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A vending machine is usually where a person buys snacks and drinks.

In Washington, D.C., some vending machines are providing a new snack: free children’s books.

The Book Vending Machine program is the first of its kind in the U.S. It is the newest addition to "Soar with Reading", a literacy program started five years ago by JetBlue Airlines.

Dozens of books that appeal to children are within reach, at the push of a button...

….stories about dinosaurs, elephants, knights, robots and lots of other things.

And the kids get a lot of encouragement.

"Everybody, raise your hand and say, I promise to read every single day."

"Ladybugs are dancing on tippity feet - Tippity tippity! Happy feet! - Who has happy feet?"

The initiative is a joint effort with a children’s book company. The vending machines are located in a church, a grocery store and a branch of the Salvation Army in southeast D.C. Each machine is fully stocked with books and children are allowed to take as many as they want.

Icema Gibbs is director of Corporate Social Responsibility for JetBlue Airways.

"Making sure that kids develop a life-long love of reading when they are really young is really important to us. We figured that that helps us have better future crew members and people who work for us."

Studies have shown that having books at home has a positive effect on children’s test scores in school. It makes kids more likely to read for pleasure. Icema Gibbs explains.

"Our program is based on trying to get books in the hands of children who don't have age-appropriate books at home. They can touch and pick a book that was important to them so nobody, no adult was telling them what book they had to take."

This year, JetBlue Airlines commissioned a study. It found that in some communities in the nation’s capital, there was only one age-appropriate book available for every 830 kids.

One book vending machine inside a church is one of three in a poor neighborhood with one of the lowest literacy rates in the city. Many parents cannot afford to buy books for their children.

Tobeka Green is president and CEO for the National Black Child Development Institute.

"They are strategically located in places where families naturally go, so in a place of worship, at a grocery store. I look at this as a way for families to begin building their libraries at home."

The kids are excited about getting a book to read and to keep.

"Books tell you stuff. If you don't read then you don't know stuff."

"It helps me read better when I grow up"

"I consider this a game changer. There are other stores that are interested in bringing the vending machines there."

This is a pilot program and it’s uncertain whether it will be continued after the summer. Its sponsors hope to make book vending machines common in other communities, so they can help increase literacy and a love of reading.

I’m Marsha James.

VOA’s Faiza Elmasry prepared this report. Marsha James adapted her story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

initiative – n. the power or opportunity to do something before others do

age-appropriate – adj. suitable for a particular age or age group

literacy – n. the ability to read and write

CEO (Chief Executive Office) – n. the person who has the most authority in an organization or business

strategic – adj. a general plan that is created to achieve a goal

Would a book vending machine program like this be beneficial in your community? What age group would benefit the most? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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