Kids dance around tables full of books outside of Arlington Science Focus Elementary School on an overcast December afternoon. There are stories in Spanish, books about Black history, and novels about being the next president, all waiting to be picked up and read.
And parked a few feet away from the book fair is a bright blue “book bus” with a dragon painted on the side.
In the middle of it all is “Pajama Mama,” aka Jennifer Sauter-Price, dressed in her best dog pajamas. She’s the executive director of the Arlington-based nonprofit R.E.A.D. with a mission of providing brand new books to young children who may not have access to them.
R.E.A.D stands for “read early, and daily” and it’s the brainchild of Sauter-Price.
“We want to help [kids] grow libraries and encourage their families to read to them on a daily basis,” she tells ARLnow.
There’s ample research that there’s immense benefits in constantly reading to kids prior to them entering kindergarten. It improves their vocabulary and helps them associate words with feelings along with a number of other benefits, studies show.
Sauter-Price’s R.E.A.D program is simple: Families sign up and get to choose one new book a month for each kid under the age of five in their family.
“It would be really easy for me to just hand them a book, but we learned that families are more engaged when they choose their own book,” says Sauter-Price, who is a mom herself and lives in the Arlington Forest neighborhood. “They feel more empowered.”
Currently, there are about 200 children enrolled.
The books available, Sauter-Price notes, are intentionally chosen to reflect Arlington’s community.
“We have a diverse population of young children here. We have kids who speak English, Spanish, Arabic, Mongolian,” she says. “I search high and low to find those books as well as one that have a diverse set of families.”
These are what are called “mirror and window” books, ones that reflect the child themselves (mirror) and ones that show the community they live in (window).
Sauter-Price describes a time, pre-COVID, when she showed up to a community event with a book featuring a mom wearing a hijab.
“There was a group of Muslim moms and when one of them saw [the book], they started crying,” she says. “She was like, ‘I’ve never seen this before. Thank you.'”
When asked what are the most popular books, Sauter-Price says that’s universal.
“I would probably say anything about transportation or things that go ‘vroom’,” she laughs.
The book fairs across the county that Sauter-Price puts on, like the one held at Arlington Science Focus Elementary, are revenue generators for R.E.A.D, allowing her to buy more books for more families who are in need.
In 2021 alone, Sauter-Price says the fairs have done about $125,000 in sales, much of which goes back to the program. The hope is to double those sales numbers next year.
Community donations and grants also help to finance R.E.A.D. In the summer of 2019, the program received a $50,000 grant from the newspaper publisher Gannett to spruce up an old school bus.
Sauter-Price drives this bus around, brings it to fairs, while families can also shop out of it. She always dress in pajamas because, she says, “it breaks down barriers.”
Future aspirations for R.E.A.D. are high. Sauter-Price just got her peddler’s license meaning she can do “pop-up” book fairs on weekends in commercial areas like Ballston and Clarendon. She’s planning to start doing that this month. Additionally, beginning sometime early next year, the nonprofit is partnering with Virginia Hospital Center to provide a bag of books to uninsured and underinsured moms-to-be.
If R.E.A.D. is able to reach all of those moms, Sauter-Price estimates that it could mean the program could be working with as many as 1,800 babies and young kids a year.
That’s okay by Sauter-Price, who says some of her best memories are reading to her own kids. While they are both grown now and likely don’t want their mom reading to them, reading remains a huge part of Sauter-Price’s life.
She says, “I just feel like my whole life has just been sort of leading to this.”
This feature article was funded by the ARLnow Press Club and was previously published in the Press Club’s weekend newsletter.
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The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.
Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.
About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.
The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village