Bay Path student helps make books more accessible through charity

Dec. 11, 2019 | Sarah Heinonen

Elizabeth Murphy holds a copy of one of the books for which she created a reader guide.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

LONGMEADOW – Elizabeth Murphy doesn’t graduate from Bay Path University until May 2020, but the elementary education student is already helping kids learn to love reading.

Murphy spent a few months of the summer volunteering with Link to Libraries, a Western Massachusetts-based charity that has collected donations of nearly 600,000 new books in the past 10 years, distributing them to local children and school libraries.

Murphy’s work supported Read Aloud, a program from Link to Libraries that has 200 volunteers who read up to seven books throughout the school year to underserved third and fourth-grade classrooms in the area. Copies of the books are given to each student to build a home library.

Laurie Flynn, Link to Libraries president and CEO, said the books are carefully curated. Many are chosen to reflect diversity, current affairs and social issues children may be dealing with at home, Flynn said.

To help the volunteer readers navigate these complicated topics, Murphy wrote guides to 20 of the books in the Link to Libraries catalog. She said that the guides consist of an outline of the book, vocabulary that children may not know, tips for reading, and a series of open–ended questions for readers to discuss with the class.

“I’ve gotten hand-written thank you notes from readers,” Flynn said. She said that before Murphy created the guides to help the volunteers navigate sensitive subjects, some readers had shied away from books with complicated topics. “Once they had the tools, they fell in love, and the kids fell in love with the book,” Flynn said.

Murphy has written guides for children’s books about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a child whose father is in prison and a boy with a physical disability who overcomes his challenges.

“The emphasis on multicultural literature helps kids see themselves in books,” Murphy said, and also, “see into someone else’s life.” She said seeing reflections of themselves in books helps to “foster a love of literature and a love of reading.”

Murphy began the project by writing a book guide as coursework for one of her classes. She then decided to continue creating the guides for other books in Link to Libraries catalog.

“It just shows [Murphy’s] commitment to helping kids in the community,” Flynn said.

Flynn said that Link to Libraries has helped Murphy, as well. The college senior is working on an independent study that required several copies of a book, which the charity provided.

“We were able to help each other,” Flynn said.

Murphy volunteered as a reader for the first time a few weeks ago and said she will probably continue creating guides for some of the other 20 books in the Link to Libraries catalog, “because I enjoyed doing it and because I think it’s important to help kids learn to love reading.”

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