Dozens of first-graders from the Starr King K-8 school poured into the Carmichael Library last week, becoming the first of thousands of Sacramento County students to receive library cards and free books to keep as part of a new Book First program at the Sacramento Public Library.
At 9 a.m., an hour before the doors opened to the public, a library table beckoned the 52 students with lively titles such as, “Stink and the Ultimate Thumb-Wrestling Smackdown” by Megan McDonald and Peter H. Reynolds, and “New Year’s Eve Thieves” by Ronald Roy and John Steven Gurney.
“I like superheroes,” said Nehemiah Gamble, 6, explaining why he selected a Marvel book. “This is Captain America.” Not surprisingly, he said he plans to be a superhero. “When I grow up, I’m going to save everybody in the city.”
The program is the creation of the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library, which raised nearly $26,000 during the annual Big Day of Giving campaign this year. That enabled the library system to buy thousands of books to give to first-graders at 110 area schools in which at least 70 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
Books will be distributed to first-graders at participating schools in cooperation with library branches through March. The goal is to cultivate new library users at a young age by encouraging them to check out books and ensuring they have at least one book of their own at home.
Decades of research have shown that students who can’t read at grade level by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school than their reading-proficient peers.
The book giveaway was tried on a smaller scale in recent years at Arden-Dimick Library in Sacramento, where the local friends group and the library staff teamed up to give books to first-graders in five area schools. Margaret Clausen, a Friends board member, said the program earned raves from the children and inspired the countywide campaign.
Rivkah Sass, executive director of the Sacramento Public Library, said she expects Book First to continue for each new group of first-graders.
“We’re very committed to making sure kids start school ready to read,” Sass said.