Black Hills Reads was recently awarded a $7,250 grant from First Book, a nonprofit group focused on providing children in need with access to quality education. The funds are part of First Book’s OMG Books Awards: Offering More Great Books to Spark Innovation program, which provides over $4.7 million in funding and 1.5 million books to children living in low-income communities across the United States.

The First Book grant provides educators throughout the Black Hills with $25 gift cards to spend on the purchase of new books and eBooks. Teachers are given leeway to spend the funds on materials they feel will benefit their students best.

Kayla Klein, Black Hills Reads Director, is excited for the opportunity this gift will provide students, especially given the limited resources available to early childhood educators. “With this award, we will be able to bring new, high-quality, contemporary books to the kids we serve,” she says. “This will make a tangible difference as we work to spark a love of reading and increase access to rich literature, which is essential to learning.”

Getting kids excited about reading is one of the key initiatives of Black Hills Reads, whose goal is to have all children reach reading proficiency by the 3rd grade. In January 2018, the group expanded from a single Rapid City program and now encompasses the entire United Way region in the northern and southern Black Hills. Kayla believes the grant will help educators throughout the area buy into the program.

“When a child is excited about reading the process of learning to read becomes much easier…they will be more likely to graduate, more likely to move onto post-secondary education, and be a productive citizen in our society, which is a benefit to everyone.”

Kayla Klein, Black Hills Reads Director

Another program Black Hills Reads champions is the Young Readers One Book initiative. This program is the result of an ongoing partnership with the South Dakota Humanities Council and its goal is two-fold: to get kids excited about reading and to raise awareness about the importance of literacy. Each year, two or three books by a featured author are combined into a single book; Black Hills Reads then purchases copies and distributes to all second graders in the Black Hills before the end of the school year. Students will have an opportunity to meet the author in person during the third grade.

This year’s featured author is Rapid City artist and storyteller Don Montileaux, renowned for his ledger images depicting the Lakota lifestyle. Three of his books were combined into Tatanka and Other Legends of the Lakota people, a charming 55-page read that includes a creation story, a Lakota horse legend, and a Lakota drum story. The book features Don’s colorful illustrations and includes Lakota translations of the English text.

A YouTube video is available to anybody wanting to learn more about this and other exciting Black Hills Reads book programs.

WORDS BY MARK PETRUSKA