St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, a member of Tower Health’s regional health system, has formed an ongoing partnership with Harriett’s Bookshop to provide a more diverse collection of books to patients through the hospital’s Reach Out and Read program.
“We’re excited about the partnership,” said owner of Harriett’s Bookshop Jeannine Cook. “It’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense for the both of us because we both know the importance of literacy, especially at a young age.
“The partnership also gives us an opportunity to support children that are going through one of the most traumatic experiences of their lifetime. One of the ways we can support them is through books. I think the books will provide some level of comfort and normalcy in a world that doesn’t feel super normal.”
Cook brought the first batch of 100 books to the patients of St. Christopher’s last month. To date, Harriett’s Bookshop, which is located at 258 E. Girard Ave. in Fishtown, has donated over 300 books.
“We provided lots of books so far like “Parker Looks Up” and “Skin Like Mine,” Cook said. “Our mission is to celebrate women authors, artists, and activists, so the books that we’re providing are doing the same thing, but it’s just for children.
“We’ve sent children and teen books to St. Christopher’s, but we also sent over a few adult books as well for the parents that are waiting to meet the doctor or who are sitting in the hospital room.
“We know firsthand what it looks like when children walk into the children’s room and see a brand new book, especially a book with a character that looks like them on the cover and reminds them of themselves,” Cook added. “We know that is a special moment.”
Established in 1989, Reach Out and Read is a national program that was founded to help families make reading a part of their routine and to supply them with books that they would need to get started.
Since its early days at Boston City Hospital, currently Boston Medical Center, the national program is now in all 50 states with 6,100 program sites that provide seven million books each year.
Reach Out and Read at St. Christopher’s got its start in 2001 and has been led by pediatricians and co-medical directors of the program Dr. Hans Kersten and Dr. Dan Taylor.
Through the program, St. Christopher’s has given more than 800,000 brand new books to patients as well as provided literacy guidance to more than 300,000 families. The program supports the hospital’s literacy efforts in North Philadelphia.
“This is our 20th anniversary of having Reach Out and Read at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children,” Taylor said. “We went from a small book drive to an annual campaign that provides thousands of books to our patients every year. Dr. Hans Kersten and I both know the importance of early childhood education and early childhood literacy.
“There’s nothing better than giving a brand new book to a child who really connects with it,” he added. “The smile on their faces puts a smile on the parent’s faces. We love when kids leave our practice and actually have that book in hand and they grip it so tightly. It’s the greatest gift we can give as pediatricians.”
Since 2014, the program has raised money through the Reach Out and Read basketball tournament fundraiser. Every cent the fundraiser raised would go toward books for the 21,000 kids served by the Center for the Urban Child at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
The tournament, which has become the program’s biggest fundraiser, has raised over $340,000 and purchased more than 120,000 books.
While the basketball tournament was canceled this year due to the pandemic, St. Christopher’s and Harriett’s Bookshop have instead organized a virtual reading tournament that features videos of authors reading their own books.
“The people at Harriett’s got 10 renowned authors to read from their children books, videotaped it, and we put it on a website so children and families can go to the videos to watch writers read their books,” Taylor said.
“They can then vote on the one that they like the best. We tally the votes and see which author’s book wins the tournament. We’re trying to get Lupita Nyong’o, who wrote the children’s book ‘Sulwe’, to potentially be the premier reader at the end of the tournament.”
Taylor said that through the program, he hopes children will be healthy and succeed in school.
“The pediatricians at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and our administration really get that the children that we serve deserve every chance they have to succeed in school, to be healthy, and to be successful,” Taylor said.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than to see children walking out of our office with a book tucked under their arms. It gives me hope that at some point people will start valuing our children and families, especially in communities that have been neglected for so long.”