The Mayors' Book Club
Together We Can Share a Book
With Every Child
Mayors in eight South Jersey towns—from Salem County’s tiny Elsinboro (population: 1,040) to Gloucester County’s growing Monroe Township (population: 34,083)—are working to get their youngest constituents excited about reading.
“Our objective, really, is to get a book in every child’s hands,” Borough of Glassboro Mayor Leo McCabe said of the NJLM’s second annual Mayor’s Book Club.
Borough of Glassboro Mayor Leo McCabe, a member of NJLM's Executive Board, reads Night of the Veggie Monster to 150 first-graders at the Dorothy L. Bullock School in January.
Through the Mayor's Book Club, McCabe and seven other South Jersey mayors are
challenging their youngest constituents to embrace literacy.
Instituted by the NJLM’s Educational Foundation in collaboration with Rowan University in Glassboro (www.rowan.edu), the Mayor’s Book Club is a partnership between the mayors and their local elementary schools or libraries.
“The Foundation is pleased to work with Rowan University to promote literacy in New Jersey,” said NJLM Education Foundation President Arthur R. Ondish.
Through the program, mayors are challenging first-graders to read at least eight books during a three-month period (February to May). Every child who reaches that goal will receive a book from NJLM this spring.
As an additional incentive, school districts where children read at least 1,000 books will receive $1,000 to purchase books for first-graders. The students are expected to read at least eight books to join the program. To promote the program, the mayors have pledged to read books to children at their partner schools during at least three separate visits this spring.
The Mayor’s Book Club is funded through a generous $5,000 donation by South Jersey Industries, an energy services holding company that offers solutions to global warming through renewable energy, clean technology and efficiency. Other funders include Verizon NJ and PSE&G.
While receiving one book for participation in the program is exciting, it seems that eager first-grade readers in the four counties involved in the Mayor’s Book Club want to read many, many books. They’re poised to make the most of the Mayor’s Book Club challenge and truly feel empowered to earn books for their schools and libraries, according to Midge Madden, a professor in Rowan’s College of Education.
“First-graders love to read…and they love a challenge,” says Madden, co-chair of Rowan’s efforts along with Jane Bean-Folkes, who also teaches in Rowan’s Department of Language, Literacy and Special Education.
At Mayor’s Book Club kick-off events in January and early February, the children were highly enthusiastic and extremely confident that they will reach—and possibly exceed—the 1,000-book challenge, according to Madden, who attended events in Collingswood and Elsinboro.
“It’s a big deal when the mayor comes to your class and asks you to do something very special,” Madden said. “The children aren’t daunted at all.”
The NJLM assisted mayors by providing them a list of books appropriate for—and popular with—first-graders. The list includes, among others: Rapunzel by Rachel Isadora, a Caldecott Honor winner set in Africa; Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, a story about pen pals from America and India; and 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, an elegant story of generosity set in a village in Kenya.
First grade is a key time to get children excited about reading, according to Bean-Folkes, who joined Rowan this academic year after completing her doctorate at the Teachers College at Columbia University. Studies show that children who fall behind in reading by the end of third grade may never catch up with their peers or achieve grade-level reading proficiency.
“Many children in New Jersey don’t come from rich literary environments,” said Bean-Folkes. Instilling a love of reading really is crucial to a child’s success in school. If we get them enthusiastic about reading early, we’ll have them for life.”
The excitement for the program is the same in towns like Collingswood, where just 14 children at James Garfield Elementary School are teaming up with Mayor James Maley, to towns like Glassboro, where 150 students at the Dorothy L. Bullock School are partnering with McCabe.
Though only Garfield students are involved in the program, Maley has pledged to read to children in all of Collingswood’s elementary schools.
At the Glassboro kick-off event, where McCabe presented a spirited reading of George McClements’ Night of the Veggie Monster—and encouraged his six-year-old constituents to eat their peas and broccoli—announcement of the Mayor’s Book Club was met with shrieks of delight.
“We’re in this club together,” McCabe, a member of NJLM’s Executive Board, told the children. “So, let’s go win $1,000 for your school.”
Reaching 1,000 books is absolutely an attainable goal for all of the Mayor’s Book Club municipalities, even the smaller ones, Bean-Folkes said. As part of the partnership with NJLM, Rowan faculty members are assisting schools in their literacy goals and as many as 80 teacher education students will volunteer to read with children in the Book Club municipalities.
“First-graders should be reading 10 to 12 age-appropriate books each week,” Bean-Folkes said. “If kids are reading what they should be reading, they should get to 1,000 books.”
In addition to McCabe and Maley, other mayors involved in the Mayor’s Book Club this year include: Michael Gabbianelli of Monroe Township (Holly Glen Elementary School); Gary J. Passanante of Somerdale (Somerdale Park School); Joseph Stemberger of Elmer (Elmer Library Association; Sean Elwell of Elsinboro (Elsinboro Township Elementary School); Albert B. Kelley of Bridgeton (West Avenue Elementary School); and Donna Moore of Commercial Township (Haleyville-Mauricetown Elementary School).
In supporting the Mayor’s Book Club, the mayors are showing true leadership to their youngest constituents, Madden noted.
“Through this, the mayors are demonstrating that communities need to work together to raise children in a literate environment,” she said, adding that the mayors have been as enthusiastic for the Mayor’s Book Club as the children have.
“It’s amazing to watch them work with the children,” Madden said. “When they go into the schools, they know many of the kids by name.”
As community leaders, mayors are natural choices to carry the mantle of literacy, said Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough, chair of the Mayor’s Book Club.
“All of our participants believe in and endorse early literacy for our developing readers,” McDonough said.
Glassboro’s McCabe said the mayors in the Mayor’s Book Club haven’t issued challenges to each other on behalf of their communities to see which town hits the 1,000-book goal first.
But in Elsinboro, Elwell did issue a challenge to the 11 first-graders who are part of his team. If they reach 1,000 books, they’ll get the $1,000 to buy new books—and an old-fashioned pizza party courtesy of their 28-year-old mayor.