The Gift of Reading
Mary Polizzotto helps children feel the magic of owning their own books
by Brooke Stiles/eBella magazine
With the help of Mary Polizzotto, Books for Collier Kids (BCK) has, since 2005, distributed more than 1.2 million books to children in low-income families.
As book distribution chair, she has carried out BCK’s single mission: providing new books to children in need. From pre-K to second grade, children in all 20 of Collier County’s Title 1 elementary schools receive a book per month.
Polizzotto works with teachers to select age-appropriate books that support and reinforce the classroom curriculum, then orders and coordinates the distribution of books, assuring they end up in the hands of children who may have never had the privilege of owning a book of their own.
“The first time you go into a classroom where the majority of the children are from low-income homes and don’t have books — and then you hand them a book with their name on it to take home — they just explode,” she says.
With a doctorate in education and literacy, Polizzotto understands the correlation between how many books a child has contact with and their school success.
“In a middle-class home, children have access to about 350 books per child,” she says. “But in a low-income home, there’s about one book per 300 kids.”
Access to books is one of the biggest threats to children’s literacy. So, even a worldwide pandemic couldn’t stop Polizzotto from getting books to kids in need.
When Collier schools closed in early March, she immediately went to work with the school district to ensure children received their books for April and May. Still, she worried about the summer months, when reading skills tend to fall behind, especially for kids of low-income households.
BCK already works with many local organizations and their summer school programs to fight the summer slide, but this year, Polizzotto managed to find funding to double the number of books for not just early readers, but for needy children in grades 1-8, as well.
“Some of these children have never even held a book before,” she says. “But the smiles and body language of children receiving their first book tell me this is a good way to spend my time.”