The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy is launching one of its nationally acclaimed reading programs in Walton County and to celebrate they are bringing best-selling author Jill Conner Browne, the famed ‘Sweet Potato Queen’ to South Walton.
Browne will host a lunchtime book-signing reception at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse in Grand Boulevard on August 5. The ‘Laughs for Literacy’ event is $40 per person and includes one complimentary book. Tickets are now available at J. McLaughlin in Grand Boulevard and Sundog Books in Seaside.
Conner Browne, who lives in Mississippi, has written nine books, several of which have ranked #1 on The New York Times Best Seller List. She has created a global phenomenon — nearly 6,400 chapter groups in 37 countries. Browne made national news again in March when The Sweet Potato Queen’s Musical opened in Houston.
“We are thrilled to bring awareness to families and parents to help their children stay focused on reading this summer by hosting this fun persona with a strong Southern sense of humor,” said Stacey Brady, a spokeswoman for Grand Boulevard.
All proceeds from the event directly support the “reading rally” and book giveaway happening in September for all third-graders enrolled at the Walton County pilot site school.
More than 40 percent of all third-graders in the Walton County School District are six months or more behind in reading on grade level, though that is not uncommon across most Florida counties, said Kelly Layman, a Walton County resident who is chairing the event for the Barbara Bush Foundation.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush founded the Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989. Bush is considered a pioneer for raising awareness about “family literacy” long before it blossomed into a national movement and consistent proven research related to early childhood learning had been regularly published.
Today, “reading on grade level” is a major national issue for all schoolchildren.
“Mrs. Bush always believed that a child’s first teacher is the parent, and the home is the first classroom — and that could not be truer today,” Layman said. “The St. Joe Community Foundation provided a grant to establish the program in Walton County while everyone supporting the August 5 event will raise the non-programmatic funds to cover the reading rally at the school and a book giveaway for third-graders.”
Carlene Anderson, superintendent of Walton County schools, said the district is grateful to have this additional intensive support for struggling third-grade readers.
“There are so many reasons a student has a reading and comprehension deficit, and it is absolutely critical we help them at this age, building up their vocabulary and language skills,” Anderson said. “Reading literally impacts every other subject for them in school.”
Since launching in 2002, this particular Foundation program for struggling elementary student readers has served a total of more than 48,000 students nationwide. The Walton County launch will mark the 93rd program site amid 21 counties in Florida alone.
All of the event’s proceeds will benefit local elementary students, thanks to support from Silver Sands Premium Outlets, Grand Boulevard at Sandestin and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. Additional sponsors are The 30A Company, CHELCO, Merrill Lynch—Krueger, Fosdyck& Associates, J. McLaughlin and Sundog Books.
What: “Laughs for Literacy” book-signing reception with famed Southern humorist and best-selling author Jill Conner Browne, aka “THE Sweet Potato Queen.” Benefits Walton County launch of new third-grade program.
Presented By: Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, Silver Sands Premium Outlets, Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
Where: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 600 Grand Blvd., Sandestin
When: August 5, Friday
11:30 a.m. – Reception, silent auction, wine spritzers, hors d’oeuvres & swag bag with 1 complimentary book
Noon – Welcome & Author Remarks
12:15-1:30 p.m. – Book-signing & door prizes
Tickets: Stop by J. McLaughlin in Grand Boulevard or Sundog Books in Seaside before July 29, with a $40 cash or check donation to “Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy” to receive a reserved ticket. At the August 5 event, each guest receives a swag bag of goodies and a complimentary book for Jill Conner Browne to sign. Additional books will be available for sale.