Shelf Help Program: Connecting Kids and Books in Under-resourced Schools
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 all 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. And 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 and to increase the number of books in schools that often have little or no funding for new collections
- a memorable school visit by a celebrated children’s or YA author or illustrator curated by Wondermore’s experienced team seasoned in school visits
Together, the firsthand experience with an author and the bright, new collection of books reinforce the school library as a place of wonder and discovery and as a center point where young people can explore words, pictures, and ideas that stretch their hopes and dreams for themselves in exciting directions.
Read about an author visit to the Orchard Gardens Pilot School for K–8 grades in Roxbury. One student exclaimed about the day, “This is the best day ever!”
What Makes the Program Unique
We believe the program has three successful elements that ensure it is both robust in strength and scope and locally relevant and impactful. These are three key pieces of the Shelf Help program:
- a carefully curated selection of brand-new books by the librarian in the winning school to ensure books are meeting the needs and interests of their kids in that particular school
- a collaborative approach that draws on the resources and expertise of BBF and Wondermore but also the Boston Public Schools’ Library Services, publishers, authors, festival-goers, and the broader community
- a 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—a magical experience that defines the Boston Book Festival’s overarching mission
Read a Q&A with Wondermore about why they believe school visits by authors are important.
Past Winners of the Shelp Help Partnership for School Libraries
Previous winners of the Shelf Help Partnership include:
Our 2019 Shelf Help partners, Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury for grades K–8 and TechBoston Academy in Dorchester for grades 6–12, were treated to fantastic visits by celebrated BBF authors Charlotte Nicole Davis and Brendan Wenzel.
In 2018, the Martin Luther King, Jr. K–8 School in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood was granted the Shelf Help partnership and filled their bookshelves while 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 Shelf Help partner school. After several years without a school library, a dedicated team of parents and other volunteers has 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.
How 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. Each year, we reach out to festival-goers both at the festival in October and through our social media platforms to help us purchase as many books as possible for these struggling school libraries.
Here’s how you can help: Donate to the Shelf Help program by visiting BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box.
Read more about how school librarians can apply for the Shelf Help grant and the application process.