The CLiF office looked remarkably like Santa’s workshop this week as holiday tunes played in the background (see photo above).

Last week, CLiF presenter and graphic novelist Marek Bennett and I spent the day working with inmates at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, NH.  Over the course of 6 hours worth of seminars, we spoke with almost 150 inmates about why it’s so important to share books with a child as early and often as possible.

Recognizing that 70% of US inmates have low literacy skills, we also gave the men tips and strategies on sharing books with kids even if one isn’t a strong or confident reader. Marek and I modeled many storytelling techniques such as changing one’s voice, asking questions, and telling a tale simply from the pictures. Then I told the inmates a story — their favorite part of the visit. This time I told Bear Snores On.

When the seminars were complete each inmate was able to select a new book for each of his children and grandchildren from tables covered with hundreds of titles for children of all ages.  If an inmate didn’t have children, he could select books for nieces and nephews. All the men wrote personal notes in the books. It’s a little surreal to see an imposing, well-tattooed man totally focused on writing a sweet note for his 2-year-old daughter in a new copy of Goodnight Moon. Many of these men had difficult childhoods and never had the experience of having books read to them. They are doing their best to write a new chapter.

CLiF elves remain busy addressing, labeling, and stamping colorful holiday envelopes filled with new books for roughly 450 children.  We want to make sure the holiday packets all reach their destinations on time.

Duncan McDougall is the founding Executive Director of the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF), as well as an experienced storyteller. You can learn more about him here and get in touch at

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