HELENA – Starting Thursday, more than 600 of Helena’s first graders will start the new school year off with a brand new book as part of an annual reading program.

The Fabulous Firsts event put on by the Helena Education Foundation, has given away hundreds of new books to first graders for years.

The program is part of HEF’s mission to stress the importance of reading in a child’s education. On their website, they say, “Every child deserves an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.

The books are designed to be read in the classrooms or taken home so that each student can read with their family and friends.

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On Thursday, the nonprofit and several other community sponsors will hand out the books to students all over Helena.

At Hawthorne Elementary, MTN News spoke with two fifth graders about their experience with the Fabulous Firsts event when they were first graders.

“I was really excited to receive my book and I think that night I read my book like three times before I went to bed, so it was pretty exciting,” said Luke McCarthy, a fifth grader.

McCarthy said he loved his book and thought it was a nice read.

“It was about like a man, telling a story about when he went fishing and he caught a fish with like a bunch of hooks in his mouth because he was so big, he couldn’t catch the fish,” said McCarthy.

Rylee Bronlie, also a 5th grader at Hawthorne said she was thrilled to get a new book when she was a first grader.

Rylee Bronlie and Luke McCarthy, fifth graders at Hawthorne Elementary

“It was pretty exciting because I actually got to read with one of the older fifth graders, and it was super exciting, my mom helped me read my book about a couple of times!” she said.

In addition to providing financial support for Fabulous Firsts, sponsors and their representatives will visit one the schools to participate in reading with the first graders.

Each school celebrates in its own way: some third graders help wrap books for their first grade “buddies;” some schools ask current fifth graders to write letters to each first grader about their own experiences as Fabulous First graders; some teachers write messages to each student about hopes and goals for the year.

Books are selected annually by a committee led by Dr. Deb Jacobsen, the principal at Hawthorne School.

In addition to each student receiving a book to keep, full sets of this year’s selections will be purchased for each of the school libraries and for the Lewis and Clark Library.

For more information on the Fabulous Firsts program click here.

This year’s sponsors of the HEF event include: The Montana Book Company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, Chelsey Frank, Allegiance Benefit Plan Management Systems, Helena Kiwanis, Mark and Lynn Etchart, Tom and Scottie Trebon and Luxan and Murfitt

This year’s list of books:

  • Mother Bruce by Ryan Higgins
  • Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
  • It’s Okay to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr
  • Lady Liberty’s Holiday by Jen Arena
  • Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar
  • Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp
  • There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes by Michelle Robinson
  • You’re Here for a Reason by Nancy Tillman

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