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First Book and NEA Foundation Commit to Supporting Social and Emotional Learning for Kids in Need Through Increased Access to Diverse Books

Diverse books can catalyze empathy, understanding—a teacher-identified top-priority

WASHINGTON, April 17, 2017 – First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise, and the NEA Foundation, are joining in a two-year partnership to respond to a teacher-identified top education priority—the acute need to cultivate social and emotional wellness, by expanding the Stories for All ProjectTM, First Book’s groundbreaking initiative focused on increasing diversity in children’s books, and access to affordable, diverse titles.

Researchers have found that children’s literature reflecting multiethnic cultures told by authentic voices can have a powerful impact on the central elements of social and emotional learning (SEL) – enhancing empathy toward others as well as interest in reading and academic performance. Yet there is a shocking lack of diverse content in children’s books—according to the Children’s Cooperative Book Center, out of more than 3,000 children’s books reviewed in 2016 only eight percent featured African-American characters; seven percent featured Asian-Pacific Americans, less than five percent featured Latin or Hispanic characters and just one percent featured Native Americans.

“The NEA Foundation has always asserted that America’s children deserve excellence,” said Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Teachers, who know best what they need to deliver excellence, identified early-on that SEL was the most significant missing piece in a test-driven environment. We know that when children to see themselves, and empathetic portrayals of children very different from themselves, in the books they read, it has a powerful impact on their own emotional growth. Partnering with First Book to increase access to affordable, diverse, age-appropriate titles is the logical—and critical—next step in delivering excellence.”

Through the partnership, the NEA Foundation provided funding for an additional winner of Lee & Low Books’ New Visions Award, an honor given each year to a previously unpublished author of color, and to issue affordable special edition paperbacks on the First Book Marketplace of four existing titles previously only available in hardcover.

The Wind Called My Name, by Mary Louise Sanchez, which traces the story of 10-year-old Margarita as she confronts racism in a new town during the Great Depression, will be published in 2018 with Lee & Low Books.

The four paperback titles are available exclusively on the First Book Marketplace, First Book’s award-winning site offering brand new books and educational resources – at the lowest possible prices or for free – to schools and programs serving children in need. A free, downloadable tipsheet will be developed for each title, with guidelines on how educators can use the book to create opportunities for student learning and shared experiences that embrace the importance of diversity and foster understanding both in and out of the classroom setting.

The two-year partnership also includes more than $100,000 in grants from the NEA Foundation, which will be used to provide eligible educators with credits to purchase diverse books through the First Book Marketplace.

“Social and emotional learning has been cited as a national priority, with implications for everything from economic viability to decreasing violence,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “Providing teachers with the materials and support they need to benefit their students, especially when the absence of those materials can create profound social fissures, is our responsibility. The NEA Foundation’s support is allowing us to expand our offerings and extend our reach, both things that are, at this moment in time, necessary and urgent.”

First Book’s Stories for All ProjectTM has already made a tangible difference. To date, the organization has added approximately 2,000 diverse titles to its offerings, launched books previously only available in hard-cover in affordable paperback formats, and even influenced publisher decisions in making new, bilingual titles available at retail. Additionally, in a survey of the First Book network of more than 300,000 educators, respondents reported that access to diverse books has:

  • Sparked new programming and curriculum activities focused on diverse cultures. 80 percent of respondents said these books would enable them to develop new programming or curriculum activities focused on diverse cultures.
  • Helped children learn about different cultures. 91 percent of respondents said these books would enable children to learn more about classmates from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
  • .Enabled children to learn about their own culture and see themselves in books, often for the first time. 94 percent of respondents said these books would enable the children they serve from Latino families to see themselves in books in ways they never have before.
  • In addition, 73 percent said they had very few books highlighting Latino history and culture prior to this initiative.The Stories for All ProjectTM comprises more than a third of the First Book Marketplace’s 6,000 titles.


About First Book

First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise founded in 1992 that has distributed more than 160 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada, which, with more than 300,000 members, is the largest and fastest growing network of educators serving kids in need. By making new, high-quality books and educational resources available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education. Eligible educators, librarians, providers, and others serving children in need can sign up at For more information, please visit or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

The NEA Foundation

The NEA Foundation is an independent, public charity supported by contributions from educators, corporate sponsors, and others. We partner with education unions, districts, and communities to create powerful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning. Visit for more information.

About Lee & Low Books

Established in 1991, Lee & Low Books is the largest children’s book publisher in the United States specializing in diversity. Under several imprints, the company provides a comprehensive range of notable diverse books for beginning readers through young adults. Lee & Low titles have received major awards and honors including the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Sibert Medal, the NAACP Image Award, and many more. Visit to learn more.

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