Press Release: “I’ll Build You a Bookcase” Demonstrates How to Support Early Language Development Through Reading

I'll Build You a Bookcase

PHILADELPHIA, July 13, 2021 – Families with infants and toddlers across Philadelphia have begun to receive a new book during their pediatric visits. The board book, entitled I’ll Build You a Bookcase, is inspired by Philadelphia families and carries an important message for adults within its sweet rhythm and rhyme: You are your child’s first and most important teacher. Written by Jean Ciborowski Fahey and designed for children from birth to age three, the book was born from an unconventional collaboration and contest for children’s book manuscripts that yielded entries from around the world.

With support from the William Penn Foundation, many partners came together to create and distribute a book with a powerful purpose, including an internationally recognized innovation firm, a family literacy specialist, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the U.S., an award-winning illustrator, and the nation’s leading pediatric literacy model.

“The ‘power of a good book’ increases exponentially when a caring adult reads that book with a child,” said Elliot Weinbaum, Program Director at William Penn Foundation. “That interaction makes all the difference when it comes to nurturing children’s early language and literacy skills and setting them on a path to success. Knowing that, we challenged the global community to create a book that would engage children while simultaneously helping parents and other caring adults to recognize and utilize their power as their children’s first teacher.”

OpenIDEO launched an open call in search of an original story that would excite and educate caregivers about the opportunities and importance of reading to support early language development; engage young children; and reflect the diversity of families in the U.S. The Early Childhood Book Challenge received more than 500 submissions from six continents. A multi-cultural committee of Philadelphia community members and children’s publishing and early literacy experts selected I’ll Build You a Bookcase from 10 finalists.

“This story is a bridge connecting two generations, including the first and second generation of immigrants,” said LeQuyen Vu, Executive Director of the Indochinese American Council and a member of the selection committee. “It will allow parents and children to learn together.”

The author, Jean Ciborowski Fahey, received a $20,000 prize and connection with a leading publisher. Fahey is a parent educator, author, and speaker on the topic of helping young children to read.

I wrote this story because I wanted a way to reach our tiniest of children,” Fahey said. “By reading to them as soon as they are born, no time wasted, we set them off on the great journey toward literacy. And at the same time, reading strengthens the bonds that allow children to feel safe and loved by the important people in their lives.”

I’ll Build You a Bookcase begins from the perspective of a pregnant woman who uses shoeboxes to hold books for her baby and evolves page by page to show a diverse group of families and the ways they engage their children in reading throughout the day.

Lee & Low Books, a publisher known for its leadership in diverse, multicultural children’s literature, was selected to edit and publish I’ll Build You a Bookcase, which comes to life on every page through a beautiful array of family scenes, created by award-winning illustrator Simone Shin.

“Early literacy has always been a cause dear to our heart as a children’s publisher, so we were honored to be chosen to publish I’ll Build You a Bookcase,” said Jason Low, Publisher and Co-Owner of Lee & Low Books. “We knew right away that it was a special project, with the potential to make a difference in communities across the country. Author Jean Fahey has brought many decades of early literacy expertise to the manuscript, gently guiding families in how to read together, while Simone Shin’s joyful, inclusive artwork allows all families to feel seen. Publishing this book in five languages affirms Lee & Low’s commitment to diversity, equity, and accessibility, starting with the very youngest readers.”

This year, 25,000 books, published in English and in four bilingual editions featuring Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Arabic translations, have begun to reach Philadelphia families. William Penn Foundation is supporting Reach Out and Read Greater Philadelphia and other community-based programs to distribute free books to families with infants and toddlers. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) will conduct a study to understand families’ use of the book and its impact on home literacy routines.

“The opportunity to discuss the power of shared reading and provide our patients with a book that not only goes home with them to build a library, but also serves as a mirror – reflecting their families and neighborhood – is tremendous,” said Danielle Erkoboni, M.D., Associate Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Greater Philadelphia and attending pediatrician in the CHOP Care Network.

What began as a Philadelphia-focused effort has expanded to a national opportunity to help families develop knowledge and confidence to guide children’s early learning. In addition to its local distribution, I’ll Build You a Bookcase is now available to families everywhere through major retailers. The Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative has partnered with the National Black Child Development Institute to share copies of the book with families around the country. Interested organizations may contact Lee & Low Books to arrange a bulk purchase for distribution to families in their communities.

“Too Small to Fail is thrilled to distribute copies of I’ll Build You a Bookcase to children and families served by the National Black Child Development Institute,” said Jane Park, Director of Too Small to Fail, Clinton Foundation. “We are excited to share this book as one of our key resources to promote the importance of reading together starting at birth. Each page of this book beautifully models how parents and their children can make reading a fun, joyful, and memorable part of their everyday routine. Too Small to Fail looks forward to additional opportunities to expand the reach of this terrific resource among children, parents, and educators across the country.”

“We are overjoyed to see this book become a reality and get into the hands of families in Philadelphia and beyond,” William Penn Foundation’s Weinbaum said. “I’ll Build You a Bookcase is something special thanks to the creativity and expertise of everyone involved in this effort – and especially thanks to Jean’s message conveyed through the skillful use of rhythm and rhyme, and Simone’s beautifully evocative and diverse illustrations of families. We hope families see themselves in this book and are reminded that they have the expertise within them to give their children a strong start from day one.”

Read the Publishers Weekly review of I’ll Build You a Bookcase here.


About William Penn Foundation

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In 2021, the Foundation will grant more than $117 million to support vital efforts in the region.

About Lee & Low Books, Inc.

Established in 1991, Lee & Low Books is the largest children’s book publisher in the United States specializing in diversity. Under several imprints, the company provides a comprehensive range of notable diverse books for beginning readers through young adults. Lee & Low titles have received major awards and honors including the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Sibert Medal, the NAACP Image Award, and many more. Visit to learn more.


One thought on “Press Release: “I’ll Build You a Bookcase” Demonstrates How to Support Early Language Development Through Reading”

  1. Early language development can be supported through reading. I especially appreciate the story of the author and how she was able to connect with a publisher.

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