Hey, y’all. My name is Trish Holland. Let me tell you about Books for Dallas Babies. I conceptualized this program, presented it to the Dallas Public Library, and was involved in every step of its development. Many people contributed their expertise and energy to this project. Together, we brought it to life and are very proud of its success.  It was so successful, in fact, that it inspired a sister program, Books for Tarrant County Babies.  Both programs are going strong in 2017.

How Did It All Begin?

Books for Dallas Babies began with KERA, the local public radio station in Dallas. One afternoon in early 2013, as I listened to the program Latino USA, the host, Maria Hinahosa, discussed a new research study out of the UC Berkeley Education Department. The researchers found that the three-year-old Mexican American children in this study were as much as 8 months behind their non-Hispanic peers in language and preliteracy skills, while those same Mexican American children were equal in intelligence and actually a bit above their non-Hispanic peers in social skills. Already 8 months behind the curve in preliteracy skills and only three years old. That is a horrible statistic! The difference was attributed to a combination of many cultural, language and poverty factors. One result of these combined factors was that very young children were not being read to enough.

I thought a lot about that study and others I read. I live in a heavily Hispanic part of Dallas. The children in the public elementary school closest to me are primarily of Hispanic descent. The possibility of any of those beautiful babies starting school already at a disadvantage for learning to read made me angry. I’d been read to as a child. My grandmother, Lois Adella Taylor, had made up wonderful stories for me every night. I read to my own children. My husband even read an entire Charlie Brown Encyclopedia set to our children when they were very young. Now I learn that there are many children who aren’t read to at all? These studies made me feel like I’d been living under a rock. I needed to do something to make this better. I couldn’t fix the huge problem of illiteracy, but maybe I could help in one small way by getting books to babies in my area, particularly those hampered by language barriers and/or the weight of poverty. Other research papers had shown me the devastating effects of poverty on literacy rates. It was shocking to find that so many low-income homes had no books at all.

I explored many already existing literacy programs, but couldn’t find a program that was designed to reach all children early enough. Some programs provided books to prenatal classes or at well child visits, but these were self-selecting. Only those who attended received books. I wanted a program that reached every baby. Most of the programs I found concentrated on pre-school age and up. For me, that was too late. We needed to get language in the form of books and stories to babies from birth so that they wouldn't already be behind in preliteracy skills by the time they reached pre-school.

I hold a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a Specialization in Maternal and Child Health and worked in hospitals for over 20 years. I understand how hospitals operate and thought a hospital might work as the setting for the project. Here was a captive audience of mothers who wanted nothing more than to do their best for their new babies. I finally decided I could help most by getting bilingual picture books, including a bit of literacy and library information, into the hands of all new mothers, not just Latinas, while they were still on the maternity wards of the hospitals where they gave birth. These women would be their babies' first teachers.

After researching poverty statistics for Dallas County, I determined I wanted to begin the program at Parkland Hospital, which has the highest percentage of births to low-income mothers in Dallas County. The project could reach the highest number of needy children there. In 2015, Parkland had approximately 10,000 births, more than a quarter of all births in Dallas County. From discussions with staff members in the Women’s and Infants’ Specialty Health (WISH) program at Parkland, I learned that Parkland also had the highest percentage of births in the county to mothers who spoke primarily Spanish, the group I originally set out to aide. The Parkland folks said if I could get them the books, they’d be thrilled to implement the program and make it a part of each new mother’s educational experience on the maternity ward.

I spoke to many people in the community while searching for the right way to fund the project. I talked to several bi-lingual book publishers to get an idea of what an appropriate book would cost for 10,000 copies. Of course, we had to have new, not used, books for hygienic reasons and to show mothers how much we valued them and the program. In a conversation with my city councilman, Scott Griggs, he recommended I approach the Dallas Public Library. In the spring of 2014, I called the main library downtown and spoke with Jasmine Africawala, Community Engagement Manager, an energetic, dedicated warrior for literacy. She was very excited by the idea and suggested she present it to Kate Park, Executive Director of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, another amazing literacy fanatic, who immediately wanted to pursue the project. The three of us got together and Books for Dallas Babies was on its way.  

