Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yes, We're Airlifting Books to Needy School Libraries in L.A. - from Canada #airlifttoLA

 Good morning!

I’m so excited to tell you about a project I’ve been cooking up over the last week.

Many of you will know how passionate I am about the issue of school libraries, and how poorly funded and staffed they are across North America. During a recent trip to Southern California, I was completely shocked by how bad the situation was there. 

A shelf marked "scary stories" in
Cesar Chavez Elementary School's library

Yes, we have problems here in Canada, but the way US schools are funded, through property taxes, makes the situation in poor school districts exponentially worse. In schools in Long Beach, for example, library shelves were literally empty. Teacher-librarians are stretched past the breaking point.

I had organized a  mini, ad hoc book drive while I was there to get books from more affluent communities into those schools. In a few days, we collected about 650 books; these were distributed on the last day of school to kids at Barton Elementary in Long Beach. Most of the books went on the shelves, and the ones that were not up to scratch but which were still good were given out to the kids themselves to take home. I have some lovely pics of the kids receiving the books; I’m waiting for the librarian's ok before I post them here on my blog. They are so moving, I tear up whenever I think about them.

I described this event to my friend Nancy at our recent book club dinner. She said in passing, “you should airlift them books from Canada. That might embarrass them into action….”


Well, guess what. That’s EXACTLY what we’re going to do.

I connected with some wonderful can-do folks while in California. One, Sandra Tsing-Loh, is a NPR columnist and local celebrity in the LA area.

She is well known for being a huge supporter of public education. and yeah, she's absolutely hilarious as well.

My other new partner in crime, Rebecca Constantino,  is a real angel. Oprah even says so! (See the video, below) She even got the big bucks for doing good works on Oprah's TV show Oprah's Angels.

Rebecca is the founder of Access Books, which organizes book drives and funding for underserviced school libraries.

Together, we developed a plan to arrange and promote a book drop into a needy LA area school---with books coming from Canadian authors.

Why should we – and by the word 'we,' here, I mean Canadian kids' authors and supporters of Canadian literature – participate in this project? i.e., why should You?????

Here’s my thinking:

1. Because there are kids that need books. Period.

2. But Helaine! Aren’t there kids who need books closer to home? Yes. Of course. But by sending books to LA, we can get LOTS of publicity for the dire straits school libraries are in. Rebecca has appeared on Oprah, on NBC, and has had tea at the White House with Laura Bush (whom she asked why W wasn't sent to another bedroom for what’s been allowed to happen in US school libraries). My hope and expectation is that this story will get picked up by major news outlets across the hemisphere.

3. We can also get lots of publicity for us, for Canada, for Canadian children’s authors, and Canadian children’s publishers. In Canada and outside of Canada. I will be writing a press release that will go out all across North America (and Sandra and Rebecca will write their own, with slightly different slants) that will present our points of view and list all of the contributing author’s names, book titles contributed etc.

If you send me short snappy quotes about how you feel about this topic, I can include them in the release and maybe they’ll get included in articles that get written. You never know.

So now I know you want to join this project. Here’s what you need to do. It’s practically nothing!!!!

1. Choose a current Canadian book that’s in new or almost new condition and is appropriate for inclusion in a school library (up to high school).

2. Sign it (if you wrote it).

3. Take a digital photo of it before you mail it, or email me a picture of the cover. We will post this on the #airlifttoLA Facebook page.

3. Mail or drop off the book(s) to me. Email me at for delivery instructions.

4. Please mark the outside of the package with the genre of book – YA, Picture book, middle grade chap, nf, what have you. I’m going to pre-sort the books to make them easier to catalogue at the other end.


I know, that’s not a lot of time, but we have decided the best time to do this event is AUGUST 30, the first day of school in Compton, California, where the books are destined. We need to make sure the books have arrived in California for that date.

Please please please consider joining me in this endeavour.

Please forward this email, tweet, facebook update etc. to everyone you know who has an interest in books, equity, school libraries, literacy, reading, writing, children, education….Remember, the delivery of the books to needy kids is the #1 point. But point #1a is the publicity we can generate for the issue of school libraries in trouble. By sending books to LA, my hope is we can also help improve the situation right here in Canada.

Thanks in advance for your help!!!



  1. Hi Helaine -- Access Books is a great organization to support! I am a volunteer with Librarians Without Borders ( and last Spring I worked with my college to adopt an LA school library through Access Books. They are wonderful folks doing important work. I'm a Canadian librarian living in LA, and if you need some help on the ground, please let me know! Melanie Sellar

  2. I have lots of books to send. I'm a Canadian Writer living in CA.
    This is a great project. Good Luck!
    Yvonne Prinz


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