New Homegrown Children’s Book will Go to Every Public Elementary School and Library in Georgia

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Forever Loblolly
encourages children to become authors of their own future

Every public elementary school library and public library in the state will soon have a new children’s book on their shelves. First lady Sandra Deal and the Get Georgia Reading Campaign launched Forever Loblolly at the Decatur Public Library this week, providing a tangible way to get all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Truly a homegrown children’s book, Forever Loblolly was co-authored by Georgia authors Carmen Agra Deedy and her husband John McCutcheon, illustrated by Georgia artist Thomas Gonzalez, and printed by RR Donnelley and Sons in Atlanta on paper sourced from Georgia, thanks to a new partnership with the Georgia Forestry Foundation and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

“We appreciate the Georgia Forestry Foundation and Gov. and Mrs. Deal, and their efforts to link Georgia forests and literacy—the education of our youth,” said Sustainable Forestry Initiative Chief Conservation Officer Paul Trianosky. “Together these things really do represent the future of Georgia and our collective future. There are 25 million acres of forest land in Georgia that provide clean water and air, wildlife habitats, recreational opportunities, forest products—and jobs for thousands of people.”

Trianosky said he’s especially pleased that the book, which is produced with sustainably sourced products, carries the SFI label. Gov. Nathan Deal agrees. “SFI has taken a sustainable and important resource from the state of Georgia and turned it into the future for children in our state,” he said.

McCutcheon, a Grammy-nominated folksinger, songwriter, and instrumentalist, said part of the reason he took on this project is because a library saved his life. “When I wanted to play the guitar, where did I go? To the library,” he said. “There are a few times in my life when I thought I had ‘made it.’ When I got my first library card at 6 years old, I looked at this thing and thought, ‘I’ve made it now.’ I can take anything out of this library I want to—and I did.” McCutcheon also recalled a visit to a library while he was performing in a concert in Valdese, N.C. “The librarian took me to the Ms and showed me my name in the card catalog, and I thought, ‘I’ve made it now.’ And as I sit here today, looking at this book with my name next to my wife, Carmen’s, I think, ‘I have made it.’ ”

Forever Loblolly is a story about a pine cone knocked off its tree when a strong wind whips through the forest. As it strikes the ground, a seed tumbles loose and lands in a pocket of soft, warm earth, then goes to sleep. When the little seed awakens at last, he finds he has grown into a tiny sprout. He sets down roots, drinks in the sunlight, and learns to bend with the wind. Years pass and he grows tall and strong. But a fierce storm changes everything, and the loblolly discovers a forever he never imagined.

“The story has a sense of enchantment, but with a human emotion dealing with change,” said Gonzalez, an award-winning illustrator. “What I love about the tale is the positive attitude that should be in all of us when facing challenges and life-altering events that are transformational—an elegant way to present this concept to young readers without fear or worries.”

Georgia’s children, like the loblolly pine in the story, often encounter storms that they can’t weather alone. The Get Georgia Reading Campaign collaboration of more than 100 private and public partners have rallied people, organizations, and communities to apply a common agenda to help Georgia’s children become thriving adults who will strengthen their communities.

“The loblolly started from a little seed, and that’s where we start to nurture it,” said Mrs. Deal. “We have to nurture our children so that they become strong in their vocabulary as we talk to them, as we read to them—and more and more we know that early intervention is what makes the difference.”

Gov. and Mrs. Deal joined together with Georgia leaders in 2013 to take on third-grade reading proficiency—not only as an education issue, but as an urgent priority for all who care about children’s health and well-being.

“Low achievement in reading is a systemic crisis that calls for innovative solutions to complex issues,” said Get Georgia Reading Campaign Director Arianne Weldon. “Children can’t learn when they’re hungry, sick, or scared. That’s why today in Georgia we treat literacy as an urgent priority. Getting more kids to read takes more than good schools, more than great teachers, and more than loving parents. It takes all of us working together.”

Ralph Smith, managing director of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, encouraged those involved in Georgia’s Campaign efforts to aspire in the coming years to ensure that low-income children who are at risk of falling beyond the reach of schools have access to the services and supports they need, that those services and supports are being delivered in the appropriate and correct sequence, and at the appropriate dosage and duration.

“Children who learn to read become our biggest allies in their own development,” said Smith. “They become agents of their own learning, they become advocates of their own interests, and they become authors of their own future.”

The launch event’s call to action is for parents, older siblings, and caregivers to engage in activities as simple as reading stories to young children.

“There is one thing I can tell you every person on this project believes in, and that’s literacy for children—not for the sake of some campaign, project, or meme on a Facebook page,” said Deedy, a New York Times best-selling author. “But because literate children can become anything, even if life comes through and denies them college—as it did me. Even if they come from a history where situations created illiteracy, like my father, who learned to read at 14. The world of books, Internet, wherever there is text and information—is a feast for the curious mind. But first children must learn to read. And that’s why Get Georgia Reading matters.”


Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

Krystin Dean
Communications Consultant, Georgia Family Connection Partnership

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