Program Overview

Who Are We?

Ferst Readers' mission is "strengthening communities by providing quality books and literacy resources for children and their families to use at home during the earliest stages of development." Ferst Readers wants every child to have the best start in life - and nothing helps a baby's brain develop more than exposure to rich language and loving interactions. The key is having books in the home and being read to from birth. Our vision is "to create better learners, brighter futures, and stronger communities by giving every child under five access to quality books in their homes."

What Do We Do?

Ferst Readers was founded in 1999 to address the growing problem of children, many from low-income communities, entering kindergarten without basic early literacy skills and school readiness, a preventable problem that has far-reaching impacts throughout students’ lives. The recipe for early school success is simple: start school with strong literacy skills. Ferst Readers’ recipe for encouraging early literacy development is even simpler. Ensure children have developmentally appropriate books in their homes and provide parents with resources supporting them as their child's first teacher.

Children in the Ferst Readers literacy program receive a bookstore-quality, age-specific book and resources mailed to them at home every month until their fifth birthday. This access to print helps create a language-rich environment in the home.

Why Is Our Program Important?

  • 61% of low-income families do not have a single book suitable for a child.
  • The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.
  • Children who have not already developed some basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years.
  • The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home.

Click here to go to our Literacy Statistics page.

  Our impact: Participating communities with a robust Ferst Readers program have seen:

  • Kindergarten readiness assessment scores rise significantly, in some cases as much as double.
  • Higher post-test gains for 1st-grade students who were Ferst Readers.
  • School-wide standardized reading scores increase by several percentage points each year as Ferst Readers graduates progress through the school system.
  • Increased awareness of the importance of developing early literacy skills - in the home and throughout the community.

The majority of the cost of the Ferst Readers program, $42 per year per child, is raised in each community through donations from individuals, corporate sponsorships, and foundation grants.  

How Do We Do It?

Community Action Teams, or CATs, are made up of dedicated volunteers who oversee and administer the program in each participating county/community. CATs may differ in composition from county to county, but five to ten members make up the core.  Naturally, the more diverse the CAT, the more successful it is at getting the message out, registering children, and gathering support for the program. The CATs are ultimately responsible for raising most of the funds needed for each child participating in their program. This local involvement enables sustainability by building capacity at the community level around the important issue of literacy.

While the Ferst Readers program is open to all children regardless of income level, many participating communities focus on at-risk populations such as Early Head Start, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and low-income neighborhoods for program registration. This is often driven by limited funding in the community. As funding increases, more children are eligible for enrollment.

Partnerships are another way we are able to implement our program. They generally involve a specific donor group or designated funding focusing on a specific children group. This might be in the form of a grant award or a civic organization such as Rotary or Kiwanis that provides funding for a group of children they especially want to champion.  We have PATs that sponsor Early Head Start programs, daycare centers, and children of residents in apartment complexes, to name a few.  

Ferst Readers programs exist in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Our Publishers:  Ferst Readers is proud of its partnership with the publishers who make this program possible:  

  • HarperCollins
  • Peachtree Publisher 
  • Our Rainbow Press
  • Books4School
  • Blue Manatee
  • Candlewick Press


The development of emerging literacy skills in young children is too important to allow a 'wait and see' approach. Current research overwhelmingly supports the importance of facilitating early and emerging literacy skills in preschool-age children as a critical foundation for literacy development.

Paulson et al. (2004). The Effects of an Early Reading Curriculum on Language and Literacy Development of Head Start Children. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 18(3)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6

Thank you for visiting Ferst Readers!

Ensuring that children develop early literacy skills is one of the most important things we can do - as parents, as teachers - and as a society.

Won't you help us make a difference?

Adopt a reader today!   Make a Donation!