Every year, the bibliophilic faithful gather in Washington, D.C., for the Library of Congress' National Book Festival. Amid the thousands of people, hundreds of titles and dozens of authors, the Mensa Foundation plays an integral role in the success of the Festival. The Mensa Foundation provides the Children's Guide to the Festival for the Library, which shares a digital copy on its website. The Foundation also creates the Eye Spy activity for the Festival poster, also available on its website.
This year, in recognition of the support the Foundation has given to the Library of Congress and the success of the Foundation's Excellence in Reading program, it was invited to become a Reading Promotion Partner, along with illustrious organizations promoting reading and literacy across the nation, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Writing Project, Little Free Library, the National Council of Teachers of English, Reading is Fundamental, the Children's Book Council and others.
The relationship between the Library of Congress and the Foundation aligns with the Foundation's core values of using intelligence to benefit humanity and providing opportunities for fellowship and connection among a global community of common interests. While the Festival is held in Washington, D.C., the webcasts of it are available to anyone around the world for free.
Lisa Van Gemert, the Foundation's Youth and Education Ambassador and an avid reader, explains that the relationship began with a personal trip to the Festival a number of years ago. "I was walking along the Mall enjoying the festival, when I saw a young girl clutching a book to her chest," Van Gemert said. "I thought to myself, 'She's got Mensan written all over her,' and I knew that the festival was filled with gifted learners and the Foundation could help them connect with books."
That visit led to the first Children's Guide, and the relationship has broadened in scope every year, culminating in this year's invitation to become a Reading Promotion Partner.
At the 2014 festival, in addition to 2,000 printed copies of the Children's Guide (along with the digital version) and the Eye Spy activity, the Foundation also provided the escort at the festival for the poster's artist.
"I wish everyone who makes a donation to the Foundation could see the excitement the children show when they get their own guide designed just for them," Van Gemert said. "It's a proud moment for me when the guides bearing our logo are the most sought-after piece of paper at the Festival. The children have the authors sign them, and they keep them forever."
As a Reading Promotion Partner, the Foundation will now be in a position to share its Excellence in Reading program with a broad range of like-minded organizations, and informational materials will be available to the public in the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress. The National Endowment for the Humanities, itself a Reading Promotion Partner, appreciates the use of its Summertime Favorites list as the basis of the Excellence in Reading program. At this year's meeting, Jeff Carr of the National Coalition for Literacy said, "I simply had no idea of the reach and range of the Mensa Foundation's programs."
Van Gemert, who attended the meeting representing the Foundation, was thrilled with the response. "I was a little nervous at first because some of these organizations are enormous, with budgets to match," she said. "I wasn't sure what they would think about our website, lesson plans, Excellence in Reading program and our other services." That worry was wasted. Van Gemert said, "At every break, I was surrounded by people wanting to know more, wanting to know how they could use the resources, how their children and their grandchildren could. I took about 500 of our Mensaforkids.org pens, and they were gone extremely quickly. The National Women's Writers Museum asked for all I had. They couldn't wait to share what we do."
In addition to the National Book Festival-specific projects and the Excellence in Reading program, the Foundation also provides a guide for how youth can write book reviews, a guide for how to start and run a book group for youth, and several literacy-based lesson plans on MensaForKids.org.
As the Foundation continues to deepen its connection with one of our nation's most revered institutions, it will also continue to focus on meeting the needs of the youngest readers, sharing its resources and encouraging a love of reading around the world.