Three communities in the Dubuque region have partnered to bring books that reflect their diverse populations to young readers in Dyersville, Jackson County and Jones County. The project is part of a regional effort by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and its partners to support the academic success of children by focusing on an important predictor of high school graduation: Reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

Supported by a $4,000 grant from the Dubuque Racing Association, leaders of grade-level reading initiatives will distribute books to community libraries in their geographic service areas. These books will cover topics like diversity in culture and physical abilities as well as overcoming adversity, such as handling stress, loss and divorce.

“Our local libraries have identified a need to increase and update their collections of books that are inclusive of under-represented populations, and to expand their collections to cover more social and behavioral topics,” says Joanne Evans, coordinator of the Jackson County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “The children in our counties deserve to see their families honored and recognized in literature.”

In response to that need, Evans, along with Dyersville Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Coordinator Jessica Pape and Jones County Every Child Reads Coordinator Heather Weers, partnered to apply for the grant from the Dubuque Racing Association. The project will provide children in eastern Iowa with books appropriate from birth through third grade.

Distributing the books is part of broader efforts to support families and children facing social-emotional challenges and trauma, which can have negative implications for learning and development. One in six children age 2 through 8 nationally has a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Focusing on social and emotional well-being of young children is a necessary prevention and early intervention strategy aimed at improving children’s mental health,” says Pape. “Children can be very affected by stressors in their environments, and children’s literature offers one resource for families dealing with such stressors.”

All three grade-level reading initiatives are supported by local community foundations. “The backbone support from the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and its affiliate foundations in Jackson County, Jones County and the Dyersville area allows us to work independently at our local level while sharing resources and expertise,” says Weers. “Through our regional networking we see both common and unique needs in our communities, and we’re using our shared resources to meet those needs.”

The new books are being ordered this month based on the specific needs of each library, and will be delivered to libraries in Anamosa, Bellevue, Dyersville, Maquoketa, Monticello, Morley, Olin, Preston, Sabula and Wyoming during April.