Books upstage politicians

Launch: For children, stories and their characters are a bigger attraction than senators promoting Book Bank donation program.

June 27, 1999|By Georgia N. Alexakis | Georgia N. Alexakis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Under normal circumstances, any U.S. senator might have felt upstaged by a pair of bears and a monkey.

But when Curious George and the Berenstain Bears interrupted Sen. Slade Gorton Thursday morning on the East Lawn of the Capitol, the Republican from Washington graciously yielded the spotlight.

Gorton was there to help launch Book Bank, a national book donation program, and who better to get about 40 children excited about receiving free books than the book characters themselves?

"This is what it's all about, watching the surprise and excitement in the children's eyes as they realize that reading does make a difference," said Gorton, who, along with his state's other senator, Democrat Patty Murray, had just finished reading a book to the youngsters.

The Capitol Hill event marked the beginning of a coordinated effort between not-for-profit groups and private industry that is aimed at providing new books to needy children.

Organizers said Book Bank -- a partnership between the Children's Book Council publishers group, the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) and First Book, which works with community literacy groups to provide new books for the needy in hundreds of communities -- creates a more centralized donation system.

"In the past, book publishers would send 50 books here, 100 books there and 20 books someplace else. It was expensive and time consuming," said Kyle Zimmer, president of First Book. "This system allows the publishers to do what they've always wanted to do, give books."

The books will number in the thousands, donated by publishers, shipped and stored by the NSSEA and directed to organizations by First Book.

Most important, Zimmer said, children get new books.

"Kids get enormous self-esteem from new things," she said. "What new things we give them shows them what we value." Some were given away yesterday to children including 9-year-old Deidre Burwell, from a Washington-area before- and after-school program, who were invited to Thursday's Capitol Hill "book party."

"I'm going to take my books home and read them with my family," said Deidre, who was carefully writing her name in one of the books she chose, the classic "Gingerbread Man."

"Everything has been exciting, but getting my book was the best part."

Which means that getting her book topped a tour of the Capitol, speeches by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, meeting Curious George and lunch from McDonald's.

For Carver King, who coordinates the program Deidre is in, that's a sure sign that Book Bank will accomplish its goal of promoting literacy.

"They're really encouraging the kids to read and to think," King said. "They're so excited that the only thing I think I'm going to have to do is make sure they take them home."

Pub Date: 6/27/99

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