Reading Done Right

A year ago we introduced you to MarbleSpark, a local publisher that writes and illustrates custom children’s books using a child’s name, providing a personalized gift cherished by kids and parents alike. But when founders Phil and Stacey Haussler discovered that 61 percent of children growing up in poverty don’t have a single age-appropriate book at home, they decided they wanted to expand the mission of MarbleSpark to help lower that statistic. The impact they’ve made on the community in the last year alone is nothing short of impressive.

The Haussler’s launched Project OpenBook alongside MarbleSpark and set out to create a community-built book by sourcing short stories and illustrations from authors and illustrators from around the world. In 2016 they completed and published that book, titled The Yeti in My Freezer. Inspired by the famous children’s author Shel Silverstein, The Yeti in My Freezer includes 42 whimsical, humorous short stories accompanied by black and white illustrations that help tell the mischievous tales.

Once the book was complete, the Haussler’s partnered with local non-profit DIBS for Kids, DIBS standing for “Delivering Infinite Book Shelves.” DIBS for Kids helps schools raise funds to secure age-appropriate books, sets up in-classroom libraries with an easy, automated check-in/check-out system, and provides the administrative support to keep it going so that each child is able to take home an average of 80 books per school year.

The Haussler’s wanted to take the DIBS for Kids concept one step further. They printed 1,000 copies of The Yeti in My Freezer and gave them to elementary students throughout five participating DIBS for Kids schools. Each student received their very own copy, not just to borrow, but to take home and keep. “Getting books into the hands of kids is so important for their development, as well as for their joy and entertainment,” Stacey Haussler said. “Even if we can impact one child who gets excited about reading, it’s worth it.”

Project OpenBook was able to donate another 500 books to students in Bellevue schools this year, and they sent 100 books to Educate Uganda this past summer. To date, 1,700 copies of The Yeti in My Freezer have been donated. “Our goal is to get that book into the hands of as many kids as possible,” Stacey said. “Our entire mission is to make amazing books, do good for others, and repeat the process.”

According to DIBS for Kids, more than 14,000 elementary students in Omaha’s largest public school system don’t have access to age-appropriate books at home, so Project OpenBook has lots of room to continue to make an impact. As DIBS for Kids adds students to its program, the Haussler’s hope to continue to partner with them and donate additional copies of The Yet in My Freezer.

Although all of the funding to print and ship copies of The Yeti in My Freezer has come from profits on the sale of MarbleSpark’s custom books, the Haussler’s plan to eventually make The Yeti in My Freezer available for purchase with 100 percent of those sales going toward printing additional copies to be donated to Project OpenBook’s partner programs. “Our goal is to keep going,” Stacey said. “We’ve started in Omaha, but we want to eventually reach kids in communities all over the world.”

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