Successful Written Communications to Make Way for Books

I have always loved children’s literature, so in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, I (and, undoubtedly, most people, right?) can relate with Meg’s character, Kathleen Kelly, when she says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

DurfeyD_SelfPortrait_BookFlower
I love the possibilities that come from pages of a book!

I caught Melinda Englert, the Grant Writer and Communication Specialist at Make Way for Books in Tucson, AZ at her desk when I called. Melinda was probably in the midst of writing one of a multitude of writing projects when she graciously stopped to chat with me over the phone. Make Way for Books (MWFB) is a non-profit organization whose ultimate goal is to help preschool children enter the school system ready to learn so they may have the best start possible in their future educational pursuits.Characters such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, E.B. White’s Charlotte, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda are an imbedded part of my identity. I wouldn’t be the same today if it weren’t for their presence in my childhood. From what I know about Make Way for Books, they ultimately help to provide identity-making opportunities for children.

I consider myself fortunate because I can relate to this quotation from Strickland Gillian:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be.
I had a mother who read to me.

But not all families realize the benefits of sharing books with the children in their lives. Educational consultant to the government, Pie Corbett, says that children who are read to regularly before they start school are most likely to succeed and that is a key predictor in terms of educational success (Williams, 2010). Australian author Mem Fox writes in her inspirational book Reading Magic that “Children who have not been regularly talked to, sung to, or read aloud to from birth find life at school much more burdensome than they otherwise might” (Fox, 2001, p. 15). Tucson-based Make Way for Books is one organization determined to help families incorporate literacy before it’s too late.

“Before it’s too late” sounds like a worrisome exaggeration (or even a myth), but according to Melinda Englert with Make Way for Books, a constraint she faces as a writer is that, “Early literacy is a topic difficult to explain its importance. It’s not so obvious a need, as is hunger.” It’s not a myth; it’s a very real situation that people can no longer afford to ignore. She explains how reading readiness is a very important preparation for school and a person’s entire life, and how reading readiness skills don’t immediately occur to people because the focus is usually on Kindergarten through twelfth grades. She emphasizes that it’s equally, if not more, important for learning to take place before formal schooling begins.

Giving the gift to love reading early on will direct children to an education that is essential for the future—for the individual and for society as a whole. In his book The Essential Drucker, Peter Drucker writes, “Tomorrow’s educated person will have to be prepared for life in a global world,” (291) and advocates of early literacy would agree with him when he writes that the educated person must be involved in creating “mutual understanding, that ‘universe of discourse’ without which there can be no civilization” (294). In order to help children receive the gift of reading, Melinda communicates through writing.

The types of writing especially important to Make Way for Books include grant writing, print newsletters, communication to donors and volunteers so they know of their immense value, and the website, plus an associated website called C2Cbookclub.org (which stands for Cover to Cover), and an app. They are currently working on a new website that’s more interactive expected mid-October of this year. For social media, they are prominent on Facebook and Twitter. They also are on YouTube and Pinterest. Additionally, they are looking into Instagram. They create videos and photos to show what reading aloud looks like since its not necessarily a practiced activity everyone instinctively knows how to do. Melinda says reading isn’t always picture perfect and that’s okay. Reading can take place anywhere: outside, on the floor, in the car, in a shopping cart, anywhere! Make Way for Books’ free phone app provides ideas for reading activities, book titles, and music for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. (Having a four-month old, I’ve downloaded it!)

All of their social media, online, and print efforts build community with the organizations’ many audiences. They work with:

  • educators to provide mentoring and professional development workshops
  • donors and volunteers to keep in touch and show appreciation
  • community members (i.e. via Public Service Announcements to host events at local sites like movie theaters, or through TV and radio spots)
  • the public (those receiving services and those who are not yet)
    • in person to get them involved and keep them informed (i.e. “Raising a Reader” program at apartment complexes)
    • via a website to accommodate the needs of the population who deal with time and transportation barriers

The multiple audiences that Make Way for Books creates written communication for would seem to be the biggest hurdle for them, yet, they embrace the opportunity to reach out to them all wholeheartedly. I asked Melinda how she gets spreads the word about their work. They partner with other organizations like the Pima County Public Library, and make a presence at public events such as the annual Tucson Festival of Books.

