Cape Ann's First R Foundation, a grass-roots literacy initiative, is working to ensure the power of words will not be lost on youngsters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, now in its 18th year, has pivoted to ensure that books get into the hands of youngsters and that the children see that community members and leaders care enough to read to them — albeit virtually for the time being.

For the past 17 years, adult readers went into the classrooms monthly after which a few books were donated to each classroom for the children to borrow. But because of the pandemic, the foundation is finding other ways to promote literacy.

Carol Earle, who serves on the foundation's board, explained that instead of hosting a simple Zoom reading, the foundation hired a videographer to film the readers as well as parts of the book to make the experience more interesting for the children.

Additionally, the First R Foundation purchased books for each child in kindergarten and the first grade.

"Our hope is to help build libraries at home for the students and give them an at-home alternative to all the screen time they are on these days," said Earle. "We wanted to be creative so the virtual reading would keep the attention of the children. Also, in this way, if the students are at home, they can watch the video reading and follow along with their book at home."

The first books chosen are ones that promotes cultural awareness. The book for kindergartners is "We're Different, We're the Same and We're all Wonderful," a Sesame Street book.

The book chosen for first-grade classrooms is "This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World." The first-graders will receive an accompanying activity book called "This is How I Do It," in which children can write and draw about their daily lives.

These books will go out to more than 200 children in kindergarten and more than 200 in the first grade.  The books were delivered to the schools for distribution to children. 

The next book to be given to first-graders is "If I Were President."  Earle is looking into the idea of having high school seniors do the virtual reading for this book.

"Our mission is to help young students build a lifelong love of reading, which is a key to all future success," said Earle. "Reading and creative thinking are connected, and we want to foster those connections."

More information may be found and donations may made at

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at



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