Children’s Literature for Children owes its start to intrepid ‘book teacher’

Children’s Literature volunteers have been reading with students and building book collections in Atlanta Public elementary schools for four decades. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

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Children’s Literature volunteers have been reading with students and building book collections in Atlanta Public elementary schools for four decades. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Kemi Nix has always been a book teacher who firmly believes that if children can fall in love with reading, they can find their way in life.

Now 83 and retired, the longtime educator at The Westminster Schools proved her point through the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, teaching children to read by pulling real books off the shelves, which were better than the unadventurous reading curriculum of the day.

“Textbooks are boring and ask boring questions,” explains Nix, “but authors of children’s books have such an understanding of children and are the best teachers in the world.”

Children’s literature opens “a whole delightful world that you don’t find in textbooks,” she said.

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Atlanta Public Schools students enjoy their reading time with Children's Literature for Children volunteers. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Credit: Courtesy photo

Atlanta Public Schools students enjoy their reading time with Children's Literature for Children volunteers. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Atlanta Public Schools students enjoy their reading time with Children's Literature for Children volunteers. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

She became Westminster’s “book teacher” and then took her methods to Atlanta Public Schools as a volunteer. Every Monday, Westminster gave her the day to spend reading and sharing books at an elementary school in an impoverished area of Atlanta.

Others wanted to help, and soon she had a consistent group of book-loving adults who sat with small groups of children, reading and talking about the literature. Nix brought in children’s authors to speak and started book collections so students could take home their favorite titles. She said reading scores went up, and reluctant readers came around.

“If you have one person who knows the books, going with the same children for several years, you can turn children into book lovers. And a book lover will find their own path in life. That’s all you need,” Nix said.

After being coaxed to bring her methods to Kenya, Nix spent years traveling to Africa, teaching and helping to build libraries. She founded Children’s Literature for Children 40 years ago to keep these efforts going. The nonprofit’s mission is to get good literature into the hands of children who don’t have access to books.

Children’s Literature volunteers have been reading with students and building book collections in Atlanta Public elementary schools for four decades, said director Debbie Green.

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Kemi Nix reads with Atlanta Public School Pre-K students. Nix founded Children's Literature for Children 40 years ago to provide quality books to students, schools, libraries and hospitals. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Credit: spe

Kemi Nix reads with Atlanta Public School Pre-K students. Nix founded Children's Literature for Children 40 years ago to provide quality books to students, schools, libraries and hospitals. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Credit: spe

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Kemi Nix reads with Atlanta Public School Pre-K students. Nix founded Children's Literature for Children 40 years ago to provide quality books to students, schools, libraries and hospitals. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

COVID-19 has temporarily halted the classroom visits, but volunteers spent an hour each Wednesday reading and sharing books with second graders at Scott Elementary School before the pandemic.

“We also help them figure out what kind of books they like,” Green said. She said emerging readers often don’t know what types of books are out there, and classroom teachers haven’t time to focus solely on books and authors with such a packed classroom schedule.

“We get the joy of introducing them to the different genres, like mysteries or funny books,” Green said.

While waiting out the pandemic, the group stocks a classroom library and gives students goodie bags with pencils, stickers and books.

“It’s a way to get books into an underserved community, share a love of books and get them excited about reading, said Jackie Wallace, a Westminster parent who has been a volunteer with the program for four years.

“It’s such a rewarding experience to have a relationship with those little kids. When we come in, they jump up and yell, ‘Westminster, Westminster.’ And then to see them years later in the hallways as fourth graders. It’s really, truly special,” she said.

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Volunteers with Children's Literature for Children with Library Mouse books from the nonprofit's library collection. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children.

Credit: spec

Volunteers with Children's Literature for Children with Library Mouse books from the nonprofit's library collection. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children.

Credit: spec

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Volunteers with Children's Literature for Children with Library Mouse books from the nonprofit's library collection. Courtesy of Children's Literature for Children.

Credit: spec

Credit: spec

Children’s Literature also remains active in Kenya, having built 13 libraries, each with a water collection system so students could have fresh water to drink. In addition, the nonprofit supplies books donated through Reader-to-Reader collection drives in the metro area Green said she has 100 boxes of gently used children’s books waiting for shipment.

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One of the Kenya libraries, built and stocked with books by Children's Literature for Children. Photo contributed by Children's Literature for Children

Credit: spe

One of the Kenya libraries, built and stocked with books by Children's Literature for Children. Photo contributed by Children's Literature for Children

Credit: spe

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One of the Kenya libraries, built and stocked with books by Children's Literature for Children. Photo contributed by Children's Literature for Children

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

Reader-to-Reader encourages children to donate their books to others. “They really love it, picking out the special books they have outgrown. It’s a wonderful program,” Green said.

A Reader-to-Patient program takes books into children’s hospitals in Atlanta and Mississippi. It, too, has been sidelined due to COVID-19.

Nix grew up in Decatur as a prolific reader who always wanted to become a teacher. Among her favorite authors were Carolyn Haywood with her Betsy series and E. Nesbit’s, ”The Railway Children.”

While Nix is still active in the nonprofit, she no longer goes into classrooms, and age at age 80, she decided to “officially retire” from education.

“The program has just been blessed and grown enormously,” Nix said. “Once it started, it exploded. So I assume it’s providence.”

Nix’s former students frequently reach out to her, expressing what a difference she made in their lives with a love of reading, Green said.


WHAT’S INSPIRING ABOUT CHILDREN’S LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN

Twice nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, a Swedish global award promoting every child’s right to great stories and books.

Visit childrensliterature.org/ for financial donations or to give gently used children’s books, pre-K through 8th grade.