Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What is BookPALS? by Jan Godown Annino

More KIDLIT HEROES: BookPALS by Jan Godown Annino

 Open pages with the non-profit literacy group, BookPALS. 

This Q & A is with Natalie Rogers, my BookPALS coordinator. 
In 2013 BookPALS celebrated a grand 20th anniversary. 
It is sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.

 Q: What or who is a BookPAL?

BookPALS are Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools. They are actors, performers, educators and community members who volunteer their time and talent reading aloud to public school children who need it most. BookPALS bring the magic of books to life, sparking children’s imaginations with their animated, engaging and fun delivery.

Q And what is a PencilPAL?

PencilPALS provide children firsthand experience with letter writing. Volunteers pair with elementary students and correspond by postal mail, reviving the lost art. Letters are exchanged on topics ranging from favorite books, authors and school happenings, to long term aspirations.  Reading, writing, and spelling skills improve when children write habitually in this way.  Children also gain a sense of pride in their own writing and in their own stories by sharing them with interested readers. Plus, research proves that the act of handwriting is far more beneficial than typing and texting, as it hones fine motor skills, improves memory and fosters more complex thinking processes.
Q How much does it cost the volunteer?

For BookPALS, it is simply the cost of gas to commute to a school. For PencilPALS, it is the cost of a stamp once or twice a month and perhaps some fun stationery. Books can be borrowed from public or school libraries. Book donations from organizations like First Book also help us arm our volunteers with literature that is read aloud and then donated to build classroom and home libraries.

Q Can anyone sign up?

The opportunity is open to anyone with experience in the performing arts or education. In addition to performers, retired teachers, children’s authors, film and theater majors, English and education majors also make up a vital component of our volunteer base.

Q Doesn’t the classroom teacher read to the children?

Yes, classroom teachers do read to children (or at least I hope they all do), but sadly, in this era of high stakes testing and accountability, they often aren’t allotted time to do the kind of reading BookPALS do, which is reading for pure pleasure. BookPALS don’t teach children how to read. We teach children how to LOVE to read. In doing so, we hope to create lifetime readers as opposed to just school time readers. Plus, BookPALS are trained to pull out all the stops—to do the voices, sound effects, bring in props, dress in costume when they can. Some teachers say that BookPALS teach them to be more animated readers! 

Q Example of BookPALS making a difference in communities?
 One 1st grader’s desk was situated in the back corner of the classroom, away from his classmates’ clusters of desks. He was not permitted to sit on the floor with the others during my readings. He sat alone at his desk, fuming, thumb twiddling, barely listening. During one reading, I caught his eye and smiled at him. He looked baffled. When I asked the class a question about the book, I looked him in the eye again, held his gaze, and silently encouraged him. He blurted out an answer. I acknowledged, gave another warm smile, and gently asked him to please raise his hand next time. A few visits later, he asked the teacher if he could sit on the floor, next to me. She hesitated, but agreed. Each visit thereafter, he sat right in front of me, listening intently, remembering to raise his hand, ever eager to share. Something magical happened to this marginalized student. He became an active member of our community of listeners, thinkers, questioners. With the help of some very clever authors, I had caught him . . . in the line of an imaginary book hook!

Q THAT is a splendiferous story, Natalie - congrats! And now, what is STORYLINE?
Storyline Online is a really fun, interactive, streaming video. The books are handpicked by the BookPALS National Director. Of course, the selections ultimately depend on securing publisher’s rights. But with the hope of giving children the best literature possible, Storyline Online strives to provide books from a wide range of topics that deal with the young minds of today. Visit 

Q. How does a reader sign up?
Those interested in becoming a BookPAL or PencilPAL may sign up at We have chapters in 6 locations: Arizona, Florida, Los Angeles, New England, New York City, and San Francisco.  Simply choose your location and complete the online application. We promise you won’t regret it!

Group Blog: Thank you, Natalie Rogers
Thank YOU, Jan, for being one of our stellar BookPALS
Aww, back at you, & BookPALS.


  1. This sounds like a wonderful program for kids! That's neat how that one boy was touched.

    1. I agree Tina. I wish Natalie Rogers could be replicated in every state (& in your case, every part of the world...) Thank you so much for commenting.

  2. Jan and Natalie, Those are the moments we live for--capturing the imagination and reeling the students in! Great work! Thank you for sharing your wonderful project!

    1. Janie, It's fun to know that volunteering to read can make a difference. Such an easy way to move things forward, for the good. Thanks for the great comment.

  3. Oh, cool. There is a chapter in AZ. Jan, super informative Q & A.

  4. Kathy, Thank you.
    You would be a splendid reader out there in AZ.
    And truly I think every Group Blogger would be a great PencilPAL.

  5. Wow, Jan, those are tow terrific programs! No BookPALS program in Chicago, but maybe PencilPALS instead.

    1. They are impressive, Pat. I'm glad you mention PencilPALS as I think I was misleading. Everyone in our group would make a great BookPALS & PencilPALS volunteer if a coordinator covered their area. Apologies for that!
      Thanks for the great comments.

  6. Update #2 - The Chicago area BookPALS group/coordination mite be a happenin' thing, again, I've just learned. So stay tuned... You would be a great BookPALS volunteer, as would all our lively Group Blog/Groggers. thanks again.

  7. Hi Jan: I am familiar with Story Line and have used it in my classroom. Thank you for introducing us to an outstanding reading program, Book Pals Screen Actors Guild Foundation. Since there are only six chapters, how great would it be to expand, grow and share the love of reading with many more kids. I so love the story about the first grader! I do hope he is continuing with his love for reading. ~Suzy Leopol

  8. Suzy, I fell for that story too. Since I know his reader & the area (Orlando) I think the answer is likely, yes. We can keep our pencils crossed, eh? Slowly the program increases & someday, it should be coast to coast. I think NYC has a big contingent, which I often forget to mention. Luv Garden Girl as an online name, especially this time of year.