Reading is FUNdamental

When my kids were small, I was very active in the Home and School club, like the PTA without the national clout behind it. This school was one where white faces were very much in the minority, where my two enrolled in Spanish as a Second Language by just walking into the classroom. Which is, I will say, a very effective way of teaching a kid how to be a citizen of the world.

This being a rural, agricultural area, a lot of those Spanish-speaking kids were the children of farmworkers, and a lot of them were poor. Many of them would be the first generation of their families to graduate from middle school, much less high school. A fair percentage of the students had parents who couldn’t read, in any language.

Into this setting comes the RIF program. Because so many of our kids were low income, three times a year, Reading is Fundamental would truck in masses of books, and let each and every student in the school choose one to take home. To keep. For their very own.

My two, of course, were a bit blasé about the idea, since by the time they entered school their rooms had groaning bookcases of their own. It was difficult to get across to them that some of their classmates not only had no bookcases, they had no books. None. Until RIF came to town.

I loved to volunteer for RIF days, just to watch the kids. We would start the day by setting up the tables in the cafeteria, laying out the (mostly) cheap paperbacks by reading level, debating each time about the placement of Spanish language books: should we put all of those together, or mix them in with the others? Some years we did it one way, some the other, it didn’t seem to matter much. And then we would stand back, and the teachers would begin bringing their classes.

The older kids, of course, were old hands at this, and made right for the thick books, wanting as much heft as they could get. Dictionaries were especially popular, even though some of us RIF moms (very few dads volunteered for RIF days) would gently ask if they wouldn’t rather have a story book. Each student would be given fifteen minutes or so to choose one book, then would bring it to us and we would either have them write their name, or write it for them, so as to save arguments in the classroom later.

And off they would go, high as kites and clutching their books to their chests. To take home. To read on their own, or to their parents.

It was the younger kids who would make a hardened volunteer mom get a little choked up. Kindergarten and first graders would be ushered in, rather confused, and stand staring at these objects strewn around, nose-height to them. The teacher would explain, usually in two languages. The students’ eyes would get big, and they would look at each other doubtfully. Books sure, they understood books in the classroom or even in the library, but mine? For me? To carry home? To put my NAME in?


Now, you know there’s going to be a point to this post, don’t you? Yes. And here it is: The federal budget proposed by President Bush for 2009 will eliminate RIF. Sixteen million books won’t go to low-income kids. Sixteen million times, a ten year-old boy won’t gleefully snatch up a two inch-thick paperback Spanish-English dictionary as the biggest book on the table. Sixteen million times, his six year-old sister won’t fall in love with Steven Kellogg’s silly drawings, and read them over and over. Sixteen million times, a moment of joy that opens a door won’t happen.

Please go to the RIF page and take a couple minutes to contribute an email request to Congress, or print their form to write a paper letter of your own. RIF is important, to five million of the kids who need it most. It doesn’t cost much, when it comes to Federal programs, and it makes a huge difference.

For me, please? And of course, for them.

The address is

or here

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  1. LaideeMarjorie on February 9, 2008 at 11:12 am


    Ah, the tears running down my face after reading your entry. If it werent’ for reading, well, I honestly don’t know how I would have survived to this point. Books have been there for me when noone and nothing else was. So thank you for this and for all of your volunterr work on behalf of reading on all fronts. I immediately went to the RIF site and I am happy to say that my message has been sent to:

    George W. Bush (R)
    Richard B. Cheney (R)
    Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT)
    Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT)
    Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3rd)

    So, it’s a start.
    Thanks again,

  2. bani on February 9, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Oh, that is terrible. Of all the things to cut from the budget. Hm, I doubt the congresspeople are interested in letters from non-US-citizens abroad, sadly, but if they are swayed by international opinion let me know and I’ll sign too.

  3. KarenB on February 9, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Grrrrr! I could go on and on about military funding and educational funding, but I think we’re all pretty much on the same page here. I’ve sent my e-mails off. Thanks, Laurie, for alerting us to this travesty.

  4. Strawberry Curls on February 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    This brought back such lovely memories of my time as the head of the PTA library at my son’s elementary school. Seeing young children awaken to a love of books was well worth the hours I volunteered while still holding down a full time job. I was young and had the energy to not sleep much in those days and have never regretted one moment of lost rest from that time.

    I join you in the fight to stop this by sending my letter from the RIF website. I have also linked this page to a posting on the Letters of Mary Website and asked all there to read your blog entry and to join in the fight. Here’s hoping together we can stop this.


  5. fsutemb on February 10, 2008 at 12:00 am

    I am so glad you posted about this. I hadn’t heard and headed right over to send my letter to the two Florida Senators and Rep. Cliff Stearns, along with the President and VP. Reading is so fundamental to learning and yet we continue to find ways to keep children from learning to read.

    I think I’ve always wanted to read. The story goes that I quit the first day of first grade because not only didn’t they teach me to read, but they didn’t even give me a book. My poor mother really didn’t know how to handle that and as luck would have it we were living at my grandmothers with my aunt (my mother’s sister) and her 3 sons while my grandmother recuperated from a nasty fall that was supposed to have kept her from ever walking again. My aunt, ever the pragmatist, took me to school the next day and told the teacher to please give me a book, any book, or she wouldn’t be able to get me to go back a third day. Thankfully the teacher loved her job and children that wanted to learn and gave me a book. I doubt I’ve been a day without one since then.

    Hopefully enough of us as readers can change some minds.

  6. vicki on February 10, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Good idea about the LoM link, Alice! Maybe we can all post links to this blog entry on other virtual gathering places we frequent, or send the link to bloggers who might be interested. I’ll do that, myself. I would think that most book-oriented sites and bibliophiles would love to spread the word about this. Many of us became book-lovers early in life, after all, and probably still have some of our favorite books that we owned as children. I certainly do, and those dear tattered things would be some of the first inanimate objects I’d rescue from a burning house. We need to fight for RIF.

  7. vicki on February 10, 2008 at 8:39 pm


  8. vicki on February 10, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    test 2

  9. Roxanne on February 11, 2008 at 10:42 am


    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I have gone to the RIF website and sent off emails to the members of Congress.

    Also, I have forwarded your blog entry to all of the library staff members here at Swarthmore College (that’s at least 6 libraries). I am sure that my coworkers, too, will be moved by the eloquence of your words and horrified by (yet another) travesty caused by the Bush administration.

    Thank you,

  10. liqthemoon on June 20, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    What is it about me, that the category of “Rants” seemed immediately appealing? I just recently started reading your blog (after enjoying ALL of your books) and had to check to see exactly what had you ranting.

    This one left me teary, for sure.

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