In Third Year, Book Rich Environments to Reach One Million Free Books Distributed

In 39 sites across 22 states, the National Book Foundation’s Book Rich Environments program will surpass one million books donated by publishers and distributed in public housing communities

Launched in January of 2017, the Book Rich Environments (BRE) initiative aims to foster life-long, joyful relationships between readers and books in communities nationwide by providing resources that reinforce local efforts to combat lack of literary access, often termed “book deserts.” The national program is a collaboration between the National Book Foundation, which serves as lead partner, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Urban Libraries Council, and the National Center for Families Learning. By the end of 2019, BRE will have provided over one million free books to families living in public housing authorities (PHAs), distributed in partnership with local libraries, community centers, and PHA staff across the U.S.

This unique program works with HUD-assisted communities to strengthen home libraries, facilitate book-distribution events, and provide the information and tools to establish long-term connections between families, literature, and literacy resources.

“We work year-round to make sure that all kinds of readers, all over the country, have the resources and the encouragement to help form meaningful, lasting relationships to literature” said David Steinberger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “We couldn’t do this work alone, and it’s been amazing to be able to offer our support to the outstanding teams at local libraries and literacy organizations, who work tirelessly to serve their communities.”

With book contribution commitments from seven U.S. book publishers (Candlewick Press, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster), BRE will this year surpass one million free, high-quality, diverse books distributed to children and families in HUD-assisted communities. From Alabama to Colorado to Massachusetts, BRE programming will once again take place in regions across the country. Three new sites, in Louisville, Kentucky, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, will be joining for the first time, bringing the number of local partnerships up to 39 sites in 22 states.

“When we launched the Book Rich Environments program, we had this big dream of giving away a million brand-new, great books, which at the time felt like this enormous, daunting goal,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “With the help of our incredible partners, we have been astonished at what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past three years. One million books is just the beginning for us.”

Each local public housing authority partner pledges to hold at least three book-distribution events at which the publisher-donated titles make their way into the hands of children and families. These events are held at public housing buildings and community centers, with local library branches facilitating giveaways, coordinating library card signups, and sharing information on literacy resources available to families. Past events have included building a pop-up library in administrative offices, hosting holiday events that couple festivities with book distributions, and even PHA staff visiting residents door to door to pass out titles.

Books available at BRE book-distribution events include both English and Spanish language titles for readers ages 0-18. Titles by beloved children’s and YA authors such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle, Roald Dahl, Matt de la Peña, and R. J. Palacio will be distributed, as well as titles by National Book Awards–honored authors like Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate Milford, Angie Thomas, Louis Sachar, and Maurice Sendak.

With a focus on providing free books, programming, and vital connections to local resources, BRE seeks to make long-lasting impact within PHAs, helping to create sustainable book rich environments where literature is accessible and celebrated within the community. All participating BRE cities and counties can be found below.


Phenix City, AL

Phoenix, AZ

Chandler, AZ

Contra Costa County, CA

Fresno, CA

Los Angeles, CA

Marin County, CA

San Diego, CA

San Joaquin County, CA

San Mateo County, CA

Stanislaus County, CA

Boulder, CO

Sarasota, FL

Tampa, FL

Nampa, ID

Pocatello, ID

Fort Wayne, IN

Topeka, KS

Louisville, KY

Cambridge, MA

New Bedford, MA

Springfield, MA

Anishinaabe Reservations, MN

Kansas City, MO

Billings, MT

Durham, NC

Lincoln, NE

New York, NY

Akron, OH

Cincinnati, OH

Portland, OR

Brownsville, TX

Harlingen, TX

Houston, TX

Gregory, TX

San Antonio, TX

Roanoke, VA

Tacoma, WA

Washington, DC


National Book Foundation Awards $10,000 Innovations in Reading Prize to West Philadelphia Alliance for Children

The National Book Foundation recognizes WePAC and two honorable mentions with a total of $13,000 in prize money to support innovative literary work.

Foundation recognizes WePAC and two honorable mentions with a total of $13,000 in prize money to support innovative literary work

The National Book Foundation announced the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) as the winner of the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize, a $10,000 prize annually awarded to an individual or organization that has developed an innovative project that creates and sustains a lifelong love of reading.

In addition to the winner, the Innovations in Reading Prize also identifies honorable mentions each year. This year, two honorable mention organizations will be awarded with $1,500 each to recognize their work. The 2019 honorable mentions are Oakland International High School and Word Up Community Bookshop.

Launched in 2004 as a response to the closing of school libraries in Philadelphia, WePAC works to mobilize nearly 200 volunteers to reopen and staff libraries in the area, serving more than 5,000 students and promoting positive reading habits with weekly library programming and special events. WePAC was chosen as the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize winner from a pool of 142 applications. In support of its mission and work, WePAC will receive $10,000 from the National Book Foundation.

