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December 27, 2004

Baltazar's Book

From: Longview Daily News - Longview,WA,USA - Dec 27, 2004

By Cathy Zimmerman

Baltazar Hendrickson is 6, and symbols are stirring in his consciousness like restless spring buds.

"O..o... ff," he says, looking at the word "of" so hard it furrows his brow. From the words around it, he realizes the word is of, then reads along until he bumps up against "with," hesitates, then blurts it out as the decoded letters leap in his brain.

Baltazar is reading "If You Lived With the Indians of the Northwest Coast," the meaty and beautifully illustrated story he received through Longview's Indian Education Program and the local First Book chapter.

First Book, a national program with a local advisory board of 13 members, raises money to place new books in the hands of low-income children and thus ignite their pride and reading skills.

Since 1997, 33,000 books have been given to Cowlitz County children through First Book, said board member Linda Nelson of the Longview Public Library.

Baltazar's book is special not just because it's new and his alone, but because the boy is Indian, a member of the Yakama tribe.

"He's learning how to read, and he's doing very good," said Pam Hendrickson, who has recently adopted her two nephews, Baltazar and Mio. The boys, who are 11 months apart, are both 6 at the moment.

The roly-poly Mio also has a book, but he can't stop tumbling off the sofa, twisting away from his new mom. Laughing, she says, "Too much pumpkin fry bread, I think."

Mio is deaf, Hendrickson said, but a recent cochlear implant has him learning to talk --- his favorite word is "Boo!" And he should be sounding out his own "ofs" and "withs" any day now.

"Eight or nine programs were awarded books this year," said Judy Duff, head of the Indian Ed program and a board member for First Book.

Local groups such as Progress Center, Head Start, Broadway School and Parent Scholars apply for the books and are screened for eligibility, Duff said. Last week at a celebration with Indian fry bread, she talked about the differences a book can make.

"I received $1,600 this year," she said. "I can pick from five catalogs," tailoring her choices for Indian families. "I try to find stories they can relate to. We come up with some real 'aha' moments."

The children who receive First Books are from families that cannot afford any extras, Duff said.

"It's very, very worthwhile. There's a pride of ownership there. ...

"Statistics will tell you that prisons are full of people who can't read. Children who learn to read and to enjoy reading -- they go much farther in school. They don't act out as much. You need reading for most everything you accomplish in life."

Nelson, who coordinates the family literacy program at the public library, said the Department of Education starts every local program off with $13,000 and gradually weans them off, offering matching funds to what the locals raise.

Anyone from infancy to 18 years of age can receive a book, Nelson said.

Kiwanis, Rotary, Washington Mutual, the R.A.A. Smith Charitable Trust and Reynolds Aluminum (in the past) and a few individuals are among local donors. In an average year, Nelson said, First Books fills about one third of the requests it fields.

One local family whose pre-school aged daughter got a First Book said "she liked her book so much she slept with it every night."

Anna-lisa Johnson, 15, took part in last week's fry bread night at the Indian Ed room.

She appreciated the stories that came her way through First Book, Anna-lisa said. Remembering one called "Navajo Long Walk," she said, "it was good to get a new book. Now I read romance novels and poetry."

"Every time you look at her, she's got her nose buried in a book," said Jesse Johnson, Anna-lisa's dad. "Nothing wrong with that!"

About First Book

First Book is a national, non-profit organization that partners with the American Library Association, the Armed Services YMCA, Barnes and Noble, Lands End, Universal Studios and the U.S. Coast Guard. It is listed on Forbes Gold Star list as one of the top 10 charitable organizations in the country.

For more information on the larger organization, visit the Web site,

To contact Linda Nelson, call (360) 442-5324.

© 2004 The Daily News
Lee Publications, Inc.