Here at CLiF, we’re all about building community. You’ll hear this phrase throughout our various channels and in reference to our many, many partners across Vermont and New Hampshire. Our work ultimately aims to build a culture of literacy within a local community, and one grant in particular targets this goal: the Community Building Grant.

Coming out of the 2016 election, when the country experienced division and discord, CLiF responded by creating the annual Community Building Grant. ​​The grant offers different opportunities for engagement with the goal of connecting people through literacy and learning as a way to heal and move forward on the local level. For Spring 2023, CLiF funded five different projects in Woodsville, NH; Belmont, NH; Campton, NH; Irasburg, VT; and Burlington, VT. Each of these $1,000 grants uses reading and writing to bring people together. 

Last month, CLiF Executive Director Laura Rice and I visited Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library to see an exhibit and events supported in part by the Community Building grant. Telling a People’s Story: African-American Children’s Literature is a traveling exhibit that consists of 12 panels featuring 120 reproduced illustrations from African-American children’s picture books. In addition to hosting the exhibit, Fletcher Free Library also organized a robust schedule of free events for the public at the library’s expense.

Enter the CLiF Community Building Grant. We were thrilled to help support the stipend for James Ransome, acclaimed author/illustrator, who delivered an all-ages evening talk for the general public on April 12th as well as a presentation for 4th and 5th grade students from the Integrated Arts Academy (IAA) and Edmunds Elementary School on April 13th. Ekua Holmes, another award-winning author/illustrator, and Rajnii Eddins, CLiF presenter and poet, also delivered public presentations. All talks happened in the sunny, open space in the main library room with huge double story windows facing College St. 

There’s a reason why James Ransome won the 2023 Children’s Literacy Legacy Award, and he certainly did not disappoint. Ransome delivered a highly personal presentation complete with photos of his wife, author Lesa Cline-Ransome, four children, town where he grew up, art studio, and home. Ransome also walked us through his creative process, and revealed he was inspired as a child by comic books and Mad magazines. He is a prolific artist who has illustrated over 70 books (!!!), including four that were written/illustrated by himself. Ransome patiently fielded many questions from the audience, and then treated us to spontaneous sketches that delighted the students.

James Ransome at Fletcher Free Library

We’re thrilled to support this kind of event held in a community space, open to all, and engaging around an important topic of representation and diversity in the children’s book world. Students not only got the chance to visit their local library, meet a rockstar illustrator, see a remarkable exhibition, but they also got to take home free books! 

Fletcher Free Library was able to raise enough money to purchase books by Black authors and/or illustrators as a tie-in to the exhibit (including titles by Ransome and Holmes) for all students to take home. Many of the students in attendance experience opportunity gaps, and access to high quality books and relevant learning opportunities will have a lasting impact on them. Now clearly this is what CLiF is all about and we’re proud to be a part of it. 

Our thanks to the Fletcher Free Library for organizing this event and inviting us. It’s always a pleasure to meet grantees in person and see the impact firsthand. And the good news is that CLiF will get to continue working with IAA students as their school is the recipient of a 2023-24 Year of the Book Grant! We look forward to creating more opportunities for this community and working with the Fletcher Free Library once again to showcase the power of books and libraries.

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CLiF has served over 350,000 children since 1998.

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