In order to prepare Tucson’s children to enter school ready to learn, Make Way for Books focuses on:

  • providing resources
  • empowering families to prepare young children to hold books and know a book has meaning
  • supporting educators so they have tools and confidence

Make Way for Books exists because there are myths this organization is working to overcome. One myth is that kids don’t need to have any reading skills prior to starting school. In an article from ReadingRockets.org titled Ten Myths About Learning To Read, they dispel a myth that children will eventually learn to read if given enough time. “If literacy instruction needs are not met early, then the gap widens…until the gap gets so wide that bridging it requires extensive, intensive, expensive and frustrating remedial instruction.” According to an article in Scholastic.com, “Kindergarten teachers believe that it is their responsibility to teach kids letter sounds and how to write, but they do hope incoming students can recognize most letters by sight. They also hope children can count to 10, identify numbers 1 to 5, and know some shapes and colors.” Teachers will expect the children will be ready to start learning as they have standards to meet. The brain connections to succeed in school start early. An article on the Zero to Three website explains that it’s never too early to start reading with a baby because, “Beginning at about 4 months, babies start to show a focused interest in pictures in a book” which is the first step to interpretation skills. Melinda explains that all parents can help their child with early literacy skills. Make Way for Books works to help people understand the importance of early exposure to literacy and to help them feel confident no matter their situation—financially or educationally. Secondly, people tend to believe that in our education system, you must learn to read in English, but it’s untrue that it’s the only way. Families should absolutely read and share books in their home language regularly.

As for using narrative, Melinda says it depends on the audience and the situation. However, the volunteer readers at Make Way for Books are expert storytellers and use narrative regularly to help convey the words in a picture book in the most enticing and entertaining way. Who doesn’t love to be read to? My husband I read The Hunger Games series aloud together and it definitely was a shared activity we could bond over and then discuss further after seeing the films. It’s a common bond we share now. Craig Smith writes in his book Rhetoric and Human Consciousness,”Since prehistoric times myths and narratives have been used for entertainment, but they also built tribes, cultures, and nations” (p. 20). I could hear the passion Melinda has for sharing the importance of early literacy when I asked her why written communication is important. That’s a loaded question because in regards to literacy it references the shared written word as well as writing to spread the knowledge about reading with children. She paused before saying, “Sharing stories is the way people have always communicated.” That’s the deep-down truth. Building community and sharing the experience together. Melinda explained that it’s not about the numbers, which when looking for support, Make Way for Books shares, but really, she finds that people care about the families being helped. Drucker wrote, “Communication…may not be dependent on information. Indeed, the most perfect communications my be purely ‘shared experiences’ without any logic” (p. 265). Make Way for Books shares success stories and why the support they receive is so important to them. And Drucker supports this as well with, “At its most powerful, communication brings about ‘conversion,’ that is, a change of personality, of values, beliefs, aspirations” (p. 264).

Melinda says that she works to share all three modes of persuasion—logos (reason), ethos (character of organization), and pathos ( a move to action). She says early literacy is important for all audiences. To the business owner, they explain the importance of education and the Heckman Equation which encourages to invest in the children for our future. To the workforce, educated people lead to a better economy. And to the educator, they want students coming to school ready to learn and build on prior knowledge.

Make Way for Books continues to selflessly pave a path for reading readiness in the Southern Arizona community. A couple national organizations that advocate literacy efforts include Volunteers of America, Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS), Read.gov, Reading.org, and Literacy in Learning Exchange. I have a greater appreciation for all of the written correspondence involved in managing such an organization.

References

Arizona Department of Education. (2014). K–12 academic standards. Arizona Department of Education. Retrieved from: http://www.azed.gov/standards-practices/

Drucker, P. F. (2001). The essential Drucker: The best of sixty years of Peter Drucker’s essential writings on management. New York: Harper Collins.

Fox, M. (2001). Reading magic: why reading aloud to our children will change their lives forever. New York: Harcourt.

Scholastic. (2014). Ready for kindergarten: Five teachers tell you what preschoolers really need for next year. Scholastic. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/what-to-expect-grade/ready-kindergarten

Smith, C. (2013). Rhetoric and human consciousness: A history 4th ed. Waveland Press, Inc.

