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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Nearly 10,000 Kids Will Receive 10 Free Books This Year Through The ‘My Very Own Library’ Program

Students at 17 public schools and the UChicago Charter School will choose 10 free books this year, and program leaders hope to expand into more schools in coming years.

Author Christine Sonntornvat signs books for students during My Very Own Library's winter kick-off at William Ray Elementary Dec. 3.
Jean Lachat
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HYDE PARK — Before each major break this school year, nearly 10,000 kids will participate in free book fairs as part of a program called My Very Own Library’s ongoing effort to “foster their love of reading.”

Students at 17 public schools including William Ray Elementary, Bret Harte Elementary and South Shore Fine Arts Academy participate in the program. Three campuses of the UChicago Charter School are also involved.

In total, about 9,500 kids will receive ten free books each from My Very Own Library, a literacy initiative run through the University of Chicago.

Students will select their first five at book fairs in the coming days before winter break and four more at book fairs before spring break. They’ll get one more before school ends for the summer.

The 500 available titles range from bestsellers like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” to works from names on the rise like Jason Reynolds — none of the stuffy old books the kids might already be reading in class.

“There’s not a lot of classics,” said Duane Davis, the university’s executive director of K-12 education initiatives. “They’re high-interest books that students get to choose. That’s really one of the most important things … students having choice and picking something that’s interesting to them.”

Having a personal library can impact the students’ academic careers, in turn improving their community and personal fulfillment, Davis said.

“If we sustain the program, from pre-K to eighth grade the student will receive 100 books. If they’re in a family of three, that’s 300 books for their home library,” he said.

This is the fifth year My Very Own Library has partnered with the UChicago Charter School, and its second year with CPS. The program also operates in five other American locations and the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, this year’s program kicked off with a Q-and-A session for pre-kindergarten through third-graders. The panel featured authors Christine Sonntornvat and Kelly Greenawalt of Texas and Jess Keating of Canada.

The authors then visited eight South Side schools, signing copies of their books and meeting students.

My Very Own Library is looking to expand into other public schools in Chicago, while ensuring they don’t step on existing programs’ toes, Davis said.

He highlighted the work of Bernie’s Book Bank, which gives at-risk students 12 “curated” books every year and has donated more than 15 million books to date.

“There are a lot of agencies and organizations that have been working on literacy in Chicago for years,” Davis said. “We’re new to this space. We’re looking to partner with all of those agencies and be strategic about how we support students and families in this work.”

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