AFT volunteer shows book to two kids at a table full of books.

AFT Gives Away 10 Million Books to Help Create a Generation of Joyful, Confident Readers

Pathbreaking Partnership with First Book Celebrates over a Decade of Putting Books Directly into the Hands of Kids and Families Who Need Them, Sparking Joy, Inspiring Hope and Building Community

WASHINGTON (May 11, 2024)—Today, in five synchronized events across the country, the AFT celebrated the unprecedented milestone of giving out more than 10 million brand-new free books at schools, community centers, faith-based institutions and union halls over the last decade to help children discover the joy of reading. The achievement, accomplished together with First Book, is not just about the books themselves; this partnership has stoked a love of learning and built lasting bonds in cities and towns across the country.

“Books change young people’s lives,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “When kids see themselves in a story, it ignites their imagination, prompts questions and fosters a lasting bond between them and the adults who take the time to read with them. Educators know that literacy is central to all academic success, and having access to both new, thoughtful titles and enduring classics is a foundation stone. And as students face anxiety, trauma and a world that’s increasingly online, the power of a physical book can be transformational, opening their eyes to a world of possibilities. That’s why, as others try to ban books, we give them out.”

Together, the two organizations have provided diverse titles to kids and families, co-sponsoring more than 700 events in 41 states and four U.S. territories to promote literacy among hundreds of thousands of attendees. The goal is to ensure any child, regardless of geography or demography, can have a bookshelf to call their own. By stocking their personal libraries, students and families develop lifelong learning habits.

“Our kids need books to help them read, grow and thrive. Infusing communities with literature is a long-term investment in our kids, our schools and our collective future,” added Weingarten. “We’re going to give out millions more, until our kids’ biggest issue is a bookshelf that’s too full, and a reading list that’s too long, because we’ve seen how transformative a book can be.”

Today’s celebration includes family-friendly activities and provides books and literacy resources for kids in New York City (50,000-book event at Graphic Communication Arts Educational Campus), Texas (40,000-book event in Socorro), Illinois (40,000-book event hosted by Valley View Chapter/IFT, AFT Local 604, in Bolingbrook), Ohio (5,000-book event as part of the Central Ohio Worker Center May Day family festival) and Florida (2,500+ books given to Barry University graduates—new teachers, school counselors, librarians and administrators—for their classrooms, schools and libraries).

“The First Book – AFT partnership is inspiring a generation of readers by delivering beautiful new books into the hands of millions of children living in book deserts where books are an unaffordable luxury,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “Together we are elevating access to wonderful, diverse books, which enable children to see themselves, develop a strong sense of self, foster empathy—and increase their academic achievement.

“In fact, First Book confirmed the importance of diverse books last year in a study conducted by our research arm, First Book Research & Insights. Our study proved that kids with access to diverse books read more and their reading scores increase. This research reaffirms what First Book and the AFT have always known—that books are power tools in the hands of motivated educators, loving family members and curious young learners. We look forward to continuing our work with the heroes at the AFT to bring the power of books to more kids and more classrooms in the coming decade.”

The partnership kicked off during the AFT’s 2011 back-to-school tour, when First Book, a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring educational equity for kids living in low-income communities, and the AFT gave out 1,500 books at West Side Elementary School in Charleston, W.Va., during an AFT visit. Since then, close to 200,000 individual AFT members and other community-based organizations have registered with First Book to take advantage of its high-quality, low-cost books, school supplies and resources to help support educators and the students, families and communities in need that they serve.

In the last two years alone, the AFT, with support from First Book, has made literacy our priority, distributing over 2 million more books across 384 events through its Reading Opens the World initiative to bring communities together and help create a nation of confident and joyful readers.

Some highlights of our book giveaways over the 13-year partnership include:

  • Establishing pandemic “grab and go” book distributions from Washington, D.C., to rural Michigan and Upstate New York. 
  • Giving away 10,000 multicultural, bilingual and diverse books for New York City students and families living in WIN (Women in Need) housing facilities in 2020.
  • Giving away more than 100,000 books to support remote learning in rural and hard-to-reach communities in Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico with partners like the Seafarers International Union, the Transportation Institute and TOTE Maritime. 
  • Giving away more than 2 million books in Texas and Florida, where politicians have tried to ban them, so children have access to literature with honest history and with characters that look like them.

“I am so proud of our local union affiliates that have seen the power of books and have now joined our national union and First Book partners to give away 10 million of them. Today hundreds of families across New York, Ohio, Illinois, Texas and Florida will be the beneficiaries of this strategy to cultivate a love of reading, as reading does indeed open the world,” said Weingarten.

“But this partnership is greater than the sum of its parts. We could not do this without each other—the AFT could never afford or access the books without First Book, and First Book would never have the reach to bring books to so many educators, kids, families and schools without the AFT. And we could never have done this without our local affiliates and the teachers, paras, librarians and reading specialists who understood its importance.”

In addition to improving literacy, local AFT leaders have said other benefits of hosting a book event have included helping improve relations with the superintendent or school district, helping them break a logjam in contract negotiations, and helping them build partnerships with other community groups.

“This isn’t only about literacy and books—this is also about the importance of community. In hundreds of places, we have literally brought people together over a love of books. This partnership creates togetherness, soothes tensions and helps people see that there is far more that unites us than divides us,” Weingarten added.

“What started off in a small school in West Virginia—helping a community that didn’t have resources build a small library—has turned into a 13-year partnership to bring the joy of reading to children and families in every corner of the country. It offers a real solution to a challenge we hear time and again from families and educators: a pressing need for new books for children to take home and cherish.”

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First Book

Education transforms lives. First Book is building a world where every child has access to a quality education. We work to remove barriers to education and level the playing field for kids in need. At the heart of our work are the more than 575,000 members of the First Book Network, the largest online community of individual educators, professionals and volunteers dedicated to supporting children in need across North America. This Network is the key to creating systemic change. Through our research arm, First Book Research & Insights, we conduct studies that aggregate their voices to identify barriers to equitable education and inform strategic solutions. To address their needs, we provide free and low-cost books, resources, and access to leading experts through the First Book Marketplace, which uses aggregated buying power to support this underserved community. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1992 as a nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is dedicated to eliminating barriers to learning and inspiring young minds. Learn more at firstbook.org and visit our award-winning eCommerce website at fbmarketplace.org.

image of an educator reading to two kids from a picture book. There is text that says, 'Matching Challenge: Be a Champion for Educators! Your gift by May 31 can go twice as far to provide new, high-quality books and other resources educators need to help students unlock their full potential.' There is a red button in the bottom, right corner that says, 'I'll give now'.