She became a “book teacher” at Westminster, then transferred her methods to Atlanta Public Schools as a volunteer. Every Monday, Westminster would set aside the day for her to spend and share books at an elementary school in a poor area of Atlanta.
Others wanted to help, and soon she had a steady group of book-loving adults who sat with small groups of children, reading and talking about literature. Nicks brought in children’s authors to talk and started book collections so students could take home their favorite titles. She said reading scores went up, and hesitant readers came in.
“If you have one person who knows books, goes with the same kids for several years, you can turn the kids into book lovers. And book lovers will find their way in life. That’s all you need,” Nicks said.
Persuaded to bring her methods to Kenya, Nicks spent years traveling to Africa, where she taught and helped build libraries. She founded Children’s Literature for Children 40 years ago to continue these efforts. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to get good literature into the hands of children who don’t have access to books.
Children’s Literature Director Debbie Green said children’s literature volunteers have been reading with students and building book collections at Atlanta public elementary schools for four decades.
COVID-19 has temporarily halted classroom visits, but volunteers spent an hour every Wednesday reading and sharing books with second graders at Scott Elementary School before the pandemic.
“We also help them figure out what kind of books they like,” Green said. She said that budding readers often don’t know what types of books are available, and classroom teachers don’t have time to focus solely on books and authors with a busy semester schedule.
“We are happy to introduce them to different genres, like riddles or funny books,” Green said.
While waiting for the pandemic, the group has stocked a classroom library and gives students good bags with pencils, posters and books.
It’s a way of getting books to an underserved community, sharing a love of books and getting them excited about reading,” said Jackie Wallace, a Westminster parent who has been a volunteer with the program for four years.
“It’s a rewarding experience to have a relationship with these little kids. When we walked in, they would jump and shout, ‘Westminster, Westminster.'” And then we’d see them years later in the corridors as fourth graders. “It’s really, really special,” she said.
Children’s literature is also still active in Kenya, where it has built 13 libraries, each with a water collection system so students can have fresh water to drink. In addition, nonprofit supply books donated through Reader-to-Reader Group Drives in the metro area, Green said she has 100 boxes of gently used children’s books waiting to be shipped.
Reader-to-Reader encourages children to donate their books to others. “They really like it, picking out the specials they’ve gone over. It’s a great program,” Green said.
Reader-to-Patient takes books to children’s hospitals in Atlanta and Mississippi. It has also been sidelined by COVID-19.
Nicks grew up in Decatur as a prolific reader who always wanted to be a teacher. Among her favorite authors was Caroline Haywood with her series Betsy and E. Nisbet, Children of the Railroad.
While Nix is still active in the nonprofit, she no longer goes to classes, and at 80, she has decided to “formally retire” from teaching.
“The program has just been blessed and has grown tremendously,” Nicks said. “Once it started, it exploded. So I suppose it was Providence.”
Green said former Nix students connect with her often, expressing the difference she made in their lives with a love of reading.
What is the inspiration about children’s literature for children
She was twice nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize, a Swedish global award that promotes every child’s right to have great stories and books.
Visit childrensliterature.org/ For financial donations or to give away gently used children’s books, pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.