In May 1966, Margaret McNamara has an idea to get free paperback books into the hands of Washington, D.C. schoolchildren: books they will choose, take home, and keep as their own. On November 3, 1966, a movement began and the first RIF project is launched with book events in two DC elementary schools. In the first year, 41,000 DC school children were able to choose 200,000 books.
In 1967, the RIF Bookmobile expands to reach children outside the classroom with help from the Ford Foundation.
RIF produces a television PSA with Carol Burnett and begins working with publishers to offer books at discount to RIF programs. In 1976, RIF receives its first federal contract, making it possible for RIF to match local funds for the purchase of books. By the late 70’s, RIF almost triples in size and serves more than a million children with a grassroots network of 1,105 programs in all 50 states.
In 1979, First Lady Rosalynn Carter and daughter Amy host the first National Reading Is Fun Day at the White House. Special guests include RIF kids, Carol Burnett, John Chancellor, Arthur Ashe and Maurice Sendak who created an original illustration using Where the Wild Things Are characters to celebrate the day.
On April 27, 1985, the New York Mets host RIF DAY at Shea Stadium where RIF board member Barbara Bush throws out the first pitch with a NY City RIF Reader by her side. Later that year, Warner Brothers selects RIF as beneficiary of the world premiere for The Color Purple.
In 1989, RIF celebrates the distribution of its 100 millionth book! As part of the celebration, kids from all over the country were asked to pick their favorite book so it could be named the official 100 MILLIONTH BOOK. The winner was Charlotte’s Web.
In the 1990s, RIF expands opportunities to enhance reading with literacy programs like Shared Beginnings, designed for teen parents and their children; Family of Readers, to empower parents; Books on the Menu, pairing older and younger school children; STAR (Science, Technology And Reading) with lab activities for the classroom; RIFNet, a multimedia distance-learning training initiate.
In 1995, The National Basketball Association and RIF release their first national PSA starring Shaq – a BIG RIF supporter.
Excited children talk with Oprah Winfrey about their favorite books during a RIF book distribution in Chicago. That same year, Reading Is Fundamental is awarded one of America’s 100 Best Charities by WORTH Magazine.
In 2002, 15.9 million books – one out of every 25 children’s books purchased in the US – were distributed to kids in RIF programs.
In 2012, RIF launches the Book People Unite movement with a new PSA featuring LeVar Burton and favorite book characters. Nearly 15,000 take RIF’s Book People Unite pledge declaring their belief in the transformative power of books.
McDonald’s partners with RIF in 2013 to distribute 20 million books through their Happy Meals, donating an additional 100,000 books directly to RIF kids across the country.
RIF and Macy’s celebrate a 10-year partnership in 2014, raising a total of $25.8 million to support RIF’s mission – providing books and learning opportunities to kids throughout the county.
In 2015, RIF releases the results of READ FOR SUCCESS, its two-year research study funded by a grant from the Department of Education. The ground-breaking program to improve reading proficiency in students and combat the summer slide is now available to schools and programs in the US.
Jordin Sparks celebrates 50 years of RIF inspiring kids to read, learn and grow. Since 1966, RIF has provided over 412 million books to more than 40 million children. If you have a RIF story, be sure to share it on RIF.org/50 today!
RIF is excited to partner with Nickelodeon in 2017 on their Beyond the Backpack program to prepare preschoolers for kindergarten.