Tag Archives: literacy

Giving Back: Researching Donation Options

So, as a writer with a handful of short stories and two books in the publication channels, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals as an author.

I want to make a difference in the lives of the kids I write for. I can do that in two ways. I can write compelling stories that help my readers reach their potential, and I can donate a certain amount of my proceeds to the causes I believe in.

The first option seems relatively easy in comparison to the second one. I have spent the last few weeks researching how best to donate to the futures of my potential audience. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it first seems.

In part, I balk at scholarships that have a GPA criteria. There are 1001 of them out there for outstanding students. These kids are already well on their way to success. Instead, I want to make sure the kids who benefit from any money/goods I donate are at risk of not succeeding.

You see, literacy is probably my biggest soap box issue. Poverty, crime and literacy rates are so tightly linked that some states base their need for prison beds on the reading success of elementary students. This is a great American travesty and not the only one out there when it comes to managing literacy.

Eldest Son has severe dyslexia. Completing high school was a struggle. Getting academic scholarships was not in his cards. Yet, according to research, his brain works six times harder to complete educational tasks as a traditional student’s. By rights shouldn’t that entitle him to six times the scholarship money? Alas, however, it is these students who fall through the cracks and end up in jail. The ones we don’t help succeed when it is whithin our ability to do so.

Another part of the equation is that many programs are geographically based. Sure I can donate to the Detroit area where 47% of the population is functionally illiterate. But I don’t live in Chicago. If I’m going to pinpoint a single geographic area, it will be my own.

Yet my neck of the woods doesn’t have a viable charity/scholarship for the individuals I want to help. In fact, my neck of the woods–because it’s small and at the corner of Nowhere and More Nowhere–gets overlooked by nearly all important services. As a whole, we are economically and educationally suppressed and service poor.

Anyway, long story short, I am having a difficult time finding a charity to donate to that hits the demographic I am passionate about: at risk students who could reach their potential if given the chance.

I want to be part of that chance.

Any suggestions?


Tales from My Christmas List

I hate buying gifts just to buy them.

I like when gifts have a meaning and a purpose.  I like when they fit the personality of the receiver.  I love when their potential impact is so much more than a casual glance on Christmas morning during the rush of wrapping paper ripping.

Dear Hubby and I braved the mall on Saturday and found some good deals on clothes for the kids on our list.  But my real shopping success came on Sunday when I found the neatest site EVER online.


I officially swear by it for finding unique gifts.  It’s like having your own personal shopper pointing you in all the right directions.  And much to my delight, many of the shops practice green giving with tons of recycled and handmade gifts that are as beautiful as they are functional.

So what did I get?

My Top 2011 Picks

  • Through Heifer International, my kids will learn that not all gifts are created equally.  If you have expendable cash–even a teeny bit–or your annual gift giving has hit a wall and you find yourself buying simply to buy, please consider this fabulous organization which strives to educate, not just donate.  The money we would typically spend on my extended family will go toward the purchase of animals.  Thanks, Mom, for this great idea.
  • National Geographic Magazine.  Whether you are an itty bitty or a moldy oldy, you can appreciate the beautiful pictures and the enlightening stories found within the covers of a variety of National Geographic choices.  And it’s cheap.  Seriously.  A year subscription to one of the most gorgeous and educational magazines out there is $15.   And you can order online. 
  • Step Into Reading books for beginners.  These amazing books cater to any literary taste and reading ability.  Nonfic is hugely popular with boys (sharks, bugs, whales, dinos) while the classic Biscuit books and Amelia Bedelia are great choices for girls.  And the best thing?  When you shop at Barnes and Noble, you can quickly add a Step Into Reading book to your purchase which then gets donated to local children in need.  How cool is that?  During the buying frenzy, you won’t even notice the missing $3.00, yet the child receiving a brand new book of their own will be eternally thankful for your generosity.
  • Teen Pics are a bit trickier, but I’ll share my purchases with you.  Both my big kids are rounding out trilogies this season or starting new ones based on beloved authors.  Dear Daughter: Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, as well as Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick.  Eldest: The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima.  Next up for him, the first novel in the Seven Realms series, also by Chima.
  • And if I haven’t mentioned it enough, Want to Go Private by Sarah Darer Littman is the must have book for teens this season.  If you’ve never heard of it, check out my #WTGV tab for reviews and your chance to win a free copy.  Think it’s only for girls?  Think again.  I’ve had several boy readers tell me this was a great book and that everyone should read it.  “Everyone,” was the recommendation from a non-reader who just got snookered into it because I bug him so much about reading.  He finished it in three days.
  • Discovery Channel dot com is AWESOME for educational toys that challenge little brains while keeping them so busy they don’t realize they are learning.  Lots o’ great gifts were found there for the nieces and nephews.   Additionally, puzzles are known for their role in honing fine motor manipulation and practicing preliteracy skills.  Melissa and Doug (brand of nicely crafted wooden toys) make fabulous puzzles for tiny fingers while places like Discovery Channel and National Geographic have amazing educational puzzles for expanding minds.
  • Lastly, JC Penney’s online turned out to be a rockin’ place for finding unheard of deals.  For the little Rembrandt in the family, we found a fully loaded art desk for a fraction of the price.

