"The Lion & The Mouse" was probably the most important book that 4-year-old Shanya Williams read with her great aunt last summer.
The book helped save the life of Shanya's 84-year-old great-grandmother, who the young girl found unconscious after she suffered an apparent seizure or stroke.
The emergency had a storybook ending, though, because Shanya knew to call 911 for help. Calling 911 is explained in "The Lion & The Mouse," which she had read as part of a summer reading program in the city.
Organizers of the Books for Kids book drive on Wednesday highlighted Shanya's story to underscore the importance literacy, which The Buffalo News-sponsored initiative emphasizes. The book that Shanya read had come from the literacy organization Project Flight, which partners with The News on Books for Kids.
"Truly, books can save lives," said Mary Jean Jakubowski, director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system.
The 18th annual Books for Kids drive, which coincides with Literacy Month, officially begins Sunday and continues through April 30. The effort got a jump-start Wednesday morning at the Central Library at Lafayette Square.
"The need is greater than ever. The more we find out about literacy and the rates of literacy in the City of Buffalo, the more of a need there is," said Carly Hartmans, promotions manager at The News.
The Books for Kids initiative is being sponsored by The News, Project Flight, Wegmans, WGRZ-Channel 2 and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System.
The communitywide book drive was begun by former Buffalo News reporter Rose Ciotta, with the help of Geraldine E. Bard and Betty J. Cappella, the co-founders of Project Flight. Throughout April, The News and its partner organizations will collect new books and monetary donations so that Buffalo children may have books.
This year's goal is to gather 70,000 books, as well as $20,000, which will be used to purchase special needs books, such as ones in large print or in Braille. In its 18-year history, the book drive has collected more than two million books.
Literacy is a critical issue in Western New York. Statistics provided by Read to Succeed Buffalo, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing early childhood literacy, found that 30 percent of adults in Buffalo — the equivalent of 65,000 people — read at or below a fifth-grade level.
"That absolutely floors me," Jakubowski said. "It really does begin to paint the picture. Literacy is not just an urban problem. It truly is something that is universal. Low levels of literacy happen all over."
Moreover, 43 percent of Buffalo children entering kindergarten do not meet minimum benchmarks for language and literacy skills, the organization reported.
"The literacy rate is extremely low-end, here," Jakubowski said. "We are working hard with all of these partners throughout the year to promote literacy because it really is the key to success in life."
On April 20, an all-day book drive will be held at the Wegmans store on Sheridan Drive in Amherst and televised on Channel 2. Gabrielle Jehle, a student at Nardin Academy, is leading the drive at the high school level.
Book drop-off locations include all Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties; the library system's 37 libraries; all Western New York Barnes & Noble bookstores; Hunt Real Estate at 4363 Main St., Amherst; and the Junior League of Buffalo headquarters at 45 Elmwood Ave.
Checks can be made payable to Books for Kids/Project Flight and mailed to Books for Kids, The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240. Online donations can be made to:www.buffalo.com/booksforkids.