Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This is sooo exciting!

School Library Journal has published a story about the Air Lift to LA project. You can read it here.

Why Air Lift to LA? #airlifttola #literacy #education Why Compton and not Toronto? or Barrie? Or Edmonton?

Lots of people have been asking me why Air Lift to LA was started, and what school(s) will be receiving the books we collect. Here's what Meghan Gaynor from Access Books, our partner in California, has to say about where the books are going and why:

"We haven't selected a recipient school yet. We've been meeting with administrators from Compton Unified School District, and the books will definitely go to a CUSD school -- it remains to be seen which.That said, why Compton? CUSD libraries are lacking in current books and in great need of a makeover. The book to student ratio in CUSD's libraries average 8 to 1 (the School Library Association recommends 25 to 1), and the average year of publication is 1990. Most students in this district are children of color and children of immigrants living at or near the poverty line. Research indicates that the best predictor of reading ability is access to books, and in poverty-ridden areas, the quality of the school library is the best predictor of reading achievement (McQuillan, 2000, Allington, 2009). The American School Library research data clearly shows that students with access to school libraries and good books score higher in state reading scores and are more interested in reading.
To illustrate this disparity, Kenter Elementary School in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles has a beautiful free standing school library, built with parental raised funds. The library serves 450 students and has a collection of about 9,000 volumes. The titles are current and up to date. Students at Kenter also have access to home libraries and a nearby public library. The closest bookstore is a few short miles.
Conversely, King Elementary School in Compton has 500 students and a collection of 3,000 titles. There is no neighborhood bookstore."
So clearly, the situation in Compton sucks. There are many other places with libraries that need help too - even right here in my own home town of Toronto. I don't have to go very far to find libraries that are dirty, out of date, understaffed, underserviced and plain old buzzkillers. Let's get a grassroots movement going to help them all!!
Here's a link to some of photos showing previous Access Books projects and recipients. They are all downloadable in high-res. Please DO check out the pictures below, from previous Access Books projects, to get an idea where OUR books will be going. And pass the pics around to show your contacts that the kids we are helping are not somehow "different" from their own kids, but are children that have the same human potential as kids from rich neighbourhoods, if they are given the chance to develop it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cash for California

Yup. We need some. Every little bit will help get our humanitarian aid - Canadian children's books  - to Compton, California for our Airlift to LA project!

The books are piling up in my living room and I'm starting to freak thinking about how much work it's going to take to get them all packed up and sent. And they're still coming...

And I was planning to pay for shipping the books out of my own pocket, but now I'm thinking it might be too expensive for me to do on my writer's income. The more books, the more $$ to ship them right? I guess I didn't think this all the way through... or maybe I just didn't expect that so many people would jump in!

So I've set up a paypal account to accept donations. You'll now be able to send me cold hard cash to help with this project. I will post a complete accounting of how much cash came in and how much went out when the books go. Please note that if you click on the donate button, it won't pop up saying "Air lift to LA"; it will pop up with an email address of a person  - not me. Why why why. Because I've had problems in the past with my paypal account and used my son's email address as a workaround. If it makes you nervous, email me at and we can confirm the best way to proceed.

And to those of you who take me up on this and send in some money, I think you from the bottom of my empty pockets.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Air lift to LA about to take off!!! Now there's a nice metaphor.....

Just wanted to update you all about the project to send books to inner city LA.

It’s going AMAZINGLY great! I’m getting books from all over the country, from individual writers and from publishers. They are stacking up high high high! We’re now working on:

a) Getting a carrier to take the books and ship them for us gratis –anyone who thinks they can call up a company like Fedex or Canpar and twist a few arms, please do this, I can’t do it all meself!!!

b) Pushing the media machine into motion. The more publicity we get on both sides of the border, the more successful this gig will be in helping school libraries everywhere. So if you want to help and have a moment, it would be great if you:

1. Join the facebook group Air Lift to LA, and spread the word about it so we get more members. If Lady Gaga can get ten million facebook fans, don’t you think we should be able to get at least that many people who support school libraries????? And if we got a big number on the group membership, doncha think that might encourage politicians to maybe look at the issue of funding school libraries? No grass roots support, no action, that’s the reality.

2. If you would like to send books, there is still time!!!!! We’re looking at AUG 15 as the cut off date for books to be able to ship from Toronto and still get to Compton for their first day of school and the firestorm of US publicity we are hoping to generate. So don’t skip it because you think you missed the deadline – a lot of people are emailing me with “is it too late?” and the resounding answer is NO!!!!!! So send away.

I’m going to actually start shipping books in smaller quantities starting now, no reason to leave a massive shipping job for mid August, and if they go in smaller bunches, many will arrive long before the Aug. 30 first day of school so we won’t be blown out of the water by an unforeseen border stoppage or something stupid. And even after Aug 15, if you have books, well, it’s not like they won’t be welcome at the schools in LA after that. We can send a Thanksgiving topper-upper, right?

