Interview with Books on Bases’ Janet McIntosh

Books on Bases, a winner of the 2014 Innovations in Reading Prize, provides free books and reading programs to children of military families across the country, helping them to develop a sense of community, stability, and essential literacy skills. Below is our interview with program manager Janet McIntosh.

National Book Foundation: How did you come up with the idea for Books on Bases?

Janet McIntosh: Blue Star Families (BSF) created the Books on Bases program in 2009. The goal of the program is to positively impact military children and inspire a love of reading through free books. Military children face many challenges when a parent serves in the military and many of these challenges affect their education. The Books on Bases program focuses on working with parents and children to enhance literacy skills and create a life-long love of reading. The Books on Bases program was also created as a morale program for military kids, giving them a program full of children-focused events. When a child is dealing with a parent being deployed or separated, it is nice to have an afternoon where you get to be a part of a program designed just for you.


NBF: In your application essay, you write that certain difficult features of the “military lifestyle—long separations, recurring geographic relocations, and frequent school changes—have resulted in greater emotional, behavioral, and educational challenges for military children.” Books on Bases has an obvious educational benefit, but how does reading improve emotional and behavioral issues?

JM: In addition to offering free books for children, Books on Bases is a resource to parents. When a child is dealing with a deployed parent or has been separated from a parent for long periods of time, they can experience a lot of different and often difficult emotions. Some children may act out during these periods because they don’t have a way of expressing themselves. Books on Bases aims to assist parents by giving them a program that will not only boost their child’s morale but also support their literacy skills, helping children better experience their feelings. Children can lose themselves in a book and reading can provide an escape from the everyday challenges. Books on Bases also provides children with fun events where they can connect with other military kids, build new friendships, and have some fun. Being able to interact with those going through similar situations can also be a very valuable resource for a child.


NBF: Can you tell us more about how technology, especially your online reading groups, has helped foster a sense of community for “milkids”?

JM: Books on Bases helps military children stay emotionally connected and educationally prepared. During the summer when most military families move, children often miss opportunities to participate in community summer reading programs. Consequently, BSF created an innovative, interactive online summer reading program specifically for military children, allowing them to take part in a summer reading program virtually, no matter where they are in the world. Children download a reading log, track summer reading, and submit their logs via email or mail. At the end of the summer we recognize the kids through certificates and prizes for all the great reading they did over the summer. Interacting through this online program, children receive a sense of connection with other “milkids” that might otherwise be lost.


NBF: What are some titles that particularly resonate with “milkids” and their families?

JM: Our military children are diverse and so are their tastes in books. Many of our older children were very into popular series, such as the Percy Jackson series, Hunger Games, and the Divergent series. Our younger kids are always fans of Dr. Seuss books and books that involve super heroes or Disney characters, like Cars and the Disney Princesses. We were fortunate to be able to offer children a variety of wonderful books specific to their age group and reading level. The children and their families are also very fond of books that speak to military life. Dr. Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops and Debbie Fink’s The Little C.H.A.M.P.S books have been big hits with military families.


NBF: What was the moment when you knew Books on Bases was having the impact you’d hoped for?

JM: I think we see the biggest impact through the families and their response to the program, especially at events. We have had many families who attend our events and are so appreciative of the free books and the opportunities those books offer their kids. Parents see Books on Bases as a valuable tool for their children and something that can make a true impact on their lives. Another gratifying part of the program is the numerous thank you letters from schools and libraries that have received Books on Bases book donations and are better able to serve their local military families. There is a need in our communities, and it is very rewarding to know that Books on Bases is making a real impact in the lives of our military children and families.