Soar with Reading

Recently, I was approached by JetBlue to discuss Soar with Reading, the company’s summer literacy initiative that places age-appropriate books in the hands of children in underserved areas in the United States. I was excited to learn more about the program; it’s a great fit for my love of reading and my commitment to instilling a love of books in my kids.

The effort is especially needed, as research has revealed a large deficit in children’s access to age-appropriate books. In low-income neighborhoods in the United States, for example, there is only one book for every 300 children, compared to 13 such books per child in middle-income neighborhoods. JetBlue established Soar with Reading to combat this imbalance.


The Soar with Reading display I spied in Boston’s Logan Airport while en route to BlogHer’13.

The hook for me is that this year’s featured author in the Soar with Reading program is Mary Pope Osborne. If you don’t know who she is, I would guess you don’t have small children! Mary is the author of the beloved Magic Tree House books, which are extremely popular in my house.

Through the program, I had the opportunity to interview Icema Gibbs, director of corporate social responsibility for JetBlue, who oversees Soar with Reading. Ms. Gibbs is one of JetBlue’s founders, having been with the airline long before it took to the skies. She joined the company in 1999 as director of JFK operations, and she was part of the small team that worked to get JetBlue certified as a commercial airline by the Federal Aviation Administration, among other accomplishments.

Highlights of our interview follow…

Red Shutters (RS): Why has JetBlue decided to focus on literacy as a goal of its corporate social responsibility program?
Icema Gibbs (IG): At JetBlue our commitment to corporate social responsibility goes beyond raising awareness for causes. We live in and give back to the communities we serve…After surveying our customers, we found that education was an area they wanted us to focus on, but it was also an area where they wanted to participate, so Youth & Education became one of JetBlue’s three areas of commitments (the other two are Community and Environment). Within each focus area, we work hand-in-hand with local and national organizations to foster influential programs and connect communities.

RS: How did the Soar with Reading program start?
IG: In 2011, JetBlue created Soar with Reading as a team initiative. We wanted to design a program that would encourage children’s imaginations to take flight through reading while also addressing a few literacy issues, including the summer slide and the imbalance between low-income and middle-income neighborhoods and their access to age-appropriate books…Our mission is to raise $500,000 worth of age-appropriate books that will be donated through Mary Pope Osborne’s Classroom Adventures Program.

RS: This year, JetBlue is working with Mary Pope Osborne, author of the beloved (definitely in my house!) Magic Tree House books. How did this collaboration come about?
IG: We feel very fortunate to partner with Mary because in addition to her successful book series and perfectly recognizable characters, Jack and Annie, Mary is really philanthropic and very thoughtful in helping teachers source proper books. Mary also firmly believes that students should have proper learning activities and has shaped her stories into books of facts. Mary has explained that she is delighted to be part of a campaign and partnership that so perfectly aligns with her mission to reach underserved children across the country with the most magical gift you can give—books.

And because some of my strongest memories with my children are when we curl up with a book together, I had to ask…

RS: What book do you remember reading with your daughter when she was a child?
IG: I remember reading so many Dr. Seuss books to my daughter when she was younger.  She would not go to bed without reading, and as she has gotten older (she will be 8 in September), her love for reading in unwavering.

Soar with Reading provides great resources and activities to help parents keep kids engaged in reading in these last few weeks of summer, including Magic Tree House Soar with Reading Passport Activity Booklets, games, interactive reading lists, and expert advice. You can learn more about these tools here.

Through August 31, Soar with Reading is asking children and parents to go to its website and donate a book by answering, “What magical places would you like to travel to with Magic Tree House’s Jack and Annie and JetBlue this summer?” All participants who answer this question will be entered for a chance to win one of four $5,000 scholarships and other great prizes. For every submission, JetBlue will donate one book, up to $500,000 through Mary Pope Osborne’s Classroom Adventure Program.

And, there’s more! Enter the giveaway below to win one of two Soar with Reading prize packets, which include Mary Pope Osborne’s Dinosaurs Before Dark, a JetBlue blanket and earbuds (no more forgetting yours at home when you travel!), and a Soar with Reading passport. The giveaway is open to United States residents, aged 18 and older.

Disclosure: I received one of the giveaways for my personal use.

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