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Debbie Winsett Brings Books to Visalia with Usborne Books

Aug 26, 2016 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Back to Books

September 2016
By Jordan Venema

It’s almost hard to believe, but this September marks a notorious fifth anniversary in Visalia: the fifth year that major book retailer Borders finally closed its doors.

“We don’t have a bookstore in Visalia,” says Debbie Winsett, lamenting the lack of access to a good book. 

So in 2013, Winsett decided to become the author of her own story by becoming an educational consultant for Usborne Books & More, a publisher that specializes in books for children of all ages. 

“My motivation for doing this was to get these quality books out to the kids in our community,” explains Winsett, who – having organized book fairs at her children’s elementary school – knows the impact a book can have on a child. As for her own children, Usborne was always a favorite in the home.

Winsett’s children have moved out, but she still noticed that “nobody was offering those books to our schools, our libraries, our families, and nobody really knew about Usborne anymore. So we’ve developed a team of people and we’re getting Usborne books into our schools and families, and they’re loving them.” 

Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about textbooks here. 

Usborne is known for its colorful print and range of subjects. “They span from something that babies can touch and chew on to high schoolers that need an additional resource to help them learn algebra,” says Winsett.

“They’re high-quality, educationally-related books. We have fiction, nonfiction, and our books are leveled for reading programs in the schools, as well as aligned with the common core standard in California.” 

As an educational consultant for Usborne, Winsett is bringing books to the community through fairs and fundraisers, such as back-to-school nights or convention center events. 

Think of these events like pop-up bookstores if you will, but it’s not about profit – at least not for Winsett. If Winsett partners with a school for a book fair, Usborne gives back in books 50 percent from sales. So if Winsett sells $500 worth of books from her stock, Usborne will match an additional $250 in books. Then, by replenishing her stock by purchasing directly from Usborne, Winsett receives an additional $250 in books, which Winsett’s program voluntarily gives back to the school.

“A school lets us come to one of their events, we sell them to the families and then the school gets free books from that,” says Winsett. “And parents are willing to support that.”

“One of the things we’ve done for two years in a row, I partner with my church, Gateway Church of Visalia, who is a sponsor of Conyer Elementary, and the church has donated money to their holiday book program. Usborne matches that money with 50 percent more books, and then my program gets them additional books, and every year we’ve been able to provide every child at Conyer with a free book at the holidays. This year, we provided about $1,000 worth of books at their library, as well.”

Winsett does receive an income through commission by selling Usborne books, but “I take that money that I earn and I use it to provide more books to those that are participating in the program.”

Winsett hopes to partner with a local school district to create a program called Reach for the Stars, “which is kind of like a jogathon but a readathon. Families and kids would go out and get pledges for how much they’ve read in a specific amount of time, then that money would come back to the school,” explains Winsett.

So yes, here comes the fifth anniversary of Visalia losing its last major bookstore, but this program is helping to fill the gap. Between slinging books throughout the community and gifting additional books to those who participate in the program, Winsett is kind of like a librarian-meets-Santa Claus. Winsett will probably downplay the comparison, because really she just wants to get books into the hands of those who want them.

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