Bookstore gifts $100 to each kindergarten, 1st-grade teacher in Berkeley

Jennifer Tanji/File

A Berkeley bookstore is donating $100 worth of books to every kindergarten and first grade teacher in Berkeley Unified School District.

Mrs. Dalloway’s on College Avenue was one of two Berkeley bookstores awarded a grant from well-known thriller author James Patterson in his national campaign to support independent bookstores, as first reported by Berkeleyside. Mrs. Dalloway’s chose to use the $8,500 gift to support 85 teachers and their classroom libraries at local elementary schools.

“What I see over and over again is that teachers come in here and see the latest books but they just don’t have the funds to support their classroom libraries,” said Anne Whaling, an employee at Mrs. Dalloway’s who buys children’s books for the store. “I said if we could get some money we would support the teachers, and they would support us — it’s a win-win.”

Patterson has been spearheading a national campaign to improve children’s literacy and attitudes towards reading. Whaling applied for the grant after learning that Patterson pledged to donate $1 million in discretionary funds to independent bookstores across the country to combat the competition against corporate stores and e-book success, she said.

Using a $7000 Patterson grant awarded last June, Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue was able to upgrade the shelving in the store’s children’s book area in addition to other renovations.

When awarded their grant this year, Mrs. Dalloway’s chose to share the gift with the community, instead of using the money to renovate their property at 2904 College Avenue. Whaling cited decreased funding within Berkeley Unified School District as the impetus that led to the store’s decision to award a $100 gift certificate to each kindergarten and first grade teacher.

Susan Hodge, principal of Emerson Elementary School, said her school can provide books for its students, but that many underestimate the cost of constantly replacing communal books lost from attrition and damage.

“We have a very diverse population,” Hodge said. “It’s an economically, culturally, and ethnically diverse district and we’re trying to meet the needs of all our students. What I think is unique is that Berkeley has made a commitment to do this by providing literacy support.”

Mrs. Dalloway’s program specifically promotes early childhood literacy — a theme emphasized in the district’s elementary schools through a literacy coach program. Each school has an assigned coach[,] committed to training teachers and working one-on-one with students to promote good reading habits.

“It takes a lot of work to do it this way,” Hodge said. “But we are committed to making sure that instead of just filling out worksheets students are talking and thinking critically about what they’re reading.”

While excited that the Mrs. Dalloway’s grant will help supplement elementary school programs, Hodge said the grant also represents an opportunity to support the independent bookstore.

Hodge said those most excited about the grant are Emerson’s kindergarten and first grade teachers.

“I called them all up to the office over the intercom,” Hodge said. “They came running into the room and I could put in their hands these 100 dollar gift cards. They were all so excited — it’s going straight to children.”

Arielle Swedback covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.