Kemie Nix is the founder of the globally-recognized Children’s Literature for Children, Inc., headquartered in Peachtree City, which for the past two years has been nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. This international award is considered by many in children’s literature circles as, “the Nobel Prize for organizations promoting children’s literature.’’
Kemie’s passion for reading and good children’s literature is evident in everything she says and does. This passion inspired her to start a children’s literature program years ago in a prestigious Atlanta private school and then at several inner-city schools, with small budgets and few books, and eventually overseas to Kenya, where she helped to build 13 libraries and stock them with quality books.
According to long-time friend, Mark Wallace Maguire, “Kemie defines what is best about a Southern woman. She is friendly, witty, and hospitable and is also devoted to making a difference in her world by actually doing the work and putting her shoulder to the wheel and not leaning on mere window dressing or empty words. She is an example of what a tenacious person can do when their passion finds a great need in the world.”
Kemie’s story began in Decatur where she grew up and met her future husband, John, as a young teen, when both attended the youth group at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. John and Kemie married in 1961 after he got out of the Army. Kemie began her elementary teaching career first in Decatur and then at the private Westminster Schools in Atlanta, where over the next 26 years she taught all elementary grades, except second grade.
Reading was always Kemie’s first love, and she grew increasingly frustrated with the education reading curriculum used during the 1960s. Children were not reading actual children’s books but stories in uninspiring textbooks. There were few children who were passionate about reading, and verbal scores were starting to fall. According to Kemie, “Reading is the key to unlocking a child’s potential and unlocking a world of possibilities around them! A child who struggles with reading can fall behind in school and struggle throughout their life.”
Convinced there was a better way to engage children in reading, Kemie persuaded the leadership at Westminster Schools to let her start a children’s literature program that taught and encouraged children to read actual children’s literature. She met with each class for an hour a week, and children spent the time reading books, mythology and poetry, working on projects, and checking out books in the library. Children were required to read at home each night.
In addition to her work at Westminster, Kemie and her friend from church, Trudy Green, donated quality children’s books to Atlanta Fulton County Juvenile Detention Center and volunteered there, working with incarcerated youth for over 25 years!
After leading the children’s literature program at Westminster for several years, Kemie desired to expand and reach out to youth at inner city schools that had less access to good books. She began volunteering at Ed.S. Cook Elementary School in the Capitol Homes housing project in Atlanta and arranged with Westminster Schools to allow her to teach classes for 3rd – 5th grades at Cook Elementary School each Monday – 8 classes of literature in one day!
Kemie had the same high expectations for her inner-city students and saw these students become engaged in reading good children’s books. Many became “book worms,” but there were few high quality books to check out in their school libraries. Always ready to address a need, Kemie asked the Westminster children to donate 2-3 of their favorite books. This fortuitous request proved popular and led to the start of the Reader-to-Reader program, which expanded quickly throughout the city and then globally through donations and book drives to give all children access to good children’s literature.
During these years, Kemie’s reputation grew. She became the children’s book editor at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and later at Parents’ Choice Magazine, giving her access to review copies of children’s books to share at local schools. In 1996 she was honored on the Olympic Wall of Heroes in Atlanta for her achievements.
A love and commitment to Kenya began when Kemie met Charity Mwangi, from the Mount Kenya Academy, who was observing at The Westminster Schools. Excited about the prospect of expanding children’s literature in Africa, Kemie began a 20-year adventure of visiting Kenya for teaching stints that lasted weeks or months at a time. She helped build 13 libraries across Kenya and stocked them with books. Two libraries have been dedicated in her name. To learn more about Kemie’s adventures, you can pick up a copy of her book, A Book Teacher for Every School.
The mission of Children’s Literature for Children, Inc. (CLC) is to bring excellent literature into the hands of students in schools, libraries and hospitals around the globe. The Reader-to-Reader Program organizes book drives and secures donations locally, nationally and internationally to place books with children, in libraries and to build book collections. The Reader-to-Patient Program recruits volunteers to read-aloud to children in hospitals. According to CLC, “The magic of a good story can have a healing effect and bring joy to the life of a sick child.”
Children’s Literature for Children’s commitment to Kenya includes improving the health, safety and well-being of women and children in the Kilimani Village, through support of a village dispensary, directed by Dr. Khaliah Johnson of Atlanta, which offers basic healthcare, immunization, prenatal care, HIV testing, counseling and treatment. CLC has helped provide a children’s library on site at the dispensary which has proven to be a safe place for women and children of the village to gather.
There is a local Peachtree City CLC program at McIntosh High School, where Kemie’s two granddaughters, Sophie and Kate Hollowell, students at McIntosh, help to collect children’s books for elementary schools on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The Executive Director of CLC, Debbie Green, sums up Kemie’s impact on the organization: “Kemie’s more than four decades of work for Children’s Literature for Children has been and continues to be a labor of love – her love for children. Her goal is to better the lives of children through books. She is a gifted teacher who inspires students and volunteers alike, myself included. Watching Kemie, I have become a better teacher. She showed me that children from all walks of life and all parts of the globe respond when met with kindness and mutual respect, and they love a good book!
Volunteers and donations are always needed and encouraged at CLC. Presently CLC is working to secure funding for a 14th library in Kenya, including stocking the facility with books. For more information on Children’s Literature for Children, Inc. and how you can be involved, go to childrensliterature.org.
(A sampling of children’s books Kemie recommended to her grandson, David)
- Ashley Bryan books
- Book of Greek Myths, Norse Gods and Giants by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
- Psalm Twenty-Three, illustrated by Tim Ladwig
- The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay
- The McElderry Book of Aesop’s Fables by Michael Morpurgo
- Marion’s Big Book of Bible Stories by Marian M. Schoolland
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
- Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
- My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells
- Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
- Bath Time by Sandra Boynton
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- The Baby’s Lap Book by Kay Chorao
- A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
- The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
- Peter Rabbit by Beatrice Potter
- A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
- Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Rinker
- Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
- More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera Williams
AGES: 2 – 6
- The Fortune Tellers by Lloyd Alexander
- The Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews
- The Ugly Duckling by H.C. Andersen, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Felicia Bond
- Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
- 14 Cows for America by Carmen Deedy
- The Snow Queen by Amy Ehrlich, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
- Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
- Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban
- Alfie Gets In First by Shirley Hughes
- Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman
- I Just Want to Say Goodnight by Rachael Isadora
- Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
- Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
- Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
- A Kiss for Little Bear by Elsa Holmelund Minarik
- Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet
- The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
- Curious George by H.A. Rey
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
- The Stray Dog by Marc Simone
- Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
- The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
- McDuff Moves In by Rosemary Wells
- Can’t You Sleep Little Bear by Martin Woodall
AGES: 6 – 10
- Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- Superfudge by Judy Blume
- The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
- Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
- A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Maria Frazee
- Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
- The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- Pippi Longstockings by Astrid Lindgren
- Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
AGES: 10 -up
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes