Young children’s literature owes its beginnings to an intrepid “book teacher”

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She became Westminster’s “book teacher,” then adopted her methods in Atlanta Public Schools as a volunteer. Every Monday, Westminster gave her the day to read and share books at an elementary school in a poor Atlanta neighborhood.

Others wanted to help, and soon she had a cohesive group of book-loving adults who sat with small groups of children, reading and talking about literature. Nix invited children’s authors to speak and started book collections so students could take home their favorite titles. She said reading scores had increased and reluctant readers had emerged.

“If you have a person who knows books, who goes with the same children for several years, you can turn children into book lovers. And a book lover will find his own way in life. That’s all you need,” Nix said.

After being persuaded to bring her methods to Kenya, Nix spent years traveling in Africa, teaching and helping build libraries. She founded Children’s Literature for Children 40 years ago to continue these efforts. The mission of the association is to put good literature into the hands of children who do not have access to books.

Children’s literature volunteers have been reading with students and building book collections at Atlanta Public Elementary Schools for four decades, said principal Debbie Green.

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Kemi Nix reads with pre-kindergarten students at Atlanta Public School. Nix founded Children’s Literature for Children 40 years ago to provide quality books to students, schools, libraries and hospitals. Courtesy of Children’s Literature

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Kemi Nix reads with pre-kindergarten students at Atlanta Public School.  Nix founded Children's Literature for Children 40 years ago to provide quality books to students, schools, libraries and hospitals.  Courtesy of Children's Literature

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Kemi Nix reads with pre-kindergarten students at Atlanta Public School. Nix founded Children’s Literature for Children 40 years ago to provide quality books to students, schools, libraries and hospitals. Courtesy of Children’s Literature

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COVID-19 temporarily halted classroom visits, but volunteers spent an hour every Wednesday reading and sharing books with second graders at Scott Elementary School before the pandemic.

“We also help them figure out what kind of books they like,” Green said. She said emerging readers often don’t know what kinds of books exist, and teachers don’t have time to focus solely on books and authors with such a busy class schedule.

“We’re happy to introduce them to different genres, like crime novels or funny books,” Green said.

While waiting for the pandemic to end, the group is stocking a classroom library and giving students goodie bags with crayons, stickers and books.

“It’s a way to introduce books to an underserved community, share a love of books and get them excited about reading,” said Jackie Wallace, a Westminster parent who has volunteered with the program for four years.

“It is such an enriching experience to have a relationship with these little children. When we walk in, they jump up and shout, “Westminster, Westminster.” And then to see them years later in the halls as CM1 students. It’s really, really special,” she said.

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Volunteers with children’s literature for children with Library Mouse books from the nonprofit’s library collection. Courtesy of Children’s Literature.

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Volunteers with children's literature for children with Library Mouse books from the nonprofit's library collection.  Courtesy of Children's Literature.

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Volunteers with children’s literature for children with Library Mouse books from the nonprofit’s library collection. Courtesy of Children’s Literature.

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Children’s literature also remains active in Kenya, having built 13 libraries, each with a water collection system so that students can have fresh water to drink. Additionally, the non-profit organization provides donated books through reader-to-reader drives in the metropolitan area. Green said she has 100 boxes of gently used children’s books awaiting shipment.

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One of Kenya’s libraries, built and stocked with books by Children’s Literature for Children. Photo courtesy of Children’s Literature for Children

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One of Kenya's libraries, built and stocked with books by Children's Literature for Children.  Photo courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

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One of Kenya’s libraries, built and stocked with books by Children’s Literature for Children. Photo courtesy of Children’s Literature for Children

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Reader-to-Reader encourages children to donate their books to others. “They really love it, picking out the special books that they’ve passed. It’s a wonderful program,” said Green.

A Reader-to-Patient program brings books to children’s hospitals in Atlanta and Mississippi. He was also sidelined due to COVID-19.

Nix grew up in Decatur as a prolific reader who always wanted to be a teacher. Among her favorite authors was Carolyn Haywood with her Betsy and E. Nesbit series, “The Railway Children.”

While Nix is ​​still active in the association, she no longer goes to classrooms and, at age 80, she has decided to “officially retire” from education.

“The program has just been blessed and has grown tremendously,” Nix said. “Once it started, it exploded. So I guess it’s providence.

Nix alumni reach out to her frequently, expressing the difference she has made in their lives with a love of reading, Green said.


WHAT IS INSPIRING CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Twice nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, a Swedish global award promoting every child’s right to great stories and books.

To visit childrensliterature.org/ for financial donations or to donate gently used children’s books, K-8.


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