First-graders to get a free bilingual book

The Arizona Republic
Aug. 2, 2003

Governor carries out vow to promote kids' reading

Chip Scutari and Robbie Sherwood
 12:00 AM

Every first-grader in Arizona will soon be getting a bilingual book about a Native American child, the result of a campaign promise Gov. Janet Napolitano made in last year's governor's race.

Napolitano initially made the pledge to promote reading and early literacy. She emphasized Friday that the book handout is just the first step in retooling Arizona's outdated system of early education.

She worked out a discount deal with an Arizona publisher and two corporate sponsors to make sure 80,000 youngsters get a free copy of This House Is Made of Mud, the story of a desert family and their way of life. The books, written in English and Spanish, are scheduled to arrive in classrooms in October.

"We want to re-enforce our focus on reading, reading, reading," said Napolitano, who made the campaign promise in her announcement for governor last year. "It's one piece of a gigantic puzzle we will put together on early education. By the time they hit first grade, they should be reading or very close to reading."

Eric Howard, marketing director for Northland Publishing in Flagstaff, said the company was thrilled when it found out that Napolitano wanted to hand out one of its books.

80,000 copies

Chief Executive Officer Ron Billideau worked out a deal to publish 80,000 copies at about a 75 percent discount from the $6.95 cover price.

"Ron told them, tell us what you have to work with, and we did," Howard said. "Due to the generosity of the corporate sponsors, the kids are going to have a wonderful book in their hands that will demonstrate some of Arizona's great multicultural heritage."

Two companies, Southwest Gas and Phelps Dodge, are covering the $140,000 cost. The book was written by former Tucson resident Ken Buchanan and depicts the building of an adobe house through the eyes of a young American Indian boy. Buchanan and illustrator Libba Tracy have moved to the Pacific Northwest.

The softcover book, published in 1992, continues to sell well, Howard said, but in a niche market that means marketing about 54,000 copies over the past decade.

Most gubernatorial candidates last year talked about the importance of early education. They stressed early literacy as a way to cut Arizona's high dropout rate.

Some challengers, such as Democrat Mike Newcomb, mocked Napolitano's idea as a "campaign gimmick." But Matt Salmon, Napolitano's Republican foe in the race, applauded her for keeping her promise.

"If she was able to get it done with no cost to the state, I think that's great," he said. "I applaud her. That's good news."

'Visible symbol'

Napolitano said the book project is a "visible symbol" of her commitment to early education. In September, the governor and her education advisers will go to North Carolina to look at that state's "Smart Starts" program, touted as a national success.

By the end of the year, Napolitano hopes to roll out a conceptual plan for a universal pre-kindergarten and all-day kindergarten programs.

She said it's too early to tell how the program will be structured or how much it will cost. The tough question, though, is how Napolitano will pay for this just as the state continues to face a massive fiscal crunch. Last year, legislative analysts put the cost of a statewide, full-day kindergarten program at more than $200 million.

Howard said he's glad children will be reading the book.

"It's an Arizona story written by Arizona authors, and it's bilingual," Howard said. "Every page has both languages on it, so it works for primary Spanish speakers learning English, and it works the other way around."



About the book

Title:This House Is Made of Mud

Published: 1992.

Author: Ken Buchanan. Illustrated by Libba Tracy.

Topic: A Native American child growing up in the desert.

Honors: Won the Arizona State Library Association's award for Children's Book of the Year in 1992 and was featured on the television show ReadingRainbow during the 1992-93 season.

Price: $6.95 softcover, $12.95 hardcover.

Cost to first-graders: Free