustrator of the Pura Belpré Award–winning chapter book Juana & Lucas, as well as for Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas, 1 Big Salad, ABC Pasta, and Sweet Shapes.

Students at the English High School will be treated to a memorable virtual visit by Jerry Craft, a New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator who has worked on numerous picture books, graphic novels, and middle grade novels, including the Newbery Award–winning graphic novel, New Kid. Jerry is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award–winning syndicated comic strip. He has won five African American Literary Awards and is a cofounder of the Schomburg Center’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival. 

Last year, students at the Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury were treated to a visit from author and illustrator Brendan Wenzel.

“We are thrilled here at English High to receive the 2020 Shelf Help grant from the Boston Book Festival. Our students will be excited to see all the new books. To have Newbery and Coretta Scott King award winner Jerry Craft visit us in October will be a joy and a fantastic way to get everyone talking about reading,” says Dave Barry, the English High School’s librarian.

School shelves in need

The author visits and the book donations will be a big boost to these libraries. At the English High School, Barry, who moved to his new position this year after many years as an English teacher, says that the school had not had a licensed librarian in three years. He is excited about the new collection, which he curated with his diverse student population in mind. “Fifty current, high-interest books would go a long way to helping our collection be more current and attractive.” 

Ana Carolina Brito, principal of the Rafael Hernández School, is similarly excited about the award, especially this year. Brito says that when the pandemic hit in March, she and her staff started filling bags for their students with whatever they could find from the school—from pencils and paper to the school’s already modest collection of dual-language library books. The school is an English-Spanish school. 

With some quick thinking, Ana Carolina Brito, principal of the Rafael Hernández K-8 Dual Language School in Roxbury, collected bags from local grocery stores and started filling them with everything the school had, including their stock of dual-language books.

“We were afraid of the amount of screen time they would have to endure because of remote leaning, and wanted to provide meaningful alternatives,” Brito wrote in her application. “As a result, when we come back, we will find that our already limited supply of bilingual materials will be vastly diminished. We regret nothing in giving books away, but find ourselves seriously challenged because BPS’s funds are frozen this spring, and we do not have the funds to re-order essential material.” 

Help these schools reach their book goals

In this unique year, when students have been learning remotely and spending lots of time at their computers, we are more excited than ever to help the English High School and the Rafael Hernández School rebuild and expand their collections. Both schools have set up wish lists for the public to buy books directly for them. The Boston Book Festival will also be working with its partner publishers on book donations. 

“Winning this grant will be an incredible opportunity for us to rebuild a contemporary, culturally responsive bilingual library for hundreds of students to access,” says Brito. “We are overwhelmingly grateful to be able to curate titles with authentic texts, a wide range of authors of color, and themes that are relevant and responsive to the new world our children are entering into.”

Help us fill their shelves! Check out the Hernández School’s wish list and English High School’s wish list or go to BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box.

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