Students at Priority Elementary Schools Can “Shop” for Free Books at Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation’s Opportunities with Literacy (OWL) Fest in September

September 13, 2023

     Pre-K through 5th grade students and teachers at Priority elementary schools in Tennessee will be able to “shop” for books and literacy resources, at no cost, through Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation’s OWL Fest, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education

Nashville, Tenn. – Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), today announces Opportunities with Literacy (OWL) Fest, a curated bookstore and shopping experience, that will travel to 31 Priority elementary schools across Tennessee in September. To build home libraries and strengthen reading proficiency, OWL Fest will be a one-day event at each school, giving students the opportunity to select books to take home, at no cost to families or schools.

In collaboration with Scholastic, Pre-K through 5th grade students will be able to select 6-8 high-quality, high-interest books to take home, and teachers will be able to order resources to support their classroom. Through OWL Fest, more than 10,000 students, teachers and reading specialists will receive over 80,000 books, at no cost.

Only 40% of Tennessee 3rd graders read proficiently, which ranges from 22-38% in Priority schools. A two-decade long study found that the presence of a home library increases children’s academic success, vocabulary development, attention, and job attainment. Children with as few as 25 books in the home complete an average of two more years of schooling than those with no books.

Additionally, research from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 8th Edition shows the  majority of kids (92%) say their favorite books are the ones they picked out themselves and say they are more likely to finish reading a book (93%) that they have picked out themselves, making the student-selection feature of OWL Fest more critical than ever.

OWL Fest is a part of GELF’s K-3 Home Library program, which aims to build home libraries and combat learning loss by delivering books to the homes of students and teachers each summer. In 2023, the program delivered 1.2 million books to more than 200,000 students, teachers, librarians and media specialists statewide, including Priority schools.

“Our goal is to promote a culture of reading in Tennessee by meeting students where they are with the books and resources they need to become lifelong learners,” said James Pond, GELF President. “Through OWL Fest, we are bringing a book shopping experience, without the cost barrier, to students who may not have this kind of opportunity. We want to give students the freedom to choose their books, call them their own, and get excited about reading. It’s more than books. It’s the future of Tennessee.”

“Teaching children how to read, and how to read well, is one of the most important things we can do to set them up for success in their education, in college and career, and in life,” said Lizzette Reynolds, Commissioner of Education. “Thanks to our partners at GELF, students across the state have access to free books through OWL Fest to help them become strong readers.”

“Scholastic is proud to continue the critical work with GELF to ensure children have access to books that they are excited about reading this school year and beyond,” said Amanda Alexander, Chief Academic Officer at Scholastic. “Research from the Kids & Family Reading Report also tells us that more than half of kids (52%) say they like attending events that involve reading at their school or in their community, making OWL Fest an important part of the reading journey for the students of Tennessee.”

When brainstorming ways to support Priority schools, GELF sought out ideas and feedback from school district leaders.

“Literacy is life and the bedrock to all other subjects,” said Dr. Thomas Rogers, Assistant Superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Schools. “OWL Fest has helped us to align and recommit ourselves to early and ongoing literacy for all students, regardless of the zip code. OWL Fest has given our students access to various texts and genres to ensure personal libraries are within fingertips at all times.”

“We have a tremendous famine in our country,” said Dr. Terrence D. Brittenum, iZone Instructional Leadership Director (ILD) – Zone 10 of Memphis-Shelby County Schools. “Not of food but of literate students and a literate workforce! OWL Fest has facilitated our schools in prioritizing literacy by providing the resources to do so. Through the OWL Fest initiative, we will continue to support our schools with increasing students’ access to grade appropriate texts and evidence-based literacy instruction.”

OWL Fest is supported by federal funding to promote literacy in Priority schools designated by TDOE for the 2021-2022 school year, including schools in Hamilton County, Jackson-Madison County, Knox County, Metro-Nashville, and Memphis-Shelby County School Districts. As reported by TDOE, Priority schools, also federally designated as Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) schools, were the bottom five percent of the schools across the state due to multiple years of low academic performance. Below is a list of the participating Priority schools that OWL Fest will visit in September.

Achievement School District

  • Memphis Scholars Caldwell-Guthrie
  • Cornerstone Prep Lester Campus
  • Journey Coleman School

Hamilton County School District

  • Orchard Knob Elementary
  • Hardy Elementary School
  • Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy
  • Hamilton County Virtual School

Jackson-Madison County School District

  • Jackson Career Technology Magnet
  • Lincoln Elementary School

Knox County School District

  • Green Magnet Math And Science Academy
  • Maynard Elementary

Metro-Nashville School District

  • Bellshire Elementary
  • Ida B. Wells Elementary
  • Tom Joy Elementary
  • Jones Elementary

Memphis-Shelby County School District

  • Cummings Elementary/Middle
  • Hamilton School
  • Memphis Delta Prep
  • Freedom Prep – Westwood
  • Geeter School
  • Riverview Elementary/Middle
  • Arrow Academy of Excellence
  • Alcy Elementary
  • Larose Elementary
  • Frayser-Corning Elementary
  • Georgian Hills Elementary School
  • Whitney Elementary School
  • Granville T. Woods Academy of Innovation
  • Memphis Scholars South Campus
  • Hanley Elementary

For more information, follow @GovEarlyLiteracyTN or visit

About GELF

Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) equips Tennessee’s children with books and innovative literacy tools that encourage lifelong learning for a brighter future. GELF is a nonpartisan 501c3 driven by a mission to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee by acting as a thought leader, advisor, and catalyst for programs across the state. These programs include Birth-5 Book Delivery through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, K-3 Home Library, Caregiver Engagement, Book Buses, and Storybook Trails. GELF was founded in 2004 by former Gov. Phil Bredesen as a public-private partnership to sustain Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee. GELF has grown from solely a book-gifting program to an early literacy organization driven by a vision where all Tennessee children have access to the resources, guidance, and support they need to become lifelong learners. For more information, visit or, or call toll-free at (877) 99-BOOKS.

About Scholastic

For more than 100 years, Scholastic Corporation (NASDAQ: SCHL) has been encouraging the personal and intellectual growth of all children, beginning with literacy. Having earned a reputation as a trusted partner to educators and families, Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, a leading provider of literacy curriculum, professional services, and classroom magazines, and a producer of educational and entertaining children’s media. The Company creates and distributes bestselling books and e-books, print and technology-based learning programs for pre-K to grade 12, and other products and services that support children’s learning and literacy, both in school and at home. With 15 international operations and exports to 165 countries, Scholastic makes quality, affordable books available to all children around the world through school-based book clubs and book fairs, classroom libraries, school and public libraries, retail, and online. Learn more at