Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Today is my sister's thirty-third birthday. She was born on a Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving; I was in college, and remember it like it was yesterday. As it was, pretty much. She's expecting her fourth child, and her three boys and my brother's two are the crazy joys of the past decade of our family.

I am grateful today for a thousand million things. For my husband, who holds our lives together. For my children, both flying home tomorrow. For my dad, who's recovering from a serious illness, and my mom, who's recovering from seeing him through. I'm grateful for the book I finished in the past year. I'm grateful for the dog on my lap as I type this. For the silly black horse we unexpectedly brought into our family, and the glorious two we lost since this time last year.

I'm very, very grateful for my friends.

Flush toilets, washing machines and dishwashers, not to mention a safe and reliable water supply. Food and good meals. The pearly quality to winter sunrises on our farm. A sense of adventure, and adventures to go on. The losses that taught me to savor each day.

So many things.

I am grateful for the gift of words.

I learned a lot this year about words and their power. I thought I knew plenty already--I've been a writer for a long time--but between the seven and a half drafts of Fighting Words and the steady progress of my nonprofit, Appalachian Literacy Initiative--well, I now know more.

Did you know that in this country poor children are two and a half times less likely to read at proficient level than their more affluent classmates?

Did you know that reading proficiency at the end of fourth grade is the most powerful predictor of whether or not a child will graduate from high school?

Did you know that three out of five low-income children have no books at all in their homes? Or that the number of books a child has access to is the only thing that directly correlates to their reading success?

Give kids books = give kids a better future.

Last school year  my friend Tracy and I started ALI, earned 501(c)3 status for it, and gave out nearly three thousand books to 578 low-income fourth-graders across Appalachia.

Last year, one of our schools saw their fourth-graders' reading proficiency rise from 23% to 96%.

This year we've enrolled 1000 students in that same program. Each child gets four new high-quality books of their choice; their teachers get classroom libraries of 30 books.

This year we've also given Girls Inc in Bristol, Virginia, 120 books for their library. We've been able to buy books for the children enrolled in Boys and Girls Clubs in Bristol, Abingdon, and Wise.

Thanks to an amazing one-time grant we received from First Book, we're going to be able to offer "free book" fairs at all four Bristol, Virginia elementary schools and Bristol, Virginia Middle School. Every single child in every single grade will get to choose 3 books to keep.  Those book fairs start next week, Tuesday and Wednesday at Stonewall Jackson and Thursday and Friday at Highland View--if you live nearby and want to help, let me know. We could use more hands.

We could do so much more. Appalachia is a big region--there are far more isolated, low-income schools we long to help. If you'd like to join us, please do. Thanks to First Book and our corporate partner, Parnassus, we're able this year to buy more books with your donations. Last year it cost $32.50 to enroll a child in our program. We won't know our final numbers until the end of the school year, but so far we're on track to be close to $20.

$20 for one child for the year. $150 for the teacher's classroom books. $500 to sponsor an entire class. For donations of $1000 or more we'll put special bookplates in the books honoring the person of your choice. You can send checks to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at P.O. Box 3283, Bristol, TN, 37620. You can use the donate button on our website. Or you can click the Facebook button, above.

Thank you so much. We are so very grateful for you.

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