We spoke with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego to learn more about her new Birthday Book Club initiative, which kicked off this month. In collaboration with Scholastic, 500 books will be sent to children in grades PreK–3 during their birthday month, with a special birthday message as well as literacy tips for the whole family. Below is the full conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
EDU: Congratulations on the launch of your first annual Mayor's Birthday Book Club! Tell me, what sparked this idea?
Mayor Kate Gallego: I love the idea of getting more books into kids' hands. I know how important literacy is to the future of our city—I'm a mom of a four-year-old. I love reading with my son and we spend so much time together and he loves his birthday. He just had his birthday in January and he's already ready to do it again in February. Birthdays are such a great milestone for a kid. My son looks forward to it all the time and it's a day that's about them, so I love the idea of equating books and birthdays. Hopefully, a special message from the mayor along with a new book makes each child’s day, and I hope it serves as a reminder that people throughout this community love reading. For me, it's the best birthday gift I can give to kids in my community and I hope it helps inspire a love of reading. I'm so glad that reading is part of my life and I want that for the kids in Phoenix.
EDU: Have you heard/seen any reactions you can share from people in response to this new initiative?
Mayor Kate Gallego: I've heard from parents who are always looking for ways to add a little bit of fun to their children’s birthdays. We're launching this initiative during the middle of a pandemic, so big birthday parties probably aren't the easiest for kids right now. And I think parents are rightfully looking for ways to make birthdays a little more special this year. For most kids, this will also be the first gift they’ve ever received from the mayor!
I’ve heard that our teachers are excited about the increased focus on literacy. From what they tell me, the more leaders who are talking about the love of reading, the better.
EDU: What is your hope for the future of literacy as a priority in Phoenix?
Mayor Kate Gallego: Whatever a kid decides to do in life, a love of reading puts you in a better position—I think it's the best birthday gift that I can give. We're also sharing information about how to get a library card. Our libraries are wonderful and unlock so many treasures, so we hope this one book leads to more and the kids find a way to continue to read as much as possible.
I also hope that parents will get a good reminder of how much fun it is to read with their kids and what an easy activity it is to do together during the pandemic. I certainly am running out of great ideas to do with my son. We've painted rocks, made pipe cleaner sculptures, you name it, but reading is one activity that always delivers. We just finished reading about chocolate around Valentine's Day and I learned things about chocolate that I didn't know!
EDU: As a mother yourself, how have you encouraged a love of reading in your son’s life?
Mayor Kate Gallego: We read every day and we have so much fun with it. He's very into science books right now, and I've learned so much. He's into animals that glow and so I've learned about bioluminescence, which doesn't come up a lot in a mayor's daily life.
A few months ago, he was into trucks and that was really great for me because as mayor, you have great access to garbage trucks and other parts of city life—fire trucks, police vehicles, etc. But I try to understand what he's interested in and read books about it so it's something that we both look forward to. He notices such different things than I do when we’re reading. For example, in the book Be You! by Peter H. Reynolds, he's very interested in one page where they're riding the waves and wanted to know what happens to the boat the character is riding on.
EDU: What advice do you have for other city or state leaders who may be looking for creative ways to support literacy?
Mayor Kate Gallego: I think you should put your own touch on it. So for us, the love of birthdays and celebrations were fun, but every community may have different values. Some folks focus on local authors, some focus on seasonal moments and do different things throughout the year—it should be whatever appeals to you. I think what's important is that we're getting kids to read and putting smiles on young faces.
EDU: What community resources would you recommend to parents and caregivers who may be looking for ways to support their child’s reading at home?
Mayor Kate Gallego: In Phoenix we have early childhood resource centers, some of which are located at our libraries and they're great resources, which you can also use online. I'm a big fan of the PBS Kids resources as well that help you talk about how to read with your kids. In the Birthday Book Club, we're including literacy tips and new ideas about how to have fun with books. For example, one of the things I do with my son is sometimes I'll leave words out and let him fill them in, which encourages him to think in different ways. You can read the same book over and over again, but you can read it differently each time and that's one of the joys of reading as well.
EDU: Do you have any favorite reading memories from your own life that you can share with us?
Mayor Kate Gallego: I loved reading as a kid and my parents would take me to the library even before I could read myself. They have funny stories about me sitting with books upside down, pretending, because that was cool, and I wanted to be a reader even before I was one. To this day I still read some of the books, like Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carl, which my parents read with me. I have a favorite book, David and Dog by Shirley Hughes, about a little boy with this stuffed dog animal that I kept for my son and I still remember reading it as a little kid. I was so excited when my son was old enough to read it with me.
EDU: Lastly, what are you reading now?
Mayor Kate Gallego: Like most people, I have been spending a lot of time at home, so I am reading a book by Bill Bryson called At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Bryson talks about the different rooms in our houses and how different things evolve. It has been fun for me because I spend a lot of time at home, but I haven’t been reflecting on it and how things came to be. So, I'm having a lot of fun with that book.