Williams, R. (2010, April). Many parents failing to read to children, survey shows. The Guardian.

Wren, S. (n.d.). Ten Myths About Learning to Read. Reading Rockets. Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/ten-myths-about-learning-read

Zero to Three (n.d.). What do babies think when they look at pictures in a book? Retrieved from http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/school-readiness/qa/what-do-babies-think-when-they-look-at-a-book.html

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11 thoughts on “Successful Written Communications to Make Way for Books”

  1. Dawn,

    Like you, books and literacy (especially early literacy!) are near and dear to my heart. Your post shares so much about Make Way for Books and all of the good things it does. Because there is such a need for efforts like this, both domestic and global, it is encouraging to learn of yet one more way literacy is being supported.

    I have to mention that your formatting is superb. I have to learn to incorporate all the strong features you’ve included in your post! Some of those that stood out for me are: 1) lots of links to external material,
    2) effective use of bullet points, and 3) effective use of spacing. Nicely done! While I’m a consumer of several blogs that I follow–and you would think I’d learn vicariously from those–it takes the actual experience of having to write one to bring home the point. The organization and ease your formatting offers illustrates how the content is enhanced by a favorable reading experience! Thanks, Dawn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dawn, I too, am a huge advocate for literacy and I agree you can never start too early. Did you know that busy beads are actually a toy that begins training a child’s eyes to follow things along like they will when they learn to read? I thought that was such an interesting tidbit I read somewhere. I too, enjoyed, the multiple links given within the post. A few suggestions would be I would start with the quote from You’ve Got Mail, and the information in that paragraph, then move on to what is now the first paragraph. The only other things I noted were you introduced Melinda Englert, and you quoted Carl Drucker…did you Peter Drucker?

    I love Englert’s quote of “Sharing stories is how people have always communicated.” This is so true. I had to write a paper once on when the story began, only to find that it has always been. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Dawn!

    Let me start by saying I love the way you write. Your blog shows professionalism, organization, and creativity. You are also a solid, solid storyteller, and I thought so from your opening paragraph.

    Make Way for Books sounds like a great organization and you did a fine job explaining it. This is especially helpful for readers who have never heard of their services. I appreciate how you included Make Way for Books as a hyperlink. By doing so, your readers can conveniently learn more about the company as their curiosity elevates (and it does because of your great writing)! Additionally, I’m sure MWFB would respond favorably to any attempt that spreads awareness to their cause. As I read your blog I did, indeed, click on the Make Way for Books link, and I was immediately reminded of a paper I wrote a few semesters back. Its thesis: Literacy Begins at Home and Only Continues in the Classroom. After investigating MWFB, I think your chosen non-profit agrees!

    Your second paragraph also had me thinking a few things. You wrote, “I have always loved children’s literature, so in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail staring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, I (and, undoubtedly, most people, right?) can relate with Meg’s character, Kathleen Kelly, when she says, ‘When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.'” Like you and Kathleen Kelly, I grew up with a fondness for books. I get this from my mother who is still an avid reader. She always says, “If you have your nose in a book, you’ll never be lonely.” It is because of this that I called my mother and passed on the quote from Strickland Gillian. Love it! By the way, you did a great job introducing the “You’ve Got Mail” relevance. As someone who has never seen the film–(Go ahead, gasp out loud)–I was still able to follow your blog and receive your intended point.

    I noticed, as well, that you included mention of our class readings with eloquence and relevance. Moreover, you included opinions of other literacy experts, and all your inclusions perfectly fit into your blog. Additionally, you OBVIOUSLY have a keen eye for format. Your usage of callouts, underscores, and bullet points keeps the reader going without a jarring-on-the-eyes effect.

    After reading your blog in its entirety, I am left, really, with only two questions. Firstly, I’m wondering if the image you included of the woman with the flower on the book is of you, Melinda, or, maybe, a younger, more brunette Meg Ryan. Because the picture does not include any words, do you think a caption may be useful? Also, Make Way for Books advertises itself as “The Early Literacy Resource Center for Southern Arizona.” Did Melinda suggest that MWFB may expand, or did your research show any organizations that share similar efforts? MWFB is such a great company with a great cause with great results, I’d love to see them reach more preschoolers!

