Do you remember how much you loved having stories read to you when you were a child? Do you have fond memories of being lost in the pages of your favorite picture book from the comfort of a caregiver’s lap?

Many children are fortunate enough to have this experience daily to enrich their early years. But in Portland, there are children newly arrived with their asylum-seeking families who lack access to the solace of stories read to them. Thanks to Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County, this will change.

When several members of Literacy Volunteers heard about the needs of these children, they began to organize a children’s book drive among themselves. Since then, book donations have started to pour in from other Literacy Volunteers and community members, including Left Bank Books and Bella Books.

Two Portland-based partners will assist in the distribution of books to asylum seekers: The WIC (Women, Infants, Children Nutrition) program provides board books at WIC appointments with families in need, and the Book Fairy Pantry Project maintains a regular collection of gently used children’s books to share with food pantries and other outlets serving families in need.

Why does this book drive matter? Reading aloud to children helps their brains grow. Numerous studies have shown that this is the single most important activity to foster early literacy skills, including language development, vocabulary, understanding how language is used in books and fostering an awareness of the world. (Kasten, Kristo, & McClure, 2005).

Reading aloud to older students is no less important, even if children can already read for themselves. According to the Book Fairy Pantry Project website, the number one indicator that children will arrive at kindergarten ready to learn to read is regular exposure to lots of books along with being read to daily from birth.

“For these children fleeing hardship and brutality in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, the gift of books will help them prepare for American schools in several keys ways,” said Denise Pendleton, coordinator of Literacy Volunteers.

“It will help them develop their own bilingual skills while also introducing them to American culture. Of equal importance is the often overlooked benefit of fostering social and emotional skills. In the case of these children, exposure to the stories and beautiful illustrations within high quality picture books may help them overcome the trauma of their long journey to Maine.”

Literacy Volunteers hopes other community members will want to join this effort to provide the pleasure and power of children’s books in helping these families successfully navigate the next steps of their journey. Gently used or new books are welcome. Board books and/or wordless, multicultural and bilingual books are especially prized.

Because Portuguese, French and Lingala are the languages spoken by the most recently arrived families, bilingual books featuring these languages are recommended. Literacy Volunteer Dr. Wendy C. Kasten, Kent State University professor emerita, additionally recommends predictable, patterned language books that are easy to read. Examples include Bill Martin books like "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" or Eric Carle books like "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

Those who wish to purchase new books online can have them sent directly to the Portland WIC office (190 Lancaster St., Suite 310, Portland, ME 04101). Those who wish to donate used books or to purchase books locally to donate may drop books off at the Literacy Volunteers office, located in the Belfast Adult Education Learning Center at 6B Lions Way by Friday, July 19. Volunteers will deliver them to Portland from there.

To find out more or to participate in this book drive initiative, contact Denise Pendleton at 338-3197 or