Texas BookShare: The program puts a novel twist on promoting healthy living to youth
By Alisa Pierce Texas Medicine April 2023


About five years ago, Chris McGilvery had an idea:  

What if Bell County physicians – among them his wife – could “prescribe” books to their young patients during their well-check visits?  

Mr. McGilvery, then a member of the Bell County Medical Society (CMS) Alliance, also had a heart for serving young readers as founder of the local nonprofit The Leaders Readers Network. Before long, the idea took off as a collaboration among the local alliance, Leaders Readers, and the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple children’s hospital. With grant funding from the Texas Medical Association Foundation, the pilot project delivered more than 1,200 books around Bell County, with encouraging messages from local health care heroes on the inside cover.  

For families in underserved areas, “it allowed us to provide a book for some kids that may have never owned their own book,” said Martha Howell, president of Bell CMS Alliance. “We gave all these different types of books so that we could provide some sort of escape for the kids in these areas. And it felt great.” 

Texas BookShare later was approved by the Council on Health Promotion as a TMA outreach program and funded by the TMA Foundation. Since 2021, the program has aimed to place big ideas into little hands across Texas by providing funding for books to alliance chapters to form a distribution collaboration with county medical societies, local physicians and clinics, and community organizations.  

Today the program has grown to encompass seven counties across Texas and has given away more than 5,000 health-related books to children in Texas. These books are offered in English and Spanish for a variety of age groups. Topics focus on building healthy habits, such as the importance of physical activity, growing fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a good diet – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few Berenstain Bears books or two. 

“This program is about building the cadence of reading at home and finding books that are both enjoyable and educational,” Mrs. Howell said. “We gave out the Berenstain Bears handwashing book, for instance, to promote both heathy habits and reading at home.” 


A prize for little patients

Texas BookShare has since evolved to include physician-led read-a-loud events and backpack giveaways. 

Little did anyone know it would become especially helpful during the height of COVID-19 restrictions. Books were filled with positive messages and sanitized before children met with their physician, giving physicians unsure of the next time they’d see their little patients in person a way to safely support them from afar. 

And as of last June, the newest addition to Texas BookShare includes a very special vending machine. 

In Tyler, thanks to the Smith County Medical Society Alliance, physicians at St. Paul Children’s Services can give children a token as a reward for meeting a medical goal or undergoing an uncomfortable medical procedure, such as a blood draw or eye exam. Young patients can then use the token to purchase a book of their liking from the vending machine at the clinic.   

As the next chapter of Texas BookShare begins, ideas like this make reading, and doctors’ visits, a bit more fun, says Lisa Allen, DO, past president of Smith CMS. 

“We know how beneficial reading at an early age is for language development and comprehension, so we order books that they’ll enjoy, and hopefully create that lifelong love of reading,” the family physician said. “It’s really been through the BookShare program that we’ve been able to consistently have books available for the vending machine. And it’s so much fun. Who doesn’t like picking out a prize? It’s even greater when that prize is a new book.” 

Ms. Howell stresses the importance of county organizations continuing programs like Texas BookShare not only in their own communities but also in areas without representation. 

“Do things for your own county,” she said. “But also look around and look at all the other counties that don’t have medical societies and alliances. The impact that we can make in those counties is so great.” 

Last Updated On

February 14, 2024

Originally Published On

March 31, 2023

Alisa Pierce

Reporter, Division of Communications and Marketing

(512) 370-1469
Alisa Pierce

Alisa Pierce is a reporter for Texas Medicine. After graduating from Texas State University, she worked in local news, covering state politics, public health, and education. Alongside her news writing, Alisa covered up-and-coming artists in Central Texas and abroad as a music journalist. As a Texas native, she enjoys capturing the landscape on her film camera while hiking her way across the Lonestar State.

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