“The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children is incredibly humbled and honored to receive the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation. At WePAC, we know that stories can stoke curiosity, inspire reflection, and enhance a child’s understanding of the world around them. With school libraries in our city no longer functioning, WePAC volunteers have worked tirelessly to revive these spaces and bring stories to life for children that are too often left falling behind. This award from the National Book Foundation underscores the importance and value of reading for all children, and we are grateful to be this year’s recipient.”

—Anisha Sinha, Executive Director of WePAC.

With a focus on supporting literacy development, closing the gap between the resources available to Philadelphia public school students and those in neighboring districts, and sharing the joy of reading through the offering of high-quality books and programs, WePAC approaches each school library reopening with the goal of providing regular, sustainable library access for students. Working in under-resourced schools, WePAC coordinates the stocking of library books, the staffing of each location with committed volunteers, and the programming of special events that connect kids with authors, illustrators, local professionals, and others able to speak to the excitement and power of reading, highlighting the importance of literacy skills for future success.

“Access to great books and literacy resources is an imperative, but one that is too often not met. West Philadelphia Alliance for Children saw a need in the community and stepped up, throwing remarkable efforts behind a simple belief: that kids deserve access to school libraries. The passion that staff and volunteers bring to their work is making a difference in the lives of thousands of young people, and we are honored to award WePAC with this year’s Innovations in Reading Prize.”

—David Steinberger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation

Applications for the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize comprised a wide range of programs working to build and fortify strong literary communities, and this year’s honorable mentions reflect those efforts. Oakland International High School (OIHS), whose student body is made up entirely of newly arrived immigrant and refugee students, partners its junior class with local elementary school students for a specialized reading curriculum that encourages the critical analysis of texts while also providing a comfortable space for high school students to sharpen their English, reading, and comprehension skills. Seven Stories Institute’s Word Up Community Bookshop is a volunteer-run, multilingual community bookshop and arts space in Washington Heights, New York City that works through literature to spark dialogue, cultivate education, and inspire community in neighborhoods without easy access to books.

Past winners of the Innovations in Reading Prize include Little Free Library, Barbershop Books, and, most recently, the Teach This Poem, program of the Academy of American Poets.

The announcement of the Innovations in Reading Prize was made by Bustle, and you can read that coverage here. More information about the Innovations in Reading Prize can be found here.

Second year of “Notes from the Reading Life” series coming to NYC libraries

Second year of “Notes from the Reading Life” series coming to NYC libraries – The 2019 season will bring Brian Lehrer, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sonia Manzano to NYPL branches in Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx 

The 2019 season will bring Brian Lehrer, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sonia Manzano to NYPL branches in Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx 

Launched last year as a collaboration between the National Book Foundation and The New York Public Library, with support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Notes from the Reading Life is a discussion series that brings prominent New York City readers to library branches across the boroughs to share some of the books that excite, inspire, and guide them.

Following the 2018 season which included appearances by Tim Gunn and Desus Nice, the 2019 Notes from the Reading Life events will feature WNYC mainstay Brian Lehrer in Staten Island, renowned actor and Editorial Director of SJP for Hogarth Sarah Jessica Parker in Manhattan, and beloved Sesame Street actor Sonia Manzano in the Bronx. The series will pair each featured guest with a writer or literary figure who will help lead a discussion on the formative role of literature in their lives, the joy of great books, and the memorable reads that have stuck with them, continuously sparking inspiration and excitement.

Kicking off the series at Stapleton Library in Staten Island, WYNC’s Brian Lehrer will be in conversation with Karan Mahajan, author of the National Book Award Finalist The Association of Small Bombs. At Tompkins Square Library, Sarah Jessica Parker will sit down with Fatima Farheen Mirza, whose novel A Place for Us was the first book published by Parker’s imprint with Hogarth, and who also serves as a teaching artist with the National Book Foundation’s BookUp program, which pairs middle grade students with authors for after-school reading groups. Rounding out the season, Sonia Manzano, best known for playing Maria on Sesame Street for over 40 years, will appear at the Bronx Library Center with Angela Yee, host of the syndicated radio talk show The Breakfast Club and a current NYPL Ambassador.

Event information is below, and additional details and registration links can be found at the NYPL website.

JUNE 11, 7:00pm
Brian Lehrer, Host of WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show
In conversation with Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs
Stapleton Library, 132 Canal Street, Staten Island


JUNE 13, 6:30pm
Sarah Jessica Parker, Actor and Editorial Director of SJP for Hogarth
In conversation with Fatima Farheen Mirza, author of A Place for Us
Tompkins Square Library, 331 E 10th Street, East Village


JUNE 17, 6:30pm
Sonia Manzano, Sesame Street Actor, Writer, and Speaker
In conversation with Angela Yee, NYPL Ambassador and host of The Breakfast Club
Bronx Library Center, 310 E Kingsbridge Rd, Bronx