    Excellent, excellent job, Dawn.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dawn,

    I loved two important aspects of this blog post: the organization and the content. First, your post was formatted wonderfully. I was able to easy read through the information without being bogged down with a wall of text. The links were very helpful so I did not have to research the company on my own. Within the first two lines you were able to make a connection to a popular movie which will gain the attention of others. Overall, you have a great writing style.

    Second, early childhood reading is such an important topic. Parents need to take the initiative to help their children become success in school and after school. It is so true that learning before school leads to a better school environment, and a better education can lead to a better economy.

    My only suggestion would be to add a bit at the end for people who do not live in Southern Arizona. It could have information on how to find similar programs in their own area, or how to become involved themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Dawn,

    What a well written blog post! It was easy to read, while also showing professionalism throughout the entire entry. You also chose an organization that is close to my heart, and many other people’s I’m sure. With all of the recent research and studies on reading comprehension and education, early literacy is something that should be on everyone’s mind. It is not enough to begin in Kindergarten, but get kids involved in reading at the earliest age possible. I would love to know how MWFB gets these supplies to people. Is there some way to work with lower-income families that are in need of support?

    My favorite part of this blog was the beginning few paragraphs where you captured my attention and related this topic to your own experiences as a child. I found this to be very effective to getting the reader thinking of their own lives and relating to the topic before jumping in with more of the facts and characteristics of MWFB. Very well done! I look forward to hearing more about this program in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! To answer your question about working with lower-income families that are in need of support, if you’re still interested, Make Way For Books has information on their website for volunteers in Tucson (http://www.makewayforbooks.org/volunteers/index.html) and about agencies (http://www.makewayforbooks.org/agencies/index.html). I hope this is helpful to you! I also found links to two other Tucson organizations: Literacy Connects (http://literacyconnects.org/) which is affiliated with The Reading Seed (http://literacyconnects.org/readingseed/).

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  6. You do a great job highlighting the tension between institutional expectations and the current mythology concerning children and print literacy. However, when you mention that “one myth is that kids don’t need to know how books work before going to school,” it would he helpful to know (at least in brief) how this misconception originated. Also, you state that “the brain connections to succeed start early,” which sounds a bit unclear. Maybe you could provide some specific cognitive development information — that would really clarify what you mean and how it fits in with this organization’s goals.

    Lastly, learning to read in English (if that is a child’s non-native language) is not “the only way,” but in order to successfully navigate through an academic setting, learning to read and write in English is essential, and this process (as you have shown) starts at a young age. The lesson here, which you articulated, is that people need not impose English instruction at the expense of their native language. The ability to read, write, and speak in a bilingual capacity is an amazing thing!

    Wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Dawn —
    Sounds like you had a productive session with Melinda, asking the right questions and reformulating the answers into an informative blog post. I am pleased to have found out about Make Way for Books, and it hadn’t really occurred to me that the promotion of early literacy takes a special kind of outreach to families. Out of curiosity, I went to Make Way for Books’ “Families” page and was quite touched by the images of parents cuddling babies and toddlers as they read to them. Sometimes, an image like that is full of impact, and for families with young children who happen to come upon that page, how wonderful for them to see early literacy in action and to hear that parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. That’s positive reinforcement, for sure. The organization’s Baby Bags and Raising a Reader programs also sound wonderful.

    If the intent of your blog post was to draw attention to a worthy organization, then well done. My only small critique is the headline, which perhaps should have dealt more directly with the program instead of trying to include Melinda’s job of communications.

    Looking forward to more of your posts!
    Deborah

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Confession time: You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. I love how you show how passionate you are about this subject. It instantly made me think of all of the children’s books I loved as a kid. My second grade teacher got me into Arnold Lobel. I also really loved the Box Car Children.

    Melinda also seems very interesting and the perfect person to interview for this subject. Maybe I didn’t catch it, but how did you know Melinda?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Eric,

      Thank you for your feedback and for the glimpse into your favorite childhood books! I didn’t know Melinda until I called the Make Way For Books phone number and she happened to pick up the phone and also happened to be the perfect person to answer my list of questions. 🙂 It was serendipitous!

      Like

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