communities. Working with publishers across the
industry to supply its two e-commerce sites—donated
inventory for the First Book National Book Bank, and
new discounted titles for the First Book Marketplace—
First Book is able to supply educators who have little
or no funds with books and other materials. First Book
also turns to corporate partners and other organizations for financial support to assist its mission.
“Education is a child’s best path out of poverty,” says
Chandler Arnold, First Book’s chief operating officer.
“First Book provides educators serving children in
need with the books and resources these kids need to
thrive. Our model is not traditional, and that is pre-
cisely one reason we love what we do so much.”
Arnold says the organization’s website provides it
with “models [that] allow us to work with hundreds
of thousands of educators to identify unmet needs,
In order to prevent misuse, only approved eligible educators
serving kids in need or military families can join, and about 1,000
do that every week. The materials those educators access represent
a wide swath of bestselling and essential titles, from John Green’s
Turtles All the Way Down in carton quantities discounted 64% per
book to the board book Little Blue Truck at 46% off the retail price.
But First Book has gone beyond simply establishing relationships with publishers to get books to educators in need. The
organization uses the insights it gleans from working with and
hearing from educators to go a step further, sometimes even
leading to the production of books in alternative, affordable
formats that would otherwise not have been possible.
In recent years, the organization’s projects include partnering
with the National Education Association to provide diverse
children’s titles exclusively through the First Book Marketplace,
as well as a research initiative that yielded a First Book Needs
Index, which allows funders to track “resource deserts” that lack
books and educational infrastructure.
First Book’s ability to foot the costs for some books has also
allowed publishers to experiment. The first run of a dual-lan-guage Eric Carle title was made possible because of First Book’s
interest and initial buy-in, which helped the publisher cover
initial production costs for a higher print run, allowing the title
to be introduced to the trade market.
“We fully understand the constraints and pressures facing the
publishing industry, and that is why we developed our models
to help lower the costs of books and resources for educators serving
kids in need, while still providing a profit margin for publishers,”
says Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “In addition
to inspiring children’s love of reading, these books and resources
provide the on-ramp for educators to further understanding and
empathy and to support social and emotional learning.” ■
On the upper floors of a nondescript building in the heart of Washington, First Book, a 25 year- old nonprofit, orchestrates a pioneering national distribution network that gets free and afford- able low-cost books and educational materials—170 million since 1992—into the hands of educators and
community leaders who work with children in low-income
By Alex Green