A hospital isn't the most obvious place to push children's literacy, but one bookstore chain is doing just that, holding community book drives and putting its money where its backlist is.
"What better place to reach kids--sick and well--than in hospitals and medical offices?" asks Kathy Doyle Thomas, marketing VP of Dallas-based Half Price Books, which opened its first Half Pint Library this spring at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Another 16 will follow this year in Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, with locations in California and Pennsylvania set for 2000.
Each library will start out with 1,000 titles, ranging from Dr. Seuss to teen romances. Half Price, which has 61 stores in 10 states and $70 million in annual sales, will give each participating hospital another 100 books a month for the first year and will coordinate annual book drives.
Some hospitals are setting up separate Half Pint Libraries; others are incorporating the books into existing stacks or working strictly from book carts donated by Half Price. And what if a visiting sibling turns out to be a bookworm? "We're not going to deny her a book if she wants one," says Thomas. "If the books go home with the children, it's OK with us."
That's the philosophy at Cleveland's Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, which became a Half Pint site in April. "Books often disappear after a day or two, taken home by small hands that can't bear to let them go," says Robert Needlman. The pediatrician is a founder of Reach Out and Read, a nationwide program that gives hospitalized kids "prescriptions" to read a book or get read to by their parents.
Needlman remembers greeting two small visitors in the waiting room who barely looked up from their reading to say hello. It's much quieter, he says. "The difference between this and the often random activity in the waiting room before the books arrived is striking."
This article first appeared in the on September 1, 1999 in HHN Magazine online site.