When I attended Wood Gormley Elementary School in Santa Fe in the late 1970s and early 1980s, every year (or was it bi-annually?), people who ran the R.I.F. (Reading is Fundamental) van would show up to our school library with a box of books nearly four feet wide and as tall as myself (I was the second tallest girl in the class; Martha Cooke was the first tallest). To come to school and find out it was R.I.F. Day... Wow. To reach into the box and pull out a shiny paperback was an event that would have the school yard buzzing at recess.
I grabbed for the usual 3rd and 4th grade fodder like Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, but one day ended up with an Encyclopedia Brown book. It didn't turn out to be as prized a possession as Harriet the Spy, which I emulated with close detail, often walking around my downtown neighborhood with a little notebook and stubby pencil taking down notes "spying" on people. Oh why couldn't I be blessed with poor vision so that I could wear glasses like Harriet's (which hello, are the same that Harry Potter wears!). Encyclopedia Brown was new, though, it was mine, it was free, and I didn't have to return it.
I was curious to see if R.I.F. was still on the radar and it is, despite an ominous guillotine that looms large in the background. The statistic that pops up on their homepage says there is only 1 book for every 300 children in the United States living in poverty. When I clicked through that stat to their action page, I learned that in March, Congress cut federal funding to this program. Is it R.I.P. for R.I.F.?
Studies have come out saying that the "print environment" at home is an accurate predictor of literacy success. I can't imagine that this comes as a surprise to anyone. So to you librarians out there who fight tirelessly to keep R.I.F., the excellent First Book program, and others like it alive, I offer a belated Thank You all these years later. I know you're also fighting for, like, your jobs.