From Parkland, we were able to get exact statistics on the number of births per year broken down by ethnicity so we were assured that bilingual Spanish/English books would work for over 97% of the mothers at Parkland. We could also use these precise statistics in our funding requests. Kate, Jasmine and I met many times over the next few months to work out the details of the program confident that our plan to distribute bilingual Spanish/English books was what Parkland needed first. In the future we hoped to add other languages.

How was Books for Dallas Babies Funded?

Kate Park of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library took on the heavy financial lifting and contractual arrangements with the publisher and with Parkland Hospital. She wrote two successful grants in the spring of 2015. As soon as we were notified that the grants would be funded by our wonderful donors, the Boone Family Foundation and the Mike and Mary Terry Family Foundation, we knew this project was going to happen. Now we needed the perfect book…many, many copies of the perfect book.  

How was the First Book Selected?

My area of expertise is in writing children’s picture books. I’ve had several published by Little Golden Books at Random House, a couple published by Leap Frog and a number of books published for the educational market. I know what one looks for in a good children’s picture book and know how the business of publishing works. I was well aware that the characteristics of the book itself would be critical to the success of the program.

I contacted every major publisher in the country that published bi-lingual picture books. I received enthusiastic responses from many who sent sample books they thought might work for our needs. It’s a wonderful collection of fine bilingual Spanish/English picture books. Some have stunning illustrations, some are funny, some cute, some simple, some more complex, some are concept books like counting or colors or animals, some tell old folktales and some stories are brand new. The publishers I recall having great interactions with during this time were: Lee and Lowe, Scholastic, Random House, Arte Publico’s Pinnata Press at the University of Houston, Cinco Puntos in El Paso and Star Bright Books in Boston, MA. 

I winnowed down the books to a short stack and then presented them to Jasmine and Kate. The book we chose, VAMOS A LEER / READ TO ME by Judi Moreillon, illustrated by Kyra Teis, published by Star Bright Books, is a beautifully written poem that engages reader and baby through lyrical language and colorful, multicultural illustrations, while it touts the wonders of sharing books and stories.

One interesting coincidence is that after we picked the book, we learned that the author lived close by in Denton, TX. Judi Moreillon was a professor at Texas Women’s University in the Library Sciences Department. Of course, I called her. She was very excited and offered to help with any public relations activities needed.

How was the Book Altered to Fit the Needs of the Project?

Instructional pages were added to the beginning and end of the book which encourage new parents to read, talk, and sing to their babies from birth and to seek out their local public libraries as free sources for more books and children’s programs. Jasmine Africawala at the Dallas Public Library headed the library team that developed the educational and acknowledgement pages we included in the book. We decided that adding pages to the book itself would be more effective than placing paper brochures inside the cover. These could be lost or thrown away. We wanted the educational portion to always go wherever the book went, as it was passed around and passed along. Jasmine’s team created a beautiful logo for the program, as well as exactly what we needed for the educational pages. They were attractive, clear, simple, interesting and informative. Jasmine’s book designer worked very closely with the publisher to get the pages ready for printing.

How was the Book Published?

The extra pages were ready to go to the publisher, Star Bright Books, in the summer of 2015. Deborah Shine, owner and publisher of Star Bright Books in Boston, and her assistant Jiyoung Ahn, were almost as excited about the project as we were. They are very supportive of literacy education efforts. Deborah offered a great discount on the cost per book and gave us all the help we could want in getting the book ready for printing. It was she who first brought up the idea of personalizing the book for our needs by adding pages. It seems that at every stage in the development of the Books for Dallas Babies project, we ran into people that were thrilled with the idea that they could help get books to needy children. We were very fortunate to find so many people who were dedicated to children’s literacy.

How was the Program Implemented at Parkland Hospital?

The books, all 10,000 plus of them, arrived at the main Dallas library in mid-December, 2015. Jennifer Hill, Director of Women’s and Infants’ Specialty Health at Parkland, had already developed the procedures staff members would use to distribute the books. Parkland received its first load of boxes in late December. When supplies ran low in the future, staff members were to contact the library and library staff would bring over more. Kick-off date for the project was set for January 1st, 2016. And that is exactly what happened. Lots of good press, books, and happy, educated new mothers later, the program is a success!