Another online site I found, I liked, but didn’t buy from was Build A Dream Playhouse.  This ground floor business (started by a daddy and his posse of tiny testers) provides unique cardboard creations for hours of imaginative play.  Castles, snack shops, vehicles and more are all a click away.

All in all, I’m much more satisfied this year with our Christmas purchases than I usually am.

How goes your Christmas battle?  Are you finished or just getting started with your shopping?    Please share any fun, unique sites with the rest of us, as well as any gift buying tips you may have for those less jolly about commercialized Christmas giving.

Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

I have a few soap box issues.  Namely child welfare and literacy.  Now, child welfare is a pretty big soap box and can include things like food, shelter and literacy, which means I very likely have stacked my soap boxes on top of each other.  Not a good thing if I ever need to climb down.

Which is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I am finally getting off my soap box and doing something about the things I believe in.


This could be my biggest soap box issue and likely stems from Eldest’s struggles with dyslexia.  It could also be from watching adults settle into a life of poverty and crime because they never reached their potential due to their own struggles with reading.  Or, it’s possible that my desire for a literate world is due to the fact that I’m a writer and firmly believe that everyone deserves the pleasure of escaping into a good book.

Regardless of why, I have a big literacy soap box.

 A Few Horrifying Facts

  • Libraries recycle their books that they unshelve or that don’t sell at book sale fundraisers.  Last year, my local library recycled three pallets of books.  Recycled, not recirculated.  As in trashed.  Never to be read again.  Wasted.
  • Books are expensive.  Yeah, I know.  Even discounted books cost more money than some people have.  In some ways, reading is a luxury.  A rich person’s hobby.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this choice: feed your kids or buy a book?  How about this one: pay rent or buy a book?  Read a book or take a shower?  Jeans or words?
  • Go to the library, you say?  Well, a lot of families living pay check to pay check work when the library is open.  And when they are not working, they are raising children–which includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and homework.  Not to mention, not all towns have libraries.  And not all people have reliable transportation.  And public transit costs money.
  • Illiteracy is symptomatic and genetic.  Okay, not 100% true, but if Mom doesn’t read and there are no books in the house, what are the chances that Junior will read?  If Dad is functionally illiterate and can’t read a bedtime story to Junior, there is no positive behavior for Junior to model.  Literacy, or the lack thereof, is a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty and crime are linked to literacy levels.  Pages of statistics support this.  I would like pagest of statistics to celebrate the success of communities sharing literacy, instead.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m getting off my soap box.  Right now.  I’ve finally put my brains to good use and said, “Self, who has the least access to books?”

To which I answered, “People who can’t afford them.”

And where will I most likely find people who can’t afford to read?  At the food shelf.  If you can’t buy milk, you sure as heck can’t buy a book.

So, how did I get off my soap box?  I spoke with the director of our local food shelf about putting a bookshelf in their building.  I have a gorgeous oak bookcase that has nowhere to reside in my home.  It will look stunning filled with free books.

Additionally, I have boxes of books in my basement that I’ll never read again.  Hardcover and paper back alike.  Romance, mystery, thrillers, poetry, memoirs, westerns, YAs, middle grade, adult…all just sitting there in darkness.  Over the next few months, I will cull them and rebox them to take to the food shelf.  When people come in, they can add some brain food to their bags.

I’ve also talked with our librarian.  After our annual book sale, the remaining, gently-used books will also grace the shelves in the food shelf.  If–if–our food shelf can relocate to a spot big enough to house these books.  But that’s a whole ‘nother soap box and one I’ll be looking into.  If the food shelf fails to be a viable option due to financial/space issues, I have an alternative in mind.

So, dear readers, is literacy a soap box issue for you?  If so, how do you actively address this need?  Share your tips with other like-minded folks.  If you haven’t considered being actively involved until now, what ideas do you have to get off your soap box and make a difference? 

What do you think of the food shelf literacy program?  If you’re willing to contact all the right people and get one started in your area, give us a shout out in the comments.  We’d love to cheer you on!

My challenge for the week: if you are passionate about something, don’t just talk about it.  Get off your soap box and do something.


Readers and Writers Go Green for Literacy

A Heart for Books and KidsThe mantra, “Reuse, Reduce and Recycle,” has become a battle cry for the younger generations.  Going green is a necessity in our high-production world.  But there’s one thing I hope never goes totally green.  Book Production.

I hope and pray that bound books will continue to grace the homes and hands of people across the globe.  Yet, the sad reality is that even now, books are a luxury and not a staple in many houses.  In fact, reading is almost nonexistent in some homes. 

