2,020 MAINE Books Challenge Stories 

Educate Maine launched the 2,020 Maine Books Challenge on March 27 to get books into the hands of Maine students while supporting our independent booksellers. Here is our story:

Where the idea for the 2020 Books Challenge came from

During the first week that our staff was adapting to the new reality presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we had to do something to help Maine students and businesses. We are fortunate to be connected with many of the state's most thoughtful and inspirational educators through our programs, in particular the Maine Teacher of the Year program and its network of County Teachers of the Year alumni, as well as our current class and alumni of the Education Leaders Experience (ELE) program. We called, wrote, and convened several of them and asked, "What do you and your students most need right now?"

This is what we heard...

“I have made Facetime calls with all of my kids, and a decent handful of them report to me that they do not have hard copies of books at home to read…Even if it was just ONE book, it would be ONE that they didn't have.” -educator in Androscoggin County

"I would love some money to buy books for kids and send them directly to their homes. Our schools, libraries and bookstore shut down before anyone could stock up, and I'm reluctant to share anymore websites with parents.” – educator in Lincoln County

“I would love to see support to local businesses like our downtown bookstore that are offering curb side pick-up…wouldn't it be great if every student had access to some money to pick up books to physically hold and read right now (especially since libraries are closed).” – educator in Franklin County

The "aha" moment

In addition to meals, WiFi hotspots, and devices, the theme of BOOKS emerged as a clear and urgent need for so many of Maine's students. Yes, the world was rapidly transitioning into remote learning, 24/7 Zooming, and all of the successes and challenges associated with adapting to an all-virtual lifestyle. But we couldn't forget the influence, inspiration, and comfort provided by a good old-fashioned book. Additionally, as we work closely with businesses throughout all of our programs, we'd been keeping up with the best ways to support local businesses as the pandemic began to unfold through #PayItForwardMaine. Could we encourage people to buy a gift certificate to support a business AND pass it on to students in need? Our six-person staff held a team meeting and the 2020 Books Challenge was born.

Our Book Heroes demonstrated their outstanding kindness and resourcefulness

We asked our incredible network of County Teachers of the Year if they would be willing to help us figure out this initiative from scratch: how to identify students of all ages in need (while preserving their privacy); purchase exciting, age-appropriate books; and distribute these books safely through existing infrastructure across all 16 counties. At least 20 current and former County Teachers of the Year stepped up to help.

  • Iris Eichenlaub, 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, inspired us through her safe, fast, and compassionate efforts to get books to the students in her community even while the library was closed.
  • Joanne Alex, 1998 Maine Teacher of the Year, donated 350 of her own books directly to students in Penobscot County.
  • Elaine Hendrickson, 2001 Maine Teacher of the Year, designed a beautiful note to be inserted with every book donated so that students know that ordinary Mainers care deeply about them and are thinking about them during this tough time.
  • Emily Larsen, an American University student from central Maine whose semester was cut short, reached out to see if she could volunteer her time to help out. She is an honorary Book Hero for her work to communicate about the challenge via our social media channels, to drive contributions and tell the stories of our incredible book hero network.
  • ALL of the teachers have done an extraordinary job of communicating with district leaders, other educators, booksellers, and students and parents directly to make sure the best books get from store to home without a hitch. We absolutely could not do this without them.
The Maine community stepped up to contribute to the challenge 

As of mid-May, we've raised $6,575 in gift certificates, ranging from $10 individual donations to hundreds of dollars raised by other individuals, book clubs, and the Portside Rotary Club. In partnership with UNUM, Ruth's Reusable Resources, and the Cumberland County Sheriffs, 6,800 books and supplies were donated to students on April 11. Publishers from away donated several hundreds of books directly. And recently, the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein made a $5,000 matching grant! Mainers really care about our kids.

Words of Wisdom

We ask on our donation form if contributors have words of encouragement for K-12 students during this time. This is just a small sampling of what has been daily inspiration during this challenging time:

Reading is a companion that will be with you for life! You are never alone if you have a book.

Whenever you feel worried or scared or lonely, I hope you find comfort in reading. When you read a book, you're sharing the same mind as another person for a moment in time, and I find so much comfort in knowing that someone else, somewhere, has felt the same things I feel, or has had some of the same thoughts I've had. I hope reading helps you feel connected and brings you joy!

Keep reading -- that will create a larger world for you to share.

Try writing your own book! There's no wrong way!

You may be scared at this time but you will be stronger and wise when it is over.

Stay connected! Be kind to the grown-ups who are caring for you. Do your best with all these changes and new ways of doing school. Your teachers miss you terribly and can’t wait to see you when it’s safe to be back in the building together!

Books are the most relaxing way to travel and learn! There are thousands of worlds waiting for you!

You have a lot of people who care about you! During this time when you are not in the school building, try to do these four things every day: (1) be curious about something (2) If weather and space allow, go outside and get some fresh air (3) read for pleasure (4) say something positive to yourself and/or someone else. We believe in you and are thinking of you!

Quarantine is tough, but reading books is like going on an adventure without having to move your feet!

Even if you are stuck at home, you can travel the world through books. If you think you don't like reading, you just haven't found the right book for you yet. Talk to your friends about what they like and think about starting a book group. You got this!

Books will always be your comfort and your magic carpet....

This is a gift of time to read. Take advantage and read all you can. What you read now, pays off for the rest of your life.

Students and their teachers say "thank you"

Educate Maine will not identify students who have been recipients of the Books Challenge books in order to preserve their privacy, however we do welcome photos and letters of thanks to those who have contributed and will share photos as long as we have students' parents' permission. Here are what two students had to say:

"Thank you so much for the book. I can't even express the joy I get from being able to hold a brand new book in my hand again - and even better it's one that I've been waiting for ages but have never been able to find in stores, only online. I'm going to be able to fully delve into a story I've been craving to read, and it's all thanks to you. If I could give you a virtual hug, I would."

"Today after I got home from work, my parents gave me a book that was left on our doorstep today that had a letter inside of it. I just wanted to thank anyone and everyone who made this possible!! This honestly made my whole day and I am so excited to start reading it (as soon as I’m done the one I’ve got going right now). Thank you so much and I am so happy and grateful to have this!!"

A few more thanks from our school leaders:

  • In Knox county, an assistant principal wrote: "Our 5th grade reading teacher was so excited she thoughtfully chose a book she thought each child would like!"
  • From Aroostook County: "Thank you so much for helping us to spread a joy of reading and learning to our kids. We received over 30 books and sent them to our kids (grade 1 to 8) in May at the end of this unusual school year."