Shelf Help Program: Connecting Kids and Books in Under-Resourced Schools

2023 Winners

Sarah Greenwood School in Dorchester with author Juana Martinez-Neal

Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester with author Erica Henderson

At the Boston Book Festival, we’re serious about reading and how books can change lives. We also know that access to books—especially those that connect culturally, socially, and emotionally with young readers—is not always available, especially to kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The reality is that many area schools lack the resources to update and expand their collections to meet kids’ interests and to reflect their diverse student bodies. Many shelves are simply left empty.

We aim to change that.

In 2017, BBF launched its Shelf Help partnership program, a community-driven, kid-focused initiative aimed to expand a love of reading in children and young adults. To this end, the BBF, in collaboration with Wondermore, a local nonprofit dedicated to inspiring young readers, developed a competitive annual grant program for two Boston-area school libraries to receive:

  • brand-new, high-quality, and culturally relevant books to fill school libraries in an effort to draw in more readers, to increase the number of books in schools that often have little or no funding for new collections, and to ensure that books are meeting the needs and interests of the students in that particular school
  • a memorable school visit by a celebrated children’s or YA author or illustrator curated by Wondermore’s experienced team seasoned in school visits

This defines the Boston Book Festival’s overarching mission in that it provides:

  • an opportunity to witness a collaborative approach that draws on the resources and expertise of the Boston Public Schools’ Library Services, publishers, authors, festival-goers, and the broader community
  • a truly unique experience to last a lifetime that takes kids beyond the solo experience with a book and brings it to life with an author in a communal setting

Together, the firsthand experience with an author and the new collection of books help reinforce the school library as a place of wonder and discovery. Young people can explore words, pictures, and ideas that stretch their hopes and dreams for themselves in exciting directions.

Past Winners of the Shelf Help Partnership for School Libraries


UP Academy Holland in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood and Malden High School hosted awesome in-person sessions with authors Clariel A. Ortega, Rose Bousamra, and Malindo Lo.


Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston and Chelsea High School in Chelsea, received visits from amazing authors Jason Chin and Saraciea J. Fennell.


Rafael Hernandez Dual Language School in Roxbury and English High School in Jamaica Plain were treated to virtual sessions from Juana Medina and Jerry Craft!


Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury and TechBoston Academy in Dorchester were treated to visits by celebrated BBF authors Charlotte Nicole Davis and Brendan Wenzel. Read about an author visit to the Orchard Gardens Pilot School for K–8 grades in Roxbury. One student exclaimed, “This is the best day ever!”


The Martin Luther King, Jr. K–8 School in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood was granted the Shelf Help partnership and filled their bookshelves. Kids enjoyed a very special visit from award-winning author Meg Medina before her public BBF appearance on October 13.


In 2017, the Curley K-8 School in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood was the BBF’s first Shelf Help partner school. After several years without a school library, a dedicated team of parents and other volunteers raised funds to reopen the library that fall. The grant continued to build on these efforts with donations by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Young Readers, HarperCollins, and Candlewick Press. Wondermore also brought award-winning author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe to the Curley for a school visit the day before his public BBF appearance on October 28. Then further your delight by checking out this Q&A with Wondermore about why they believe school visits by beloved authors are so important.

You Can Help Bring Books to Kids in Need

The Shelf Help program is largely funded by the generosity of the Boston Book Festival community to help us purchase as many books as possible for these under-resourced school libraries.

Donate to the Shelf Help program by visiting BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, enter “Shelf Help” in the “Donation Notes” field, and we’ll make sure your donation is directed appropriately!