Consider this:

  • Books cost money.  It is virtually impossible to buy a book for under $4.00 now a days.  Many picture books and novels range in price from $7 to $15.  Hardcovers are upwards of $20.  About the only place to still find a $2.00 book is through school book orders.
  • Low income homes–and even many middle class families–do not have expendable cash.  Period.  When rent and food suck up every penny parents make, buying a $14.99 picture book is not high on the priority list.  And until children enter kindergarten, these families are not exposed to book order options.
  • Books require literacy.  Preschool children can not read to themselves.  They need parents or caregivers to read to them. 
  • And when approximately 40 million adults read at a fifth grade reading level or lower, that’s a whole lot of children not getting a bedtime story.  The only way to break the illiteracy cycle is to expose children to books at a young age and keep them interested in the written word as they grow.
  • Books take up space.  Seriously, this sounds ridiculous, but there are homes where space is a precious commodity.  There are also circumstances where space is never your own.
  • Children in large families with small homes simply do not have room to squeeze in a bookshelf.  Personal belongings are few and far between.  Additionally, children in unstable family units–foster care, women’s shelters, house hopping, etc–cannot drag boxes of books with them and often have to leave behind any previous possessions. 

So who suffers?

  • Children in poverty or low-income families.
  • Children in foster care with little or no personal belongings.
  • Children of victims of domestic abuse who are bumped from one household to another.
  • The next generation.

What can we do? 

  • Go Green.  Recycle your gently used or new books to children who do not have the luxury to buy books whenever they are in need of a good bedtime story.  A Heart for Books and Kids has a resource list of places you can deliver your books to ensure they get in the right hands. 
  • Partner with A Heart for Books and Kids and let us know where you will distribute your books.  Be creative with your distribution.   
  • Spread the word.  Tweet, FB or blog about your efforts to GO GREEN FOR LITERACY.  Link back to A Heart for Books and Kids so others can go green too.
  • Learn about literacy.  Check out your local literacy council and find out what you can do to help foster the love of literature in your community.

This FREE project was created by three caring and motivated readers and writers of children’s literature.  TK Richardson is the author of a YA novel, Return the Heart.  Lisa Gibson reads, writes and reviews YA lit.  Jody Wacker is a repped writer of juvenile lit from picture books through young adult novels.  Together, they have extensive professional experience in child-centric careers and all volunteer in community programs that benefit children.  

To learn how you can give the gift of literacy to a child, click on the icon above or visit any of their websites. 

How do you help foster literacy in your life?

Hallucinations, Writing and Literacy

Okay, I officially understand why drug addicts like to get high.  Yesterday culminated in a whopper of a sinus infection.  I used to get them often and was thrilled to be infection free for about seven years.  Unfortunately, sinus infections are like accidently slurping down a cupful of sour milk.  Once you’ve experienced it, you will never forget.

My teeth were ready to fall out, my head throbbed and my cheekbone ached.  Enter a nice pharmacist who gave me the strongest over the counter meds to help ease the symptoms.  Wow, were they strong!

I think I hallucinated in my dreams.  They (take your pick, the dreams or the hallucinations within the dreams) were vibrant, imaginative and filled with nuances that piled up like blankets on a cold winter night.  Amazing. 

Writing is a bit like that.  We come to the paper with unique ideas and layer them with plots, subplots, characters, setting and voice.  In the rough draft stage creativity flows and it’s a little like hallucinating.  Some things make sense, while others seem to pop out of nowhere for the sole purpose of being pretty distractions.

However, hallucinations aren’t the only side effects of taking meds.  My stomach hurts, I’m exhausted and I feel shaky, as if there is a disconnect between my brain and my fingers.  Reality seems just outside my grasp.  Even within my mind, it is hard to focus on any one thing.  I start thinking about dogs and find myself considering the merits of recycling only seconds later.  My world exists in bits and pieces. 

In my writing and in my life, I welcome the return to reality–a place where my head doesn’t ache, my ears don’t ring and hallucinations don’t haunt me.  I would hate to live in a world where I felt high all the time, and I firmly believe people would be less apt to use illicit chemicals if they knew the magic that books held.  After all, drugs are often used to escape one’s reality.

In books, fanciful worlds emerge between the covers.  Colorful characters and sinister settings pull us throught the pages on adventures never before dreamed of.  Intricate plots weave together to make spell-binding stories come to life.  For just a few moments, hours or days, we can slip into an alternate reality with no side effects.

Studies have proven a direct link between literacy levels, criminal activity and poverty.  Drugs are a common component in the lives of illiterate individuals.  These problems compound, perpetuating the cycle between poor literacy and poor living environments.  True escape becomes increasingly more difficult as these life patterns become more ingrained.

Have you considered your part, as a writer, in perpetuating literacy?  Have you participated in, or made plans to participate in, literacy campaigns or programs? 

What can you do on a personal level to create future readers?  Or, is it even our responsibilty to do so?