3. Email everyone you know – your publishers, your friends, your rellys, and tell them about the problem with school libraries and what we all are doing to help it. The publicity is good for ALL OF US!!! That’s the beauty part: we get to be good AND mercenarily self-serving all at once!!!! So tell everyone about how Canadian authors are banding together to help kids, and how libraries are struggling, and if we make enough noise, we will catch the collective ear of the media and they will feature us on the CBC and The Agenda etc. and all of a sudden we will be news. Shelagh Rogers, hello!!!! Why hi, Eleanor Wachtel, thanks for asking about kids’ books and why it’s so important kids actually have access to them. Jian Ghomeshi, kids writers and libraries are culture too! Talk to us!

4. Remember, there’s power in numbers. It doesn’t take much to make a real difference if we each do our five minutes of talking it up. I know not everybody has as big a mouth as I do :) but even people who are sensitive and thoughtful LOL have contacts. Let’s use them!

5. I’m going to start tweeting and facebooking the list of books received and author's names as I start packing them up; if you are on Twitter and are not my tweep, follow me so when I do this I will tweet your twittername when I tweet your book name. Which also makes me think we need to compile a twitter list of canscaip members too like the blog roll. I’ll start:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Even dogs have got to go with their strengths...

And so should we! That's always what I tell kids when I do school visits. You don't have to try to to be someone other than you are. If you don't "Fit," don't think you've got to change yourself.  Change your environment!

What's a weakness or obstance in one environment (say, a tendency to make funny voices and play with puppets - a career-killer in corporate sales) is an asset in another (say, as a children's writer-performer...uh, who me??)

No wonder I fell in love with this video. It shares my don't-squish-yourself-into-a-box-just-change-the-box philosophy. AND  it features the greatest ever inspirational doggy story.

The moral of the story is

Be yourself.
Build on your strengths.
Celebrate your unique abilities!

And THAT's when you will be the most successful, and the most valued by others.

It's grow vs. change. And I'm a big believer in growth. Just ask my waistline :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

#AirLifttoLA UPDATE #literacy #education #equity

It's working! Books have been flying in for our book drive to support school libraries in Los Angeles.


Canadian authors have banded together to EMBARRASS THE HECK out of the U.S. authorities who have allowed public school libraries in poor neighborhoods to wither and die. Not that Canada is all that high and mighty, mind you - we have plenty of our own problems here with school libraries being neglected, underfunded and understaffed.

However, we wanted to call attention to the URGENT NEED for American (and Canadian) citizens to wake up and pay attention to what is happening in your schools. They have become worse than Third World in their conditions, with empty shelves, demoralized and distressed (and overstressed) staff, and a culture that spouts blah blah "we support  literacy" rhetoric while allowing our public institutions to be gutted.

If you want a healthy democracy, we simply cannot allow our neediest children to be deprived of the opportunity to learn. A functioning library in a school provides learning opportunities like none other. If kids in poor schools don't have a good school library, and the chance to read and learn at school, where exactly will they learn? And WHAT will they learn? That being born in Orange County makes you more deserving of education? That if your parents can afford to privately raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support your own "public" school, you get to have orff music and computers and field trips and new books in your library, but if your parents are poor or immigrants, you get squat????

That is not what public education is about. That is not what America is about - and I know that first hand. I grew up in New York, and benefited from a quality public education.So did my parents, who were children of immigrants, and who received top educations in NYC's public school system. Why have we allowed the promise and potential of our own history and vision to disintegrate?

That's why I have organized the Air Lift to LA - to call attention to this issue. Please, speak out for public education, equity and literacy by:

1) Sending books to me to include in the drive. Email me for instructions.
2) Join the Facebook Group "Air Lift to LA" to show your support of literacy and public education. Invite your contacts to join too!
3) Follow our activity on Twitter using hashtag #airlifttoLA. Pass along the info to people you know - parents, teachers, librarians, politicians, media types of all stripes. RT! RT! RT!
4) Consider helping to FUND the shipment of books to the US. This will be coming out of my own pocket, which is ok unless we have so many books I can't afford to send them!
5) Download the School Library Assessment Questionaire from my blog (see archives) and use it to evaluate your own local school library. Share the results with your school administrators, board, trustees and Minister or Secretary of Education. Demand effective schools and school libraries for all public school attendees. Say not to private schools within a public system, the de facto situation across North America.

We will be collecting books until AUGUST 15 so we can send the books to arrive in Compton California for the first day of school. Our parner in California, Access Books, will oversee distribution of the books on site.

Helaine, mouthing off again.

Because: Science!