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11/07/00- Updated 12:27 PM ET
By Tara McKelvey, USATODAY.com
When Patricia Rust was working on a television show about literacy in America in the mid-1990s, she called the White House to see whether the president had a library card. Several weeks later, a White House staff member called back.
"They said, 'We have the answer to your question,'" Rust recalls. "'The president does not have a library card. And there is a reason. The president no longer needs a library card because we have our own library.'"
Not everybody has a library in his house, though, and Rust started thinking about ways to get Americans, especially children, to read more. She eventually formed a not-for-profit organization, Power for Kids, Inc. for Literacy, which opened in Los Angeles in June. Through her foundation, Rust gives literacy presentations to school groups, does readings at bookstores and gives away children's books.
Rust has her work cut out for her. Only 20% of fourth-graders in public schools in Rust's home state of California read proficiently, according to a study in 1998 by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The percentage dips even lower among African-American fourth-graders in California public schools: Only 7% read proficiently. (Nationwide, 29% of children in fourth grade are proficient readers, according to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.)
Rust hopes to change that through her foundation and her children's book, The King of Skittledeedoo, which is about an ermine-cloaked king who learns how how to read.
A one-time Ivory Soap girl who is also a former TV scriptwriter (Wonder Years, Golden Girls), Rust has received mash notes about The King of Skittledeedoo from the governors of Pennsylvania and Wyoming; the first ladies of South Carolina and Kansas; Priscilla Presley; Phyllis Diller; and a girl named Mellisa who says Rust is a "storyteller," "poet" and "radical."
Besides writing a children's book, Rust has put together a Web site called powerforkids.com that has the slogan "Live, Laugh, Learn."
Powerforkids lives up to its billing: Children can click on stories like I Wish I Had a Tail and Jackie the Angel. They also learn about ways to trick parents into reading stories out loud. ("Leave a book out in easy view of the family," Rust writes. "You never know when you can convince someone to read it to you.") And, best of all, children who visit the site will find no banner ads or pop-up boxes with Pokémon cards; the site is supported entirely by the foundation.
Rust says she has read to more than 28,000 children in her efforts to foster their love of reading. And she has given away 1,300 copies of The King of Skittledeedoo.
What does she see in the future for Power for Kids, Inc.? You might call her mission king-sized:
"My goal is to ignite that spark of learning in every child."
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