By: Kyle Reyes
Courtesy of The Republican
"I touched the Great Wall of China. I learned how to make French bread from a French chef. And as a child, I traveled all over the world - even though I was an orphan." Susan Jaye-Kaplan traversed the globe growing up, all from the comfort of an overstuffed chair at the Boston Public Library. She "saw" sights she'll never forget, all thanks to the power of books.
It's a thrill that she's helping to pass this on to kids across the state. She and Janet M. Crimmins are co-founders of Link to Libraries Inc., a nonprofit organization that collects books for public elementary schools and other groups across the state, then distributes them to kids of all different cultural backgrounds. "We chose multicultural books because we wanted to really target our audience, which is students from different backgrounds," Jaye-Kaplan said. "We also want kids to get that it's not what you're reading but that you're reading."
Their most recent delivery was to fifth-grade students at Talmadge Elementary School in Springfield. Link to Libraries brought dozens of copies of "Grace for President" to hand out to kids. But first they held a "read-aloud" with the students and discussed the story. It wasn't just a typical class for the kids. The book was about two students running for school president. It's a tight race in the story, and, at times, students listening covered their mouths in surprise. One fifth-grader even pumped her arm in victory when the winner was announced at the end of the story.
"These students are just a fraction of those who will benefit," Jaye-Kaplan said. "There are more than 60,000 kids in Massachusetts that don't own any books. Right now, we have more than 50 organizations waiting to be the recipients of books for these kids." The books are all donated by the community and businesses across New England. Link to Libraries then determines which groups and kids will get the books based on need. "The need was the reason for the mission," said Jaye-Kaplan. "We read that schools across the state were having a budget shortage. Libraries are facing shrinking hours. We know we couldn't change those things, but we could still make a difference."
Speaking to the students before the story began, Jaye-Kaplan shared her own story and explained why they were giving the books to the students. "Growing up in that library, I could be and would be anything in life I wanted to be," she said. "We all want the same thing for you." Her hope, and that of the organization, is to spark enthusiasm and understanding - not just in the students, but in the community around them. "These boys and girls are our future," she said. "They aren't my biological children